thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the tag “joy”

The joy of frogs

We’ve had a pretty dry, hot summer here in Joburg and so, somewhat unusually for us sun lovers, the rain – when it fell – was almost uniformly welcomed, rather than receiving its more normal reaction of mutterings, grumbles and epithets.

It really has been quite unbelievably hot at times, so the cooling rains made us feel as though we could all breathe again.

I was driving back from work recently during a really brilliant rain storm and I chose to take a scenic detour past one of the city’s big parks, which fortunately for me is on one of my possible routes home. To my great delight, the frogs from the park had come out in force from their usual hiding places, so I spent a particular section of the road driving carefully in the gloom to make sure I drove around and not over them.

frog sitting in road

They don’t have much road sense, frogs. Luckily it’s usually a fairly quiet road.

I thought they looked so sweet sitting in the puddles soaking up the water. At that moment, it seemed that every fibre of their little froggy beings was devoted to staying plonked on their haunches looking up at the falling raindrops, as if to say, “We love you! Where have you been?”

frogs in rain

I was similarly thrilled when I was at home one night during another recent downpour and I suddenly saw, through a window, our resident froggy shuffling along in a dignified manner just outside. So I went out into the darkness to say hello and get a closer look at him (well, in my head it’s a him), and again I watched the joy that frogs display when the rains bucket down all over their bodies.

I understand that the presence of frogs tends to be a good barometer of an environment’s overall health, so as a family we’ve always been thrilled to find evidence of a frog or two in our garden. On an infamous occasion a few years ago, Frank even scolded our then-tenant for getting in the frog’s way and inadvertently scaring it: “K! Don’t hurt my frog!”

As our young tenant had got an enormous fright herself when the silly frog unexpectedly jumped up on her leg in the gloom of a summer dusk, she was not impressed at playing second fiddle to an amphibian. But she did laugh at the incident a bit later (when her adrenaline levels were back to normal).

On a more serious note, I am always saddened when I read about frogs dying en mass in different parts of the world due to factors like pollution, vanishing habitats, alien predators and strange microbial illnesses. While I don’t necessarily want to pick up a frog and pet it…

tiny frog on finger

…in the same way that I don’t necessarily want to stroke a Great White shark on the snout, I like the idea of the presence of frogs in our world (and Great Whites in our oceans: I don’t want one in our local public swimming pool, thanks very much).

 

These gutsy amphibians are so varied, for starters: we get little delicate tree frogs and big ponderous bull frogs; sombre-coloured grey and brown frogs versus multi-coloured frogs that are tinged with blue, yellow or red; and frogs that actually lay nests for their tadpoles in trees.

blue frog

Frogs and toads have been around for such a long time on the planet that I think it’s our collective duty to cherish them when they do come out to say hello.

frogs crossing sign

I would really hate to think that one day in the future, my children might look around in a rainstorm in a park for the frogs that should be jumping all around their legs, and say, into a deafening absence, “We love you! Where have you gone?”

frog peaking water

 

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Surviving 2015: dreams, plans, action

Painting-frame

When I look back on the past year, I initially think of it as having been a year of loss.

Among other things, it was the year our family lost my beloved father to the ultimate finality of his death, after more than three years of his terrible illness that affected us all.

As a precursor to his passing, it was also the year in which I lost my darling ‘First Cat’, Nenya, to old age (she was 19).

Our beautiful ‘Fluffy Buns’ was the surrogate child of my single days, and so when she breathed her last breath in my arms – at least peacefully and painlessly – it felt as though part of my youth was disappearing as well.

Nenya and Vincent

I also lost an important painting – that I’d brought into being some years ago, when I was younger and seemed to have more time for creativity – to a freak fire. While I am immensely grateful that no one was injured, it was nonetheless a blow: a loss of something I’d once created with love and commitment over many hours. The painting was also the foundation image for the cover of my unpublished book of short stories, so it seemed, symbolically, as though the universe really was conspiring against my dreams and aspirations.

painting fire

All told, this past year also seemed like a time when I had largely lost Me.

And yet, when I weigh it all up thoughtfully and reflectively, this past year was not only about loss.

There is finding in here too, including the unwavering presence of some truly amazing friends and family, and discovering unexplored stores of strength in myself (sometimes cleverly disguised as sheer unmitigated cussedness, which I like to blame on my Celtic heritage). I also started painting again, for the first time in a long time: on a small scale, quite literally, but it reaffirmed the possibility of joy.

heart painting

Mostly, though, I found that I was able to keep dreams in my life, together with an ongoing belief in silver linings, however imperfect or even flawed the dreaming might have been at the time.

I can’t look into a crystal ball and see what lies in store. But, while older and definitely – I trust! – wiser, I still have some dreams in my head. And some plans, laced with the silver linings of hope.

So it’s onward into the new year, with a focus on the alchemy of turning dreams into plans into action.

Perhaps starting with finally publishing my book. Now that – and some decent sales of course – would be alchemy indeed. And really: why not?

 

cover-page-001

 

Rain and music

I was sitting on the balcony last night when the children were asleep, in the section that’s under cover from the weather, when the rain started falling. It was a heavy, fat downpour accompanied by some not too distant thunder and lightning. It was magnificent and it was good for my soul.

I was immensely grateful because I find myself, right now, completely unable to cry, even though I have this overwhelming desire to have a small but healing meltdown. The tears, though, just won’t come.

So it was good to have the rain dropping down its heavy, fat tears on my behalf.

The other day I found a song that metaphorically did the same.

sadrainwoman1

“The stars don’t shine without you” by The Mission

(Album: Neverland)

 

I’ll cry myself to sleep ’cause you’re not here by my side

I’ll cry ’cause you’re not with me, with me tonight

I’ll cry myself a river and drown in a torrent of tears

I’ll cry ’cause the stars have thrown down all their spears

 

The stars don’t shine without you

And it makes me, makes me sad and blue

The stars don’t shine without you

And there’s nothing, no nothing I can do

 

I’ll cry ’cause the stars don’t shine for me no more

 

stars

 

I am waiting for the stars to shine again and to once again feel joy after sorrow.

I know it will come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the joy

I realised recently that I need to find joy again, in and of myself. Joy that is just mine.

So here are some of my suggestions: To me, from me.

  • Take small moments of rest when you can.
  • Listen to music (always fun – sometimes my little Panda positively rocks the road in traffic!).
  • Enjoy the purring of a cat (or two at the same time, or even three or four, when you live in our house).
  • Write more (doing it right now).
  • Paint more. Pick UP that paintbrush and mix those paints!

painting

  • Follow your creative ideas.
  • Read (this is an easy win, but oh so effective).
  • Take time out with friends (you know who you are).
  • Play with your dogs. Nobody does the ‘happy dance’ like Sasha, and nobody creeps onto a lap quite so well as Nickelback.

Happy dance

  • Cook meals with meaning.
  • Read to Liam and Matthew (we need a new series after the Narnia Chronicles now).
  • Walk in the park – with or without dogs.

In the park

  • Fix my bicycle and start cycling again.
  • Enjoy chocolate and wine. Two of life’s great pleasures…
  • Remember the restorative power of a facial!
  • Make more effort with fashion, girlfriend.
  • Don’t forget about movies, DVDs and the theatre. God bless the Minions… (and their creators)

minions T Rex

  • Embrace technology more and remind yourself that you are actually better than you give yourself credit for.

 

And sometimes… Just Be.

 

Just.

Be.

 

 

I eavesdropped on your photos

My dearest mom

Today I found myself unexpectedly eavesdropping on your photos.

It was so good to go back in time. Do you know there are photos on there that you still have to print out from 2010? (Yes, yes, I know you are busy. A truer word was never spoken.)

The reason I was snooping inside your digital memories is, of course, because I’ve been using your camera on an ad hoc basis lately for my work: partly because my own gave up the ghost long ago, and partly because I currently own a smartphone with an un-smart camera.

In the process of borrowing your camera on a semi-regular basis these past few months I have been, er, keeping it between assignments. And, of course, quite rightly you wanted it back.

So today I had a spare couple of hours to turn on my laptop and start processing. Firstly, I sorted all my work photos from the happy family photos on your camera’s memory. Then I gaily deleted my work photos, which I don’t need any more. And then I started looking at the family photos, and found myself on an unexpected trip down memory lane for the next two hours.

In vivid technicolour (mostly un-blurred), I remembered previous birthdays for Liam and Matthew.

I remembered previous Christmases when we were all together as a family: you, me, dad, Frank and Liam and Matthew.

I saw some of the photos from the time you and dad went over to visit Lorna and Domenico in Italy and celebrate dad’s 70th birthday.

 

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

I remembered times when dad could still walk and talk; when the scourge of his motor neurone disease had not yet manifested and brought with it this overwhelming sorrow for us all.

When we still had so much joy on those family occasions.

And so I eavesdropped on your photos.

I ended up copying all of them. Going through them was utterly marvellous. It reminded me that life is a process; that there are some things that can be changed and others that must be accepted and made the best of; that sometimes we discover our true strength only in the fires and the burning of unavoidable bone-deep sorrow.

And yet, at the same time, I refuse to give up on the flames of happiness and hope for the future. I just can’t. It‘s not in me to let the darkness overcome the light. I’m quite pedantic about it, really.

Vivienne and dad wedding

I find myself so grateful for all the happy times we have had – as well as for the strength and courage and sheer (sometimes bloody-minded) tenacity my Scottish heritage has bequeathed me. It’s been a most surprising gift.

I know the less-diluted happy times will come again in full strength, albeit in a different form and with different players taking centre stage or different roles.

I plan to be there.

Flower-sky-clouds-sunshine-mood-485x728

PS Just one tiny confession: I deleted an image from your camera – just one, from almost 500. I simply had to. I knew I’d picked up quite a few extra pounds back in 2011/2012, but it was really quite unbearable to imagine this particular photo being around for posterity. It’s called editing.

Boo-yah!

 Or, more graciously:

2014: a less serious epitaph than last year’s

 

AND SO HERE I AM

From this year of shocks.

 

STILL

I’m still standing, baby.

 

STUBBORNLY

It’s Celtic blood flowing through my veins, mo gradh.**

 

STALKING THAT SILVER LINING

I refuse to give up on the joy after sorrow.

 

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-YAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!**

 

flowersinrain

Here’s to 2015.

 

 

** Mo gradh (pronounced ‘Moi rah’ – Scottish Gaelic for ‘my love’

**Boo-yah: used in order to abruptly express great joy, usually brought on by victory or some other sort of accomplishment – Urban Dictionary.

Asimbonanga for Madiba

Here is my tribute to Nelson Mandela – first published July 2012.

The world will remember the date you left us: 5 December 2013.

Rest in peace: great man, great humanitarian, humble human being. 

 

All the colours of the rainbow (and the healing power of music)

My children are colour-blind.

It’s awesome.

In this still-fledgeling democracy that is South Africa today, 18 years after the country queued, and queued, and queued some more to cast its vote in the first democratic elections, my children are colour-blind.

It is a great joy to me.

They do not see black, white, pink, purple or green – only their circles of friends. And in this world of theirs, all ‘colours’ of the rainbow are equal, with the possible exception of real-life pink for Liam, who wrinkles up his nose and tells me in his little gruff voice that ‘pink is for girls mom!’.

And my boys can dance, also.

liam-school-play-smaller

Who says white boys can’t dance?

I watched the children covertly the other night while I was in and out of the kitchen preparing dinner. Liam and Matthew were in the lounge where I’d introduced them to a Johnny Clegg CD – he who is known as ‘the white Zulu’ – and they’d loved the music instantly. They swayed, they stomped, they moved to the beat and they felt the rhythm.

I was so proud.

They’d discovered ‘Asimbonanga’ as their track of choice, and they played it over and over again. They know it practically off by heart now, including most of the isiZulu.

The song stirs up such memories for me. It was one of the anthems of my youth, when as a sheltered young adult I first learned – properly – about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the great Madiba, who was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 27 years. At the time I first got to know the song, Madiba was still some years away from his release from his island prison, Robben Island off Cape Town.

My friends and I went to quite a few concerts where Johnny Clegg played, first with Juluka and later with Savuka. He and his early-rainbow nation brothers and sisters sang and danced their hearts out, and whenever they performed ‘Asimbonanga’, the emotion in the room was always tangible and always running high – but in a good way.

There we were, crowds of young, mainly white youth in an apartheid South Africa that was not of our making, and there as Johnny sang we fell silent, swaying with one movement, arms uplifted, cigarette lighters lit in that universal music concert’s peace sign.

There we linked arms, minds and souls as we listened, united, to the haunting melody and the even more haunting words. There we remembered, through the song, fallen heroes of the struggle, black and white, male and female. There we were united in understanding and a yearning for peace, even if we couldn’t speak isiZulu. Somehow, we knew what the words meant in their very essence, deep down in our core.

There at those Johnny Clegg concerts, we were part of the fore-runner of the dream of a rainbow nation that has almost come to pass.

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

Chorus….

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Chorus….

Steven Biko, Victoria Mxenge
Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (In the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination) 

And as I listen again to these inspirational and haunting words, I ask myself when, indeed, will we arrive at the destination we were all looking for in those days of dreaming? The days when we voted with our hearts and our souls for a united rainbow country?

I ask myself:

When will the children be educated as they were promised?

When will the women and children be free from the scourge of rape and murder?

When will government corruption and ineptitude be punished?

When will politicians who lie, cheat and steal acknowledge their guilt and tell the nation, “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I will make amends. Yes, I will step down”?

When will nurses and policemen and teachers be properly paid, properly trained, properly mindful of their hugely important role in this fledgeling democracy of ours? 

When will the taxi and bus industries, which transport millions of people every day, be better regulated so that we are not outraged on a daily and weekly basis by stories of horror motor crashes that kill and maim innocent people?

When will motorists stop shooting their cars recklessly through bright scarlet traffic lights, endangering the lives of law-abiding citizens?

When will motorists start buckling up their children in car seats?

When will we adopt a culture of kindness to animals?

When will….

I must stop before I descend into mere ranting.

I must look on the bright side. I was not made to ignore the silver linings.

I must remember that the voice of the people is growing – yes, I do believe so. Think about the outrage around the e-tolling saga; think about the outrage around Nkandla (God BLESS Thuli Madonsela!); think about the journalists and satirists and yes, even businessmen who speak out – and out – and out some more despite legislative attempts to gag them.

Think about the good initiatives that take place in South Africa, led by business, led by the media, led by the medical industry, led by private individuals.

Think about the Madiba legacy – the magic that was his; the magic that pulled a country back from the brink of civil war; the magic that can still be if we only look for it and better yet, create it.

Think about it.

Think about the children of South Africa as they play together on playgrounds that are all the colours of the rainbow nation.

Think about it.

And then do a little spot of rainbow magic Madiba singing and dancing, by order of the great man himself.

Oh, oh, oh to have been there….

Hey wena!

Yes, you.

And me.

And you, and you, and you…

Let’s work together to arrive at our intended destination after all.

Let’s blind South Africa with all the colours and all the hope of the rainbow.

Think about it.

Then do.

New beginnings and the passage of time

Since I wrote my last entry, I have cried. Quite a lot. And I have not been in enough of a positive, creative space to write much.

For a few reasons, this has not been a good year thus far.

It has been a year of obstacles and trying to find solutions to really big issues. And, where there were no solutions, trying to find the courage simply to deal with the issues.

It has been a year in which my natural optimism has been sorely tested.

And yet I have continued to walk this earth; continued to learn, survive and – I trust – grow.

fairy ring

I was helping Liam and Matthew to find something a few days ago, and during the search process, I came across a 2013 calendar. It was a little late to rediscover it, because we have already officially clocked up more than two-thirds of this year.

It got me thinking about the passage of time.

calendar

I remembered when the old lady in the pharmacy gave it to me, some time in very early January. She handed it over with a warm smile, as though she was bestowing a quite precious gift. In a way she was, because what she gave me was not only a piece of rolled-up cardboard with dates marked on it and decorated with some pretty pictures.

She was also giving me the hopeful gift of time still lying ahead and with it, dreams to forge and memories to build: new beginnings every month.

And as we cross over into a new month every four weeks or so, I find myself still determinedly and stubbornly trying to cultivate hope for brighter days ahead.

flowersinrain

I’ve always been a fan of opportunities for new beginnings. Besides, there is no other option if I am to stay sane and true to my inner values.

I am blessed that right now, I’m still lucky enough to have the gift of time on my life’s personal credit card. This makes it important to me to try and seek joy wherever I can find it.

We took an opportunity that arose recently to get a new puppy. To be very honest, I pushed for him, very hard. I persuaded and cajoled. (There is the issue of more doggy-doo in the garden to pick up, after all…)

But you see, I wanted to bring a little more joy back into my life.

And there he was. Just waiting for us. Perfect timing.

From the moment we picked up ‘Nickelback’ and took him home, he slotted seamlessly into our lives and our hearts. He is just gorgeous! He brings happiness and puppy love to everyone he meets. I call him our ‘joy boy’.

joyboy smaller

For me, our puppy and the unconditional love he brings into our family symbolises new beginnings in the purest of ways.

Even when picking up the you-know-what and trying hard to avert your senses.

 

 

Post script – song now playing (again):

Kyrie eleison’

 Mr Mister

 

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison
Kyrie

The wind blows hard against this mountain side
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

My heart is old, it holds my memories
My body burns a gemlike flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself again

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

When I was young I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be?

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

 

Close encounters with celebrities

In South Africa we have a well-known former Springbok rugby player, only 40 or thereabouts, who once led a charmed life. About six years ago, I sat across a table from him and his wife for a short while. Almost everyone in the room was wearing white towelling robes and matching slippers, which sounds a bit odd, but was explained away by the fact that we were all, for various reasons, visiting a day spa at the time, and this was prescribed attire.

As I was then more than six months pregnant, the fluffy white towelling robe and slippers wasn’t my best look for appearing in public, but that was the deal if we wanted the back massages and other treatments. We also had to listen to a presentation about washing machines. You get the picture – it was a carefully crafted product launch, and I was there as part of the merry group of media and celebrities who’d been invited to meet the washing machine for the first time. I was in the media section of the room – not one of the celebrities. Just to clarify.

Being pregnant, as I said, and wearing a towelling robe, I became even less comfortable when I spotted an aging roué with whom I’d once had some unfortunate dealings in a previous job working for a radio station. At the time one of the country’s hallowed band of rock DJs, he had on one occasion refused to get out of my car until I ‘gave him a kiss’. He’d had a lot to drink at the time and it is a long story, which I won’t elaborate on now, but suffice to say that whenever I heard his slightly raspy smoker’s voice on the airwaves thereafter, I cringed somewhat. And for the record he was bundled out of my car sans requested smooch.

Anyway, it was an odd sort of day at the product launch and I remember trying very hard to avoid the aging roué. I simply didn’t want to be recognised, especially as I didn’t feel I was quite looking my best at the time, and so, truth be told, I didn’t pay that much attention to the charmed and charming rugby hero and his attractive, vivacious wife. But I do remember that they were both extremely pleasant and polite to all the other guests, and very nice about the washing machine.

And so it was a shock when the news broke that the charmed rugby hero and his bubbly wife were going through a relatively acrimonious separation and divorce. Barely was this an old story in the South African public’s mind when we then learned that he had been diagnosed with a very severe form of motor neuron disease. At such a young age, the news must have been utterly devastating to him.

I realise this more completely now that I know a little more about the disease. The very next year my own father was diagnosed with the same illness. Although my dad was obviously a fair bit older than 40 at the time, the news was still dreadful for us all.

At this point, while we were starting to wrestle with my dad’s diagnosis, the rugby hero had moved on from some stormy and unfortunate personal moments, and by all accounts was dealing with his disease with courage. He had started a foundation to help fellow sufferers and from time to time, a story about him would still appear in the media. He seemed to be doing better than expected and had vowed to play something of a ‘human guinea pig’ role, if he possibly could, in the fight against his symptoms and the illness invading his body.

When I recently visited my GP for the sole purpose of getting something to help me temporarily deal with my emotional pain about my father’s illness, I picked up a magazine in the waiting room, and by coincidence it featured an interview with the rugby hero. I was astonished at how good he seemed to look in the photos, and even more astonished at seeing him photographed doing a work-out, but I did wonder if the pictures hadn’t been photo-shopped a bit.

Meantime, my dad was not doing so well. As the days went by, he seemed to shrink on an almost weekly basis before our collective and sorrowful eyes.

And so recently I finally decided to brave the quest for the truly detailed information I had been avoiding.

As a first step, I accompanied my sister and my dad on an appointment to my dad’s neurologist. My sister and I wanted to meet the doctor and hear what she had to say.

I liked her. I met a woman who is probably a bit younger than me (oh how that makes me feel old!) and I thought that her funky dress sense showed an ‘out of the box’ way of thinking that I found comforting.

She was good to my dad. She also told him he was doing well. My sister and I listened to her words and wrote up some notes after the visit. In a way I felt that I was making some sense out of the fog.

But the knowledge was very painful and later that day, back at work after the visit, I left my desk and went down to the office coffee shop, so I could cry bitterly without being seen by my colleagues. Just to keep a certain amount of dignity intact.

A few days later, I went onto a search engine and typed in the words ‘motor neuron disease’, but what I found there only made me feel very low again.

With the tears once more not far from the surface, I decided to go on the website that had been started by the former rugby hero, and there, for the first time in a long time, I felt a little bit of hope coming back into my mind and my heart.

He looked good.

He looked really good.

His website was a story of simultaneous acceptance and determination: having accepted his fate, he was nonetheless going to try to live his best and live his longest, through a combination of cutting-edge drug treatment, where applicable, and an appropriate diet and exercise regime with his doctor, biokineticist and other specialists.

I began to feel that the photos I saw in the magazine that day hadn’t necessarily been photo-shopped after all, and was moved to send him an email.

In my email I wrote, very briefly, that my dad had been recently diagnosed as a fellow sufferer; that it was still a dark and sad journey for me and my family, and that I wished the rugby hero well. I thanked him for his courage and his example.

Then, deeper into his website, I read a message of hope from his doctor and discovered that she was my dad’s doctor also. A little flame of hope that had been almost extinguished started burning a little stronger again.

 

The doctor wrote:

“…In the last several months I have had an influx of MND patients from all over the country desperately seeking a second opinion, a glimmer of hope and some answers. Many of them sent away from their original practitioner with the diagnosis and a handshake saying there is no treatment, sorry nothing I can do! This is not how we were taught to practise medicine – remember where there is life there is hope and this is not a degenerative disease of “old” people – surely we cannot throw our hands up in defeat!”

Thank you doctor…

But funny enough this little story doesn’t end there just yet.

Armed with a print-out from the rugby hero’s website to take to my dad, I left work that evening in a very positive mood, with the little flame of hope still flickering.

My office is on the tenth floor and so, in the early evening when most people have already gone home, I always expect a smooth ride from the tenth floor to the ground floor with few or no interruptions in between.

With three of us in the lift, the doors opened after a long smooth ride down and I exited quickly onto what I thought was the ground floor. Still chatting to my colleague (still in the lift), I suddenly noticed someone in front of me trying to get in. Mainly, actually, I noticed her rather beautiful high-heeled shoes as I was trying to exit, and then realised that we were blocking each other.

Half a second later I realised that the woman in front of me had legs to die for above the amazing shoes. As we did a little dance around each other – she trying to get into the lift and me trying to get out – I then realised, yet another half-second later, that the beautiful legs were topped by an utterly amazing body in a little black dress, and a vivacious, well-known face I couldn’t quite place – and that I was not on the ground floor, but the first floor. She was trying to go downstairs and I was blocking her way like an idiot.

I was still laughing and trying to excuse my unintended clumsiness when I suddenly realised that this petite and incredibly shapely goddess with the great shoes was the rugby hero’s estranged wife.

“Oh dear, this isn’t the ground floor yet… my mistake… so sorry…”

She smiled at me warmly and got in the lift.

And was immediately followed by the rugby hero, who’d been standing behind her all the while.

“That looks just like…” said one half of my brain.

“Yes, that’s because it is him,” replied the other half.

 

It was a very surreal moment.

The odds of the timing were astounding.

“I emailed you just a few hours ago!” I wanted to blurt out – but of course couldn’t.

Not wishing to stare at him or the goddess – the South African public knew some of their story from the media, after all, and the rest of us in the lift were trying to be polite – I nonetheless found myself risking a small glance. I needed to see what he looked like.

In that small glance, in that small time-frame as we travelled just one floor down, I caught his gaze nonetheless, and for about half a second we exchanged genuine eye contact and genuine small smiles before I looked away.

I thought that he looked amazing. His body was straight and his gaze was clear. He looked as good as he had looked in the magazine article where I’d thought the photos were retouched.

 

As I write this, I don’t know yet what my close encounter means in the grand scheme of things. I am not expecting any major miracles, but I do now feel that perhaps a small one here and there might be asked for and, more importantly,  might be granted.

Since that day, and perhaps fortified by my story and by the knowledge that he shares a doctor with the rugby hero, my father has become a little lighter in his mind and a little fuller again in the face. And he has finally made a booking with his own biokineticist and started his own exercise regime. It’s really early days but – aided and encouraged by my mom – he has started trying to work with his body in the best possible way: like the rugby hero is doing.

You can’t start dealing with something until you know what you are dealing with. My family has started dealing with it.

There are still stormy clouds overhead but I think we have all started seeing the sun peeking through from time to time – at least for now.

It’s a new mantra – ‘at least for now’.

And so today I shall choose to be happy.

Today I shall revel in my family and their combined presence and different individual personalities – in my husband, my children, my parents, my sister.

I shall laugh at the exuberant dog doing her ‘happy dance’; I shall make plans for Christmas present shopping; I shall enjoy quiet nights in with a good book as well as occasions with my girl friends; I shall read my boys bedtime stories and sing with them at Sunday school; I shall stroke the cats; I shall enjoy conversations and glasses of wine with my husband.

I shall share and enjoy times with my boys and their father; I shall plan to invite friends round in December; I shall go for walks.

I shall look forward to time off work at the end of the year, while still being grateful that I have a job which challenges me and provides me with colleagues I can learn from and laugh with.

I shall enjoy the rain on my body, the sun on my upturned face and the green summer unfolding before my eyes.

As I have done for some time now, I shall continue to do all of this, and more.

At least for now.

 

 

All the colours of the rainbow (and the healing power of music)

My children are colour-blind.

It’s awesome.

In this still-fledgeling democracy that is South Africa today, 18 years after the country queued, and queued, and queued some more to cast its vote in the first democratic elections, my children are colour-blind.

It is a great joy to me.

They do not see black, white, pink, purple or green – only their circles of friends. And in this world of theirs, all ‘colours’ of the rainbow are equal, with the possible exception of real-life pink for Liam, who wrinkles up his nose and tells me in his little gruff voice that ‘pink is for girls mom!’.

And my boys can dance, also.

Who says white boys can’t dance?

I watched the children covertly the other night while I was in and out of the kitchen preparing dinner. Liam and Matthew were in the lounge where I’d introduced them to a Johnny Clegg CD – he who is known as ‘the white Zulu’ – and they’d loved the music instantly. They swayed, they stomped, they moved to the beat and they felt the rhythm.

I was so proud.

They’d discovered ‘Asimbonanga’ as their track of choice, and they played it over and over again. They know it practically off by heart now, including most of the isiZulu.

The song stirs up such memories for me. It was one of the anthems of my youth, when as a sheltered young adult I first learned – properly – about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the great Madiba, who was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 27 years. At the time I first got to know the song, Madiba was still some years away from his release from his island prison, Robben Island off Cape Town.

My friends and I went to quite a few concerts where Johnny Clegg played, first with Juluka and later with Savuka. He and his early-rainbow nation brothers and sisters sang and danced their hearts out, and whenever they performed ‘Asimbonanga’, the emotion in the room was always tangible and always running high – but in a good way.

There we were, crowds of young, mainly white youth in an apartheid South Africa that was not of our making, and there as Johnny sang we fell silent, swaying with one movement, arms uplifted, cigarette lighters lit in that universal music concert’s peace sign.

There we linked arms, minds and souls as we listened, united, to the haunting melody and the even more haunting words. There we remembered, through the song, fallen heroes of the struggle, black and white, male and female. There we were united in understanding and a yearning for peace, even if we couldn’t speak isiZulu. Somehow, we knew what the words meant in their very essence, deep down in our core.

There at those Johnny Clegg concerts, we were part of the fore-runner of the dream of a rainbow nation that has almost come to pass.

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

Chorus….

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Chorus….

Steven Biko, Victoria Mxenge
Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (In the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination) 

And as I listen again to these inspirational and haunting words, I ask myself when, indeed, will we arrive at the destination we were all looking for in those days of dreaming? The days when we voted with our hearts and our souls for a united rainbow country?

I ask myself:

When will the children be educated as they were promised?

When will the women and children be free from the scourge of rape and murder?

When will government corruption and ineptitude be punished?

When will politicians who lie, cheat and steal acknowledge their guilt and tell the nation, “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I will make amends. Yes, I will step down?”

When will nurses and policemen and teachers be properly paid, properly trained, properly mindful of their hugely important role in this fledgeling democracy of ours? 

When will the taxi and bus industries, which transport millions of people every day, be better regulated so that we are not outraged on a daily and weekly basis by stories of horror motor crashes that kill and maim innocent people?

When will motorists stop shooting their cars recklessly through bright scarlet traffic lights, endangering the lives of law-abiding citizens?

When will motorists start buckling up their children in car seats?

When will we adopt a culture of kindness to animals?

When will….

I must stop before I descend into mere ranting.

I must look on the bright side. I was not made to ignore the silver linings.

I must remember that the voice of the people is growing – yes, I do believe so. Think about the outrage around the e-tolling saga; think about the outrage around a R2 billion presidential jet; think about the journalists and satirists and yes, even businessmen who speak out – and out – and out some more despite legislative attempts to gag them.

Think about the good initiatives that take place in South Africa, led by business, led by the media, led by the medical industry, led by private individuals.

Think about the Madiba legacy – the magic that was his; the magic that pulled a country back from the brink of civil war; the magic that can still be if we only look for it and better yet, create it.

Think about it.

Think about the children of South Africa as they play together on playgrounds that are all the colours of the rainbow nation.

Think about it.

And then do a little spot of rainbow magic Madiba singing and dancing, by order of the great man himself.

Oh, oh, oh to have been there….

Hey wena!

Yes, you.

And me.

And you, and you, and you…

Let’s work together to arrive at our intended destination after all.

Let’s blind South Africa with all the colours and all the hope of the rainbow.

Think about it.

Then do.

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