Searching for the spirit of the great heart

The story of South Africa could be a heroic one. One that could turn out well and defy the odds and the law of averages. Instead, it is on very unsteady legs right now, with skin color prejudice being one of the main crippling issues. Heartbreaking stuff.

As former American president Barack Obama said in Johannesburg yesterday, “we’re living in strange and uncertain times”. He made the remark while delivering the annual Nelson Mandela lecture which this year commemorates what would have been the icon’s 100th birthday.

Nelson Mandela’s greatness of spirit in opting for reconciliation and progress – taking on a ‘Live and Let Live’ attitude and rising above bitterness, vengefulness and pettiness – is increasingly being criticized and his stature as a statesmen with vision beyond the immediate being minimized. And surprisingly, the harsh criticism emanates mostly from youthful ranks within South Africa! This is infinitely sad, as my mother would have said.

A weekend newspaper article by Stellenbosch academic Dr Leslie van Rooi, the university’s Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation, posed the question of whether the icon’s legacy was open to criticism. An opening blurb quoted him suggesting that although South Africans were free to be critical of the former president, who would today, on 18 July, have celebrated his centenary, they should first ask themselves a few incisive questions.

mandela

“How would I have decided differently about the political and economic dispensation that was made possible by 1994? And what would the consequences have been?” (1994 was when South Africa’s democracy was born.)

What would my thoughts about nation-building in the 90’s have been and what alternatives would I have put on the table?

These are two of the questions Van Rooi suggests we pose ourselves.

What I would urge those to do who are reluctant to see South Africa now rising to true greatness like a phoenix from the ashes of shame, is to track the history of the former president. Step by step. Putting themselves in his shoes. Going through the entire agonizing story of a man who sacrificed everything for the ideal of liberation.

He was not a wannabe politician aiming wildly for heroism and greatness. He was a young and vibrant, successful professional on whose shoulders the cloak of crucial political leadership fell at a time in his personal and career life that could have been seen to be unbearably inopportune. Yet he rose to the challenge. As the song ‘The Impossible Dream’ from ‘Man of La Mancha’ suggests – “without question or pause”.

It would appear that a large portion of the crowd of cynics and critics who would have preferred things to have turned out differently after Mandela took over power, are privileged young black people who either find themselves on university campuses or are carving for themselves successful careers in the market place.

Humaneness

Whatever their reasons might be, perhaps they should be reminded by the older generation that, as Mama Leah Tutu, wife of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said in her address at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, Mandela’s greatness was primarily in his humaneness.

He chose a road of forgiveness and greatness. He fixed his gaze on a better tomorrow for ALL South Africans… and he lived this conviction admirably until the very end.

I can safely assume that emulating him as a statesman, given the circumstances that he had been faced with, would be an almost impossible act to follow.

I am grateful for, and remain amazed about the rainbow he saw and invited us all – regardless of color or creed – to see and reach for too. And as his widow, Graca Machel said: people should be inspired by the anniversary events to become part of a tapestry of good against evil.

Rainbows do fade. Disappear. But they always return when you least expect them and they have the potential to be breathtakingly brilliant…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Far from the Fire Pools

20150519_203619_resizedThe surface of the street where I live is shiny with the traces of this morning’s frequent and intense showers after days of fierce and angry gales. The ocean is tired of dancing to their tunes and heaves in heavy swells of grey – beneath a sullen sky in all those fifty fluffy shades.

The date is significant.

The music of the Reflection and Meditation CD from the Reader’s Digest album The World’s Favourite Classics is so perfect for the moment. I float with it. Soar. Maybe not altogether lightheartedly; however temporarily and willingly detached from the shackles of earthly realities.

I lean over to be able to see the mountain and notice with a quiet gladness that there is a splattering of sun on the slopes where my mother’s ashes lie strewn. Where we scattered them some months after her death exactly twenty years ago. I marvel at the brevity of time; yet also its vastness. A sense of timelessness envelopes me and reminds me of the words found in the 55th chapter of the Bible book written by the prophet Isaiah – in verses 8 and 9: “My thoughts,” says the Lord, “are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.”

ARROGANT EGOISTS

My mother has been spared a great deal of earthly toil and turmoil. As much as I would enjoy taking her on a walk down memory lanes of the past two decades, I am also relieved that she is not exposed to the ridiculousness and the nadir of a government flailing about in disregard of all decency, morality, nobility and righteousness.

She has not needed to learn daily with a heavy heart of the escalating crime and corruption that are threatening to destroy a South African dream of freedom, fairness and opportunity for all… Likewise she is unaware of the race against time to save this unique and singular country from recklessness and destruction at the hands of arrogant egoists who almost certainly do not even know how to spell the word ‘integrity’.

Her heart would no doubt be troubled if it felt the threatening tremors of lawlessness approaching like a potentially devastating earthquake that is eager to devour and destroy the foundations of justice.

It would cry and flutter at the knowledge that the father of her children is sailing these stormy and treacherous waters in the frailty and vulnerability of old age and ill health. Yet it would sing joyously and victoriously to the tune of his courage and perseverance against all odds.

What matters most, after all, is to sense and believe that a journey of victory on high places, somewhere between reality and eternity, is ultimately rewarding.

Regardless…

WORDS’ WORTH – Michael Ondaatje and the ‘word thing’

(‘Words’ Worth’ is a fortnightly column written for the Solid Stuff Creative facebook page)the-enlgish-patient

When I stumble upon words or phrases that can be attributed to great and famous spirits and they resonate with a passion deep inside of me, I feel a trickle of excitement and pleasure tickling my spine. Oh, especially when they actually kind of summarise or accurately echo that passion!

Sri Lankan born author Michael Ondaatje, whose profound and poignant novel The English Patient earned him the 1992 Booker Prize, has his character who is throughout the narrative only presumed by the reader to be Almásy, express thoughts on the power and integrity of words – while they are most likely Ondaatje’s own.

Referring to the characters of Geoffrey Clifton and his wife Katharine, Almásy says: “The words of her husband in praise of her meant nothing. But I am a man whose life in many ways, even as an explorer, has been governed by words. By rumours and legends. Charted things. Shards written down. The tact of words. In the desert to repeat something would be to fling more water into the earth. Here nuance took you a hundred miles.”

Katharine subsequently asks Almásy for “That book you look at in the evenings?”

“Herodotus. Ahh. You want that?”

Some days later she takes out The Histories after the evening meal and reads out loud to the men the story of Candaules and his queen. A piece that Almásy had always skimmed over, but now listens to.

“…the words she spoke across the fire…”

He then tells the reader (or Hana): “This is a story of how I fell in love with a woman, who read me a specific story from Herodotus. I heard the words she spoke across the fire…” And a few paragraphs further – “She stopped reading and looked up. Out of the quicksand. She was evolving. So power changed hands. Meanwhile, with the help of an anecdote, I fell in love.

“Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”

Much later on in the novel, when there is an inevitable break-down in his relationship with Katharine, he (the narrator at that stage) skilfully uses words to imply a deep and profound understanding of her that she is sadly not aware of: “She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water.”

Perhaps this following excerpt from the review of the novel by Pico Iyer of Time best describes the allure and intrigue of The English Patient:

“A magic carpet of a novel that soars across worlds and times… As rare and spellbinding a net of dreams as any that has emerged in recent years.”

I agree.

I salute Michael Ondaatje’s captivating celebration of words.

 

Niemand soos hy nie

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Dit is die maand November.

Albei van ons se verjaarsdagmaand. Ons geboortedatums vyf dae uit mekaar. En 24 jaar. Dit voel onwerklik dat ek oor ‘n paar dae 59 jaar oud sal wees; en enkele dae daarna – hy 83.

Hy was midde-in voorbereidings vir ‘n allerbelangrike eksamen toe ek my opwagting gemaak het. Daardie betrokke eksamen het nie afgeloop soos dit moes nie en ek het al dikwels gewonder of ek by implikasie skuldig is. Ek voel nog altyd ‘n bietjie skuldig. Dinge kon dalk heel anders verloop het.

Ek wonder of die jakarandas nog geblom het daardie maand in 1955? Ag dit maak ook nie saak nie. Die belangrikste was dat twee van hulle toe drie van ons geword het. Ek wonder hoe dit regtig vir hulle was…. Menige staaltjies en grepe uit my eerste lewensjaar is my al vertel en ek wil my al verbeel die groot(?) plastiek-eend(jie) wat saam met my gebad het, is een van my onderbewuste geheueprentjies. Of dit moontlik is, weet ek nie. Dit was ‘n wit eend, weet ek. En fassinerend.

Dit kon nie alte maklik gewees het nie – vir ‘n 21-jarige en ‘n 24-jarige om in alle erns met ‘n opvoedingstaak te begin… Hy was ‘n uithaler-gimnas; ‘n provinsiale rugbyspeler; ‘n gewese koshuisvoorsitter. Sy loopbaan het gewink. Hare ook; maar sy het gekies om my met haar eie hande te versorg.

Ek twyfel of hulle destyds besef het dat hulle byna veertig jaar lank betrokke sou bly by ‘n aaneenlopende en herhalende opvoedingsmissie waarby ek en die nege na my – wat van ons driemanskap ‘n dosyn gemaak het – so merkwaardig baatgevind het. Hy kon darem die afgelope twintig jaar spreekwoordelik terugstaan en sy handewerk in oënskou neem; die vrugte daarvan pluk? Sy nie. Sy kon nooit terugstaan en sê ‘so ja; hierdie lewenstaak is afgehandel’ nie. Sy moes gaan. So gou. Dankie tog dat hy gebly het.

NOVEMBER 2014

In die afgelope tyd het ek meer as een keer vererende huldeblyke van kinders aan pa’s gelees en gehoor. November 2014 is eweneens vir my ‘n gepaste tyd om opnuut weer so te maak met my pa. Wat wonderlik is, is dat ek hom in die oë kan kyk wanneer ek hom vertel – nie vir die eerste keer nie – dat ek in byna ses dekades nog bitter min mense van sy kaliber teëgekom het.

Die enkele woord wat ek waarskynlik die meeste met hom vereenselwig, is ‘integriteit’. Dit is moontlik my gunsteling woord ooit. Of liewer my gunsteling begrip. Dit sê… alles.

My pa is ‘n man van integriteit. Hy was dit nog altyd. Hy adem dit. Hy straal dit uit.

Met sy loopraam en met Marie aan sy sy het hy onlangs ‘n matriekreünie op pleitende uitnodiging bygewoon – van ‘n groep mans en vroue wat 50 jaar gelede reeds klaargemaak het met skool; wat intussen klinkende suksesse behaal het op hul onderskeie lewenspaaie; en wat hom daar by hulle wou hê om te kan sê dankie. “Vir wat Meneer vir ons beteken het.” “Vir die bepalende rol wat Meneer in my lewe gespeel het.”

Pa, het jy ‘n beter getuienis nodig van wie en wat jy is? En nog altyd was?

Ek en jy, Pa, het 18 jaar gelede – toe ek skaars veertig jaar oud was – in ‘n soort doodloopstraatjie beland. ‘n Soort laagtepunt bereik. Miskien het jy dit nie so ervaar nie. Maar ons verhouding was seer. Gewond. Dit was tussen ons: ek het jou in die steek gelaat toe jy wou hê ek moet verstaan. En ‘groot’ wees. Maar terselfdertyd het jou toorn en skynbare onbegrip my geknou. Erg. Ek het nie geweet of ons daarvan sou herstel nie.

Maar genade is groot. En geloof. En Pa, jou gees is so groot. Jou mentorskap het die toets van die tyd deurstaan. Jou vaderskap ook. Jou leierskap. Jou innerlike krag. Jou liefde. Jou omgee. En myne vir jou. My waardering en bewondering. My heldeverering.

Die skeidslyn tussen waas en werklikheid is baie dun en eintlik onbenullig. Want as jy my in daardie bekende stemtoon van al die jare steeds aanspreek as ‘ my poppie’, dan breek die somerson van 1955 in die jakarandastad helder deur, en weerklink die raadgewing, riglyne, teregwysings, vertroostings, bemoedigings en gerusstellinge so duidelik soos gister.

Dan is jy weer 24. En ek jou splinternuwe dogtertjie.

 

‘n Patriarg groet

Vir elke laaste asemteug moes hy veg. Soos ‘n uitgeputte marathonatleet, het sy oudste kleinseun later opgemerk.

Rondom sy sterfbed was drie geslagte om op 16 Junie 2013 ‘n waardige kryger te groet.

(Skoon-)Pa Krige, jy het wel gedaan. Ek weet rus en vrede en volmaaktheid sal voortaan en ewiglik  jou deel wees. En vreugde.

Nie dat laasgenoemde hier op aarde tussen ons vir jou vreemd was nie. Inteendeel! Geen wonder nie, dat jou intiemste geliefdes dit ingeweef  in jou afskeidsgroet wou hê. ‘Isaac – child of laughter’: jou lag, Pa Krige, is een van die mees uitstaande kenmerke wat onthou sal word, ook deur diegene wat jou minder goed geken het, maar wie se paadjies joune gekruis het. Selfs jou tweede naam en die een waarop jy genoem is, ‘Marius’ – wat in Latyn ‘man’ en in Roemeens ‘hamer’ beteken, maak die prentjie van wie jy was en sal voortgaan om te wees, meer volledig.

Byna nege dekades lank het jy voluit geleef. Geleenthede ten volle benut. Daarom dat jy daar vanuit jou hospitaalbed angstig verneem het of iemand omsien na jou groentetuin. Totdat jy dit weer self kan doen… Jy hoop om ‘volgende week’ tuis te wees, het jy nog in die laaste dag of twee gesê.

‘n Huis sonder ‘n pa

Terwyl ons in die dae na Pa se heel laaste Vadersdag daar by jul Victoriaanse huis op Heidelberg saam met Ma en die ander naaste familie vertoef het, het ek opgemerk dat Lukas takies verrig wat waarskynlik voorheen in Pa se selfopgestelde pligbeskrywing gelys was. Daar was iets stil en eerbiedig aan sy liggaamstaal. Sy teenwoordigheid en bewegings gerusstellend. Tussen hom en Selina (én Ma, wat selfs in die eerste eensame ure daarop aangedring het om kop omhoog te hou en ‘normaal’ te bly funksioneer) gaan die lewe op ‘n manier voort by Pretoriusstraat 69. Die plante kry water, die voëltjies kry kos en teen laatmiddag word die antrasietstofie in jul sitkamer aan die brand gemaak. Ek het net opgemerk dat die houer met wandelstokke nou ietwat nutteloos daar uitsien. Uitgedien. (Terloops – het Pa geweet die hek by die straat se insteekslot is op die koffie?)

Selina is ook bedroef. Sy het gemeen Pa sal weer huis toe kom… Ma ook. Maar ook nie. Sy het dit ‘n paar dae voor die einde van jou pad op aarde hardop gesê: sy weet jy kan sterf. Julle was langer saam as wat verreweg die meeste ander egpare beskore is; en dit beteken dat Ma Krige nou, nadat sy driekwart van haar lang leeftyd tot dusver aan jou sy was, as alleenloper moet voortgaan. Voortbeur. Sy sal. Want julle Kriges (hoewel sy eintlik ‘n Du Toit is…) is ‘n anderste klompie. Julle weet van onverstoorbaar wees, van voortbeur, van kophou. Julle laat julle nie van stryk bring nie.

Maar jou dood, Pa, het ‘n kwesbaarheid in jou vier kinders na vore gebring wat ek selde indien ooit vantevore beleef het. Daar was ‘n ongekende verslaentheid – want dit kan mos eintlik nie wees nie. Hoe kon hulle taai pa net ophou asemhaal? Jou dogter, so dikwels jou ander maat in die alledaagse handel en wandel met blokraaisels, die seëlklub, jul uitstappies en talle ander dinge – sy gaan jou erg mis. Jou seuns se huldeblyke het gestraal van heldeverering, agting, waardering en – les bes – humor. Hulle het so baie by jou geleer. En het soos een man die fakkel wat jy uiteindelik moes aangee, oorgeneem. Jou nalatenskap leef veelvoudig voort!

Vir my

Ek is nie ‘n vlees-en-bloed Krige nie.  Maar darem al byna 35 jaar in jul dampkring. Ek dink Pa sal vir my altyd uitstaan as die mens met die wydste algemene kennis van almal wat ek al teëgekom het. ‘n Saluut werd.

En hoewel jy soms kwaai was met my, het ons talle oomblikke van humor gedeel. En van onderlinge begrip.

Jou lag, Pa Krige, was inderdaad sekerlik een van jou kenmerkendste en aantreklikste eienskappe: hartlik, aansteeklik, uitbundig. En die lekkerste van alles was dat dit nie moeilik was om jou aan die lag te kry nie…

Saam met my eie ma en talle ander dierbares het jy nou vooruitgegaan. Ons paadjies sal hul eie draaie loop, maar sal oplaas dieselfde uiteinde hê

Tot dan…

Lisel.

Mother Superior

mamma

Eighteen years ago to this day our mother stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating.

She “left this lonely world of ours, escaped the sorrow and the pain…” Without even looking back over her shoulder. Without a greeting. Without a word. And flew again.

Oh what a void she left. It just keeps sitting there, neither shrinking nor going away. It cannot and will not, simply because she had been the only woman whose heart we had heard beating from the inside. All ten of us.

It used to beat like all the tribal drums of Africa put together: brave and strong and determined and unstoppable. Until the early morning hours of 30 May 1995.

Letting her go was the only option, what else? Yet maybe only two thirds of her life had been lived. Or three quarters. Or all?

As I watch the reeds across the road swish and sway gracefully in the sombre northwesterly wind, a contradiction comes to mind: so, too, was she… as a slender reed, a delicate stem of grass; yet also as  a rock, a mountain, the ocean, the earth. Then gone.

White Linen

In my dreams she is mostly silent. But surprisingly often there! Right there, in our midst. Doing whatever it was that she would be doing in my dreams or in our midst.

My heart still lurches when White Linen or Aromatics Elixir wafts by my nose.

Sometimes I distinctly hear my name called by her – ” Lise…!” and invariably swing round to respond.

Then sometimes a robin boldly, delicately hops up close and looks at me with tilted head and lilts. And goes away just as it came.

I owe her much. Not in coins or precious stones or even words of tribute. But rather in salutes and a fly-past of honour – with flags and banners flying, trumpets sounding. And I know – if I listened carefully – I would hear the triumphant and clear sound of her voice calling from the clouds “All is well, all is well with my soul!”