Saying goodbye to a precious little girl

I’ve written a blog named ‘Perspective’ on 20 June of last year, as well as ‘Dear Mother of L’ on 29 June 2018. Another piece relating to this topic was ‘Blessed are those…’ on 23 August last year.  In the past week, everything written in these blogs have reached a whole new level, one that, in my mind, can only be described as ‘bewilderment’.  For a week ago, a beautiful little girl died and went to heaven.  She wasn’t just any little girl, not that any little girl is just any little girl.  But this little one changed my life in the most significant way.

I met her more than four years ago.  My children and I attended a birthday party at her place of safety.  We walked in, said hallo to the other little ones and fussed over the birthday girl.  Then I turned around and there she was, almost three years old, breathtakingly beautiful with her curly hair and skin as white as snow, in her wheelchair.  She was recently admitted to the house.  I asked the mother of the house who she was and can barely remember anything after she uttered these words, “She was a normal child before this happened…”

Everything happened in slow motion afterwards. I remember looking at my son, who, a few months younger, was running around and laughing abundantly.  Then I looked at her and back and forth again and went completely numb with the realization of what must happen to a child to go from where my son was to where she was.  That place of realization is indeed a very dark one.  It was unavoidable that my life changed completely that day.  I wrote that same night, “Tonight, somewhere in Pretoria, there is a little girl, blind, brain-damaged, paralyzed…  Mercilessly battered, neglected and abused by people who were supposed to protect her.  With her there are other children, abandoned, rejected…  My world as I have known it has changed forever.  I can’t be naïve and blatantly ignorant anymore.”

In the weeks following this, her story slowly unfolded. At two years old, her mother left her in the care of her boyfriend who hurt her incredibly and left her for dead.  She miraculously survived, showing the immense courage that we have come to know and admire over the last four years.  She had severe brain damage, her stomach and everything in it was beaten to a pulp and she was in a vegetative state.  Doctors found many bruises on her body in different stages of healing.  The mother was acquitted in a court of law, which is not a court of morals, of any wrongdoing, as she apparently didn’t know about the abuse and was never present.  The police failed miserably to do their work properly.  The boyfriend was sent to ten years in prison and he became eligible for parole last year.  We do not know if he was released.  In dealings with the mother over the past more than four years, she has always shifted blame for her daughter’s situation to others.

Over the past four years, I was privileged to be part of an incredible team of caretakers and therapists who have looked after the little girl. Women who stood in the space where her father, mother and family should have been.  People who cared for her every minute of every day, fed her, bathed her, stroked her face during fits and prayed for her when she cried inconsolably.  People who stayed by her side when she went back to hospital for further operations, who tried their best to relief the incredible pain in her little body.  People who interceded for her and loved her unconditionally.  We experienced the immense ups and downs, the divine protection over her life, the miracle of hearing that returned and how she recognized our voices.  People who have over the years became her eyes, ears, legs, hands and voice.

Last year, her mother applied to have her placed back in her care permanently. We tried our best to voice our concerns, but it fell on deaf ears with people of the organization who oversaw the process.  She was placed back in her mother’s care a little more than a week ago; the same mother who a judged established was incapable to take care of her child and said in so many words, “You are a bad mother.”  Three days later she died.  This story will take its course.  What must happen shall happen and I pray that there will be justice for this little girl.  I can’t elaborate much more than this.  This past weekend, at her funeral, I read this letter to her to try to put in words what she meant to me.

 

Dearest Poppedais

I know that you are here with us. Of course I also know that there are much better things to do in heaven where you are, but please, just sit with us for a moment.  Listen carefully when I tell you how much we love you and how special you are to us.  Keep it in your little heart until the end of time. 

When I think of you, my whole heart wants to burst. You changed my life completely when I met you more than four years ago and every day since.  I remember vividly when I saw you for the first time.  You took my breath away; you were beautiful, beyond perfect.  Of course, I cried many times over the pains you had to endure.  I wished that you could see the beautiful world that God has created.  I wished that you could dance as only a little girl can.  I wished you all the best and most amazing things that this world had to offer. 

I remember, one night when I cried again over your pain and asked God why you had to go through this, He spoke to me in the most profound way. He told me, “Do you know that she is actually okay?  No, she is more than just okay.  I am holding her in my big, loving hands and I will not let go of her.  I am with her, every second of every day and night and she is with Me.  She is better off than any of you who can see and walk and do a lot of things.  Of course, you see mostly through eyes contaminated by this world, but I do not.  Her little eyes do not have to see ugly things.  Her feet do not have to go where she can be hurt anymore.  I can keep her heart pure.  She doesn’t need the best and most stunning things in this world for what I have for her is much better.  All that she needs is the love of people who are my hands and feet here on earth.  She survived in order for your and others’ hearts to change for the better.”

I was so happy that He told me this. Afterwards, I could really focus on your special little heart.  Your incredible heart was meek, yet strong, courageous, yet fragile.  Your heart spoke to us in the special way you handled your pain.  You were the most courageous little girl that I have ever known.  Your smile could light up any darkness in the blink of an eye.  And do you know what?  You were far above the rest of us.  You were on the highest mountain, with God.  He says in Deuteronomy that He “set you high above all the nations which He has made, for praise, fame and honor: and that you shall be a holy people.”  Every person that was privileged enough to be in your presence were elevated to where you and God were, on the highest mountain.  Now what on this earth can be better than that?  There, on that mountain, incredible healing and joy took place.  Without saying a word or walking a step, without being able to do anything, you showed us where you were.

Little Poppedais, I want to thank you that you shared your heart with us. We needed you these past years.  We needed you to change our hearts, to make them soft.  We needed you so that we could look at life through different eyes.  Thank you for teaching us what simplicity, courage and being brave are all about.  Thank you for showing us that nothing is more important in this life than to be with God.  You have shown me what I want to learn my little children about life.  You took away all the noise that the world so often wants to teach us.  Thank you for fighting to stay alive so that you could be with us for a while. 

Remember how we always sang this song, “Do you know that Jesus loves you? Do you know that He likes you a lot, just the way you are?  Because you are precious to Him.”  And now, you are with Him.  You have completed the work that He has given you and you have done it well.  Now you can rest.  He dances over you with joy.  He is proud of you and so are we.  But we are going to miss you with every breath we take.  We promise to make you part of our lives until the day that we put down our heads after our work has been completed on earth.  I promise to tell my children about how every moment I can.  I will tell them how you changed my heart.  And I believe that their hearts will also be changed and their children as well.  In this way you will always live.  This is just how precious you are, not was.  You will always live in our hearts.

I know you want to go now. I know that there are so many better things to do there where you are now.  Go, precious girl.  May you dance in heaven as only a little girl can.  We love you.

And this all I need to know now.

 

“Ring the bells that still can ring…’’- My hope for 2019

A few events in the past month are worth recording for my children. I’m not sure how they all tie together, but let’s see how it all plays out.

Sleep just about catches up with me when my mom walks into the room while we are on holiday together.

“Listen to this,” she says, before she continues. “Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter?  Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea?  Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”  From the play ‘The Great God Brown’ by Eugene O’Neill.

It got me thinking, about how the word used most in this quote is ‘afraid’. Somewhere along the road of life we become afraid to love.  And there are a million valid reasons as to why.  But inside of us is the breath of a loving God, breath that is love and life.  Every breath is a gift, a blessing, a privilege.  Inside of us is the love of the God of love, endless and unconditional.

I sit on the beach and look at the waves. My breath is like the waves, I discover.  When I breathe in and my stomach expands, it’s a wave that swells and swells and swells even further.  Then, that incredible moment when the switch is made between breathing in and breathing out, the wave that has reaches the point of completeness and the moment it bursts open.  Finally, the breathing out, the wave that breaks and spills forth and cleans itself from the immense swelling.  How amazing, God’s breath that is love and life in me and how it is mirrored in the waves, endless and all-consuming.

A few nights ago, a heavy sleeper log falls on a boy outside our little holiday home. From afar, we only see the stillness of his legs as he lies on the ground.  People rush towards him, surround him.  We watch with breaths held.  A few minutes pass.  He stands up.  All is okay.  We walk to the beach and after a few minutes I realize that my parents are trailing behind.  As I turn around, I see my mother, slumped on my dad’s shoulder, her own shaking vigorously from breathless cries.  She looks up, eyes wild with pain unspoken, etched with sorrow and fear like a bottomless pit.  How far she must have gone back in that moment when she saw the stillness of the boy, back to another boy next to a road on the outskirts of Vryheid, breath that is love and life slowly seeping out of him.  Her own son.

And I think of her and my dad and ‘Oom’ Gerrie and ‘Tannie’ Merle, ‘Oom’ Piet and ‘Tannie’ Wilna, ‘Tannie’ Mariëtte and my friends Maritza and Anna-Mart, to name a few, who this past Christmas found themselves once again and for the first time with love in their hearts for loved ones that have passed on from this life. I think of how this love in their hearts cannot be given away.  It is reserved only for the special ones who are gone; it swells frustratingly upwards like the waves but can’t be spilled.  And so it stays there, in their hearts, painfully etched.  Maybe, dearest Mom, this is also a reason why you, who love love, are afraid to love.

I watch as my father and husband teach our son the game of chess and limit their capabilities in order for him to win a game or two. This is also love. Then again, when they use their capabilities and win, they also show the love that they hold in their hearts for their little son.  They are helping him walk on roads that lead to the discovery that some you win and some you lose and to finding that love in his little heart for himself and others to be okay with it.  Then I watch them play another game, and another, and another, their patience rising above and beyond like kites playing above a colorful beach, until our son has the skills and courage to play the game well.

I watch as my little daughter walks around everywhere with her little first aid kit and doctors all that is a little scrape and bite on our bodies.

“Mom,” she asks after putting a plaster on my husband’s toe, “do you have any sores?”

“Yes,” I tell her as I show her the blister underneath my foot from the hot sand.

“Mom, I think you should come with me upstairs and lie on the bed. Then I can have a proper look at it.”  She looks at me with worry in her eyes.

As we walk to the beach to greet the new year, I ask my mother what she would have done differently thirty years ago that would make her life easier today. If, for instance, she could have foreseen that she would spend two months in a hospital after a hip replacement last year, what would she have done differently back then?  I tell her of a beautiful friend of mine who decided a few years ago that she will not drink a drop of alcohol again.

“I told her how I admire her for it,” I say, “and then she told me that it’s all about staying as healthy as she can for as long as possible. She underwent tests by a genetics professor and it was established that she has the Alzheimer’s genes from both sides of her family.  Her grandmother has the illness and is currently in frail care.  She says that she must keep her head going, eat healthily, not drink alcohol and exercise regularly.  That way she, her husband and children can know that she did everything in her power to prevent it should it happen one day.”  Once again, I get goosebumps as I tell her this.

A while later, as we swim in the sea, my mother tells me that if she could do one thing differently, it would be to let my sister and I believe that we are beautiful enough.

“How do you do that?” I ask, well aware of the challenges we already face in letting my little daughter believe this truth and that outward beauty is but the tip of the iceberg.

“I don’t know,” she replies, “I guess the answer is in how I love myself and how I believe this about myself.”

I think of my friend who is showing her incredible love for herself and her family as she is doing everything she can to prevent Alzheimer’s.

This morning, as we visit my father’s brother, he climbs on a ladder with a rake into the lychee tree that is literally bursting with fruit.

“Pick up and take everything!” he says. The lychees are the most amazing that I’ve ever tasted, sweet flesh abounds around tiny pips.  His unique way of showing the love in his heart to us is litchees that come raining down in sheer abundance.

A few events in the past month are worth recording for my children. I’m not sure how they all tie together, but I see the magical thread of love in all of them.  I see people with endless love in their hearts, put there meticulously by a loving God.  I see people whose hearts have been broken countless times, people who love love, but are understandably afraid to love.  I see how they want to love, regardless, as the love in them transcends all else.  It’s stronger and wiser than anything else.

And so my hope for 2019 and beyond is that we will realize that the Breath that is within us, that makes us alive, is perfect love above all else. I believe that we can love one another with love that is devoid from fear.  I believe that each and every person that comes my way are beautiful beings that are able to love and want to love, but struggle to do so.  I believe that they still desperately want to love and even more desperately want to receive it.  I hope that we all will, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “ring the bells that still can ring…forget about your perfect offering…there is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.”

And I believe that love is everywhere to be found, now, as the stories above tell.  It is everywhere to be found because it is in us.

And that is all I need to know now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Who’s fat?”

As we walk to the beach, my son urges, “Come on Mom, hurry up! I want to go and play! Why are you walking so slowly?” He runs ahead, cricket bat in one hand, boogie board in the other.

‘Well, my son,’ I think, ‘I could explain to you my inner thighs… You see, the fact that they are rubbing together as I take every single step frustrates me severely.  It is indeed not a pleasant feeling.  No…  But I guess I might as well speak Chinese or something because you wouldn’t understand a word I’m saying.  Nor would you really care.’  I think of the very painful extents I’ve put myself through these past couple of months to get rid of my cellulite in preparation of walking on the beach in a swimming costume.  As with many things in life, the end result falls exponentially short from the expectation.  Had I stuck to my resolution to not eat any sugar, the gap would have been much narrower.  But as so many times before, emotional eating won the battle.

Once on the beach, my daughter shouts from the water. “Mom, please, come and swim with me!  Mom, mom, please!  Mom!”

“Just give me a few minutes,” I reply, “I first need to scrape some courage together.” If only courage could miraculously replace cellulite and I could scrape if off my thighs…

‘Damn thighs,’ I think as I finally find my way to join her in the water. In my costume.  The dreaded moment has arrived and for the next two weeks of this holiday, this is how I will be found on a regular basis.  In a costume.  On the beach or in the water.  With my family.  Wait…  With my family.

In the water we play with joy. I hold her by the hands as she jumps as each wave hits her.  She screams in delight every time it happens.  People look our way; I guess it sounds to some as though the screams are coming from a terrified child.  But she is not terrified, she is abundantly happy.  This is her way of showing it to the world.  I could try my best to silence her, but truth be told, I don’t want to.  I am here with her and after a while, I find myself screaming in delight with her every time a wave hits.

A while later, I sit quietly and observe the people around me. The same thoughts go through my mind as a year before.  I remember thinking back then that I want to write about this.  Now a year has passed.  I absolutely love watching the women, mostly mothers.  In all their shapes, sizes and colours, they are indeed worthy of attention.  I watch them as they walk towards the water with their children and others as they play sports of some sort.  I watch as they build castles together in the sand and as they laugh and run after their children.  If I take my own experience into account and the conversations I have with my friends, I know that each of them has selected their swimming costume with the greatest care.  Flaws have to be hidden and assets accentuated.  But mostly, we have to feel comfortable in our skin.  Skin that has been stretched incredibly while pregnant and shrunk back again afterwards.  Bodies that went through the miracle of carrying babies.  But I also know that many of us afterwards forget this incredible miracle as we struggle to feel comfortable in our skin again.

The women that I watch are all incredibly beautiful. Each is a model in her own right, a person in her family that leads by example and is imitated by her children.  Each is so different from the next and each makes the world around them a more beautiful place.  All of them have this in common…  They are here, with their families, playing and participating in life.  I can imagine, knowing my own struggles, the doubts and struggles of many of them.  But the desire to get up and play is more than the urge to sit under an umbrella and hide.  And after a while of playing with our children and experiencing their innocent delight in life in general, we forget our own insecurities.  It really is the best medicine.  There are far more important things, now.  All I know is, I am proud to be part of this incredible species.

The men, well, honestly and with the most possible respect?   They are really not that striking.

I think back to about a week ago when my friend visited me. She has gained a considerate amount of weight in the past couple of years and now refers to herself unashamedly as ‘fat’.  She was recalling a conversation she had with a friend from overseas who observed how little grace my friend had with herself and how South African women in general judged each other ruthlessly.   She was standing outside on our veranda, inspecting a hammock-style swing that our kids love to play on.  I was making coffee in the kitchen and the children were drawing at the table nearby.

“Is this swing able to carry fat people?” she asked.

“Who’s fat?” my son asked matter-of-factly as he looked at her.

Another friend of mine tells me how her little son bragged to an older uncle the other day, “You know, my mommy has very big boobies!” And I know that it is the last thing she thinks she has!

Another time, I was dressing and my daughter was looking at me silently.  The next moment she pointed to my hips and said, “Mommy, I also want lines like that.”

“What lines?” I asked, confused.

“Those white lines!”  Still pointing at my hips.

I looked down and all I could see, was the stretch marks.  “You mean these ones?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yes!” she said.  “They are beautiful!”

These are such innocent moments, showing how our children, who will hopefully be our biggest fans for life, really don’t care about how we look. They will however tell their friends and family one day how their mothers and fathers participated in life with them everywhere they went and how their mothers didn’t hide in a corner somewhere, too ashamed to look the world in the eye.  A world, by the way, whose perception of ‘fat’ and ‘beautiful’ leaves much to be desired.

Hence, my decision. This holiday, I will pretend that I am a model as I walk the beach.  I hope that all mothers will do the same.  I hope that we will celebrate our bodies and life together with our husbands and children.  Mind over matter, literally.  For what we think, we become.  And all those lovely cliches.  And never has a truer word been spoken, we are indeed models, and supermodels at that.

So when my son again asks, “Who’s fat?” my answer will be without any doubt, “not me, my son! Definitely not me!” And I will be sure to walk faster as we make our way to the beach.

And that is all I need to know now.

 

 

Highly unlikely; however not impossible

It’s my husband’s birthday.

“What is your wish for the next year?” I ask him.

“Peace and quiet,” he answers without hesitation.

I have to laugh, however quietly in my sleeve. ‘Bless your soul, my dear husband,’ I think, ‘such a noble wish’.  The chances of peace and quiet are highly unlikely; however not impossible.  We always have hope that surpasses all circumstances, right?  But with a soon-to-be seven year-old son going to big school and a soon-to-be five year-old daughter who are both utterly strong-willed, a wife full of drama, a stressful job and life in the city, to name a few things, the chances of peace and quiet seem slim to none.  We are definitely accustomed to a never-a-dull-moment type of life by now.

And so we are off to celebrate this milestone at our favourite sushi restaurant not far from home. Dinners like these are seldom a wise idea at the end of long days with children and work, but we go anyway.  We take our seats outside and order a glass of wine to unwind and start the festivities.  The kids are running around.  A few minutes after, our son arrives at the table and asks for two five rands to buy little rubber balls for him and his sister at the vending machine.  My husband and I look at each other and decide to give him the money.  We always say ‘no’, and for good reason, but sometimes we must say ‘yes’.  He runs away excitedly, his sister in tow.

Only for them to return a few moments later, his shoulders slumped; she on the other hand brimming from ear to ear. In her hand is a blue rubber ball, in his… a pink one.

“Mom, look, I got a blue ball!” She shows it off proudly.

“Dad, I asked if we could swop around. I don’t want a pink one,” our son tells my husband.  “But she doesn’t want to.”

My husband looks at her and asks, “Don’t you want to swop with your brother? Remember, you like pink more?”

“No! I like blue too!”  She runs off; ball in hand, body strong with determination.

I look at our son and see tears on the brink of bursting. He falls in his chair, disappointment infested in his little body.

“But I like blue, I’m a boy, she is a girl! I want the blue one!”  Tears are flowing freely now.

My husband, always looking to avoid conflict like the plague, hence the wish for peace and quiet, tries to reason with him. But his state of emotions is soon at the worst of worst stations and there he gets stuck.  Our daughter comes back with ball in hand and offers another definite ‘no’ when asked to swop.  Sharing is also completely off the table.  Now our son is almost at the point of hyperventilating and I must admit, I do not play the role of validator of emotions very well.  I epically fail at this once again.  When you hear, via the grapevine, of a family that threw a terrible tantrum in a sushi restaurant in the east of Pretoria, look no further.  The more my husband tries to calm him down, the angrier I become and I have trouble sympathising with my son.  This has been going on for the better part of fifteen minutes now.

“You know what,” I tell him, “there are worse things in life than a little ball! It is definitely not the end of the world!  You and your sister haven’t even thanked dad for the money!  It’s all about what is going on in your hearts!  I can’t believe you are going on like this!”

Now my husband tries to calm me down. So much for peace and quiet.  “Just relax,” he tells me, “there are people around us.”  I think of how I read the other day that never in the history of calming down has anybody calmed down by being told to calm down.  “Remember,” he says, “boys like blue.  I can understand that he doesn’t want the pink ball.”

After a while of this going on, our daughter comes in again with her blue ball.

“She got the blue one fair and square,” I say. “And recently, she likes blue more.”

“Don’t you think she is saying that just to terrorize him?” my husband asks.

“Even if she is; she got the blue one fair and square and it would be unfair to expect her to swop just because her brother likes blue.” Fresh tears are coming from our son’s green eyes.

My words have barely left my mouth or our daughter says with ruthless cockiness, “Look at my blue ball, look at my blue ball!” Our son now reverts to wailing.

“Okay, now that is enough!” my husband says. “I am going to take both balls now.  Maybe tomorrow, when both of you can show a bit of decency towards one another, we can give it back.  But for the rest of the night, no balls!”

Both turn away unhappy, but they manage to go outside and play together. A few minutes of relative peace and quiet preside.  When all four of us sit to eat, our son again asks if he can have the blue ball.  There is always hope.

“No! It’s mine!” our daughter says.

“Dad said enough for tonight! We can try again tomorrow.  And you know what?” I say, looking at our son, “for all you know, the pink ball hops higher than the blue one.”

He looks at his sister. “Hey sis, Mom says the pink ball hops higher than the blue one!”

“Okay, then you can have the blue ball,’ she says, and shrugs her shoulders as if it is now the simplest thing in the world to do. Just like that, all is forgotten.

“That is not what I said,” I say. “I said, for all you know, it hops higher.  And no, there will be no more balls tonight!”

About an hour into our dinner, we are able to focus on why we actually came in the first place.

And so my dear husband, I want to say to you, happy birthday. I love you and thank God for another year by your side.  You are a truly remarkable man.  I admire the wish that you harbour for the next year and I realize how sincere you are in wishing this.  I wish this too, especially for you.  Truth be told, when I look at the prospects for the coming year, I see that there is an extremely high probability of ‘never a dull moment’, and a very slim chance of peace and quiet.  May we find the peace and quiet in the midst of it all regardless.  I am thankful that we are in this together and I commit to finding the peace and quiet with you.  I commit to trying my best to sometimes just be the peace and quiet that you wish for.  I am thankful that we can look for it together.  I am thankful that we have hope that surpasses all circumstances, together.  The keyword being ‘together’.

Oh yes, and may we always remember why we always say ‘no’ when our son and daughter ask if they can have little rubber balls.

And this is all I need to know now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then she came back

Ours was an unexpected friendship that began in a fascinating way. God knows how I needed it at the time.  During one of the most lonesome periods in my life, thirteen years ago, I was working with her mother.  One day, she told me about her daughter who had no choice but to call off her wedding, but still went on the paid honeymoon with a friend.  What an ordeal, I thought.  Soon after, I attended an extended gathering of another friend of mine, who told me about this lady she knew from church who was also there that night.  The lady had no choice but to call off her wedding, but still went on the paid honeymoon with a friend.

“Hold on,” I said, “I’ve heard this story and it definitely doesn’t happen to a lot of people.”

My friend showed me to this lady. And there she was, Meraai, as she is affectionately known.  She lived in Johannesburg and I in Pretoria and we started writing each other long-drawn email after long-drawn email.  Slowly but surely we let one another in on our respective worlds, letting down barriers built around our troubles.  We visited each other whenever we could.  She became my best friend.

But then she left. Almost six years ago, she went to live with her sister in East Timor.  At the time, I didn’t even know that a country with this name existed on the planet.  Today, I still don’t quite know where it is; except that it is somewhere near Australia and that it takes almost a day on a plane to get there.  It is very far from South Africa.  But she had to go, I understood why.  After a few years, she met her husband there, an Australian.  Very sophisticated and all.  She found her happiness in East Timor.  They moved to Canberra not long before their wedding as his project in East Timor ended.

The headline this past weekend reads, “Almost two thousand South Africans leave the country on a monthly basis”. Meraai was the first of my close friends to leave almost six years ago.  In the past year, this number included a couple that my husband and I count in between our most precious of friends.  My husband’s cousin and her family left earlier this year.  Soon, one of my closest friends will be leaving for New Zealand.  My dear cousin and her family are also leaving in January.  We are experiencing these profound losses, as do the family and friends of the almost two thousand South Africans that leave the country on a monthly basis.

Most people leaving South Africa have roots that are planted incredibly deep in this soil. These roots have formed over many generations.  So every person is a tree that grows from these roots that influence and shape the people and land around them; that either gives life to others or suck the life from them.  Sure, when your roots are not planted solidly in this soil, you can just uproot the tree and take it with you wherever you go.  But the ones that are planted deeply can’t be uprooted.  Thank God for that.  For they leave their trees behind that continue to influence and give life to those that stay behind.  They have to start anew in fresh soil; planting seeds from which roots will eventually grow and become trees once more that shape their influence in their new country.

But the people tending to their trees on our soil are gone. Gone is the privilege of looking each other in the eye on a daily basis.  There is no more driving past each other in the streets of our city.  Gone is the security that naturally comes with friends that became family that lived just down the street.  Gone are the backups in case of emergency, in fact, emergency contacts must change on every form you now complete.  When someone leaves that has a permanent dwelling in your heart, you have love reserved especially for that person that you can’t divert to someone else.  I’ve learned that you have a desire to show the love that you hold in your heart for this specific person in a physical manner by spending time together.  It is frustrating and confusing when you can’t do this anymore, because the desire and the love are still there.  Now you have to find new ways that transcends distance and time differences.  It’s not the same, even though you really and truly want it to be.  The intimacy established by being intertwined in each other’s daily lives is lost.  Technology, although with many advantages, can’t replace this.  And you do not stop missing them; in fact, you miss them more every day.  These are profound losses.

But then, a few weeks ago, she came back. My friend, Meraai.  Earlier this year, her husband applied for a job in South Africa.  Indeed, who better to assign the job to than an Australian with a South African wife?  He sure has a significantly different interest in our country than any of his peers and he will sure do an outstanding job.  Well done for making this decision, Australia.  For the next three years, they are back.  Magic truly manifests when someone returns.  It is to receive the best of gifts all over again.  There are not many stories of the like in the news.  I can truly recommend this experience.

“You know I live quite far from you,” she tells me when I visit her in her new house for the first time, referring to the almost twenty minutes that we have to drive to each other’s houses.

“My friend”, I reply, “it is nothing compared to how far you were.”

She laughs. I laugh.  We laugh together.  And there it is; the wonder of laughing together.  The mere thought of us being able to spend time together again is wonderful.  Knowing that I can now show her the love that I hold for her in my heart, is incredible.  The joy of having her in the same city where we live is immense.  I can’t even imagine what a relief it must be for her to be able to write her parents and sister’s names as emergency contacts again, as they live very close to her now.  She is back to tend to her tree, to cut off dried leaves so that new ones can grow that will give life and influence anew the soil and people around her.  As she did when she lived here all her life before she left six years ago.  For hers is a tree of shelter, joy and deepest meaning.  I count myself blessed.

And somehow, something is more right in the world today.

And that is all I need to know now.

 

 

Four roaring ladies and a baby on a plane

Four ladies and a baby are waiting to board a plane. I spot them as they sit together in a circle, eating and drinking, the baby happily playing at their feet. I try to come up with explanations in my mind for the scene playing off in front of me. Not one seems to be adequate. After a while I realize that I actually can’t stop looking at them, like a stalker of some sorts. Is it the pure, innocent joy and love having a field day between them that cause me to be in awe? Or the tiny, beautiful little girl, light as a feather? Whatever the reason, I can’t stop looking. For what is happening in this little circle is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

Not one of the four ladies can be the mother, I think, unless one of them had the baby at a very advanced age. Not impossible, but highly unlikely by the looks of it. Then maybe some of them are her grandmothers, others her aunts? They definitely know the ins and outs of this little one. The tiny girl has Down Syndrome. She is as petite as the softest of breezes, dressed in a light pink romper with big, wonderful eyes. She knows she is immensely loved by the four ladies; the confidence in her tiny upright posture speaks of it. She frolics like the lightest of pink butterflies between them. Light that pierces all darkness radiates from each of the ladies towards her.

Each of these ladies is geared to take care of her. One produces from her handbag a bottle with water that she gives to the baby. The next lady gives her some medicine, probably to ease her tiny nerves for the approaching flight. The other lady takes from her bag a little bag with some fruit that the baby grabs with eager hands. The fourth lady gives her a dummy to suck on. All of them takes the little girl in their arms and laughs and hugs her. They take turns and share duties, completely at ease. The girl is as incredibly comfortable with the one as with the next. The synergy in this little circle is like a perfect synchronized swimming display, practiced and rehearsed for months beforehand, eliminating any chance of anyone dropping the ball. They handle her as they would their most precious belonging, their own flesh and blood. They realize what is at stake.

My curiosity begins to nag and I still can’t figure out a story. I want to get up and ask them and when they rise to make their way to the plane, I take my chance.

“Excuse me for my curiosity,” I say to the lady with the blonde hair holding the baby as the others file behind her, like a regiment. “I need to ask, how does this fit together?” I gesture to all of them, my eyes fixed on the little girl.

The lady with dark pinned-up hair and eyes shiny with mischief reply, “We are abducting her!”

We all laugh for a little while. Then lady with the blonde hair becomes serious. “This is my husband’s cousin’s daughter’s little girl. She has Down Syndrome.”

“How old is she?” I ask. I realize that I could never have come up with this explanation. I thought that only very close family could account for the level of intimacy I am seeing.

“She is eleven months old,” she replies, crystals in her blue eyes. “She has a twin sister who is very sick. I am taking her to visit the sea for the first time. We are staying for four nights and hope I will be able to take care of her!”

I look at all the ladies and think of the synergy I saw a few minutes earlier. “And all of you are going with for the weekend?” I ask, amazed. “It sure looks as though every one of you knows how to take care of this little girl?”

“Yes and yes, we are going with, wouldn’t miss this for anything. We are her village! A roaring one!” The lady with the soft eyes looks at the one holding the little girl.

Then they are off, excitement tangible, lionesses with their precious cub. Indeed, their laughter roars through the airport passages. They sure know what they are doing. They are on a determined mission to take care of a little girl while showing her the wonders of the sea. Later, I read about lionesses on https://animals.mom.me/how-do-lions-care-for-their-young-12078353.html: ‘Many of the females in a pride give birth around the same time, so they have cubs of a similar age. This makes it natural for them to care for, protect and feed each other’s young. In fact, the lionesses in a pride will often nurse other lioness’s cubs. It is truly communal care.’

Communal care. I think of the little girl waiting to board a plane and her mother at home taking care of her twin sister. How tired and overwhelmed the mother must be with eleven month old-twins with special needs!  My mind drifts to the four ladies and how they have taken on the wellbeing of the little girl as if she is their own and in doing so is taking care of the mother in the most profound manner. It is there for everyone to see. They do not shy away from being the village this mother desperately needs, in fact, they go above and beyond. They open their hearts wide enough to house a child other than their own. They unconditionally love and protect this little girl as they do their own flesh and blood and they do so with incredible joy. Their wish for this little girl is to thrive and be sure of their love for her, even when she is not their own. They do all of this at an age where you would think they would not have the energy for a little girl of eleven months old. They are the village defined, the village in action, the village that is one of the foundations of motherhood being a beautiful journey.

Four ladies and a baby are waiting to board a plane. I spot them as they sit together in a circle, eating and drinking, the baby happily playing at their feet. I try to come up with explanations in my mind for the scene playing off in front of me. Not one seems to be adequate. After a while I realize that I actually can’t stop looking at them, like a stalker of some sorts. Is it the pure, innocent joy and love having a field day between them that cause me to be in awe? Or the tiny, beautiful little girl, light as a feather? Whatever the reason, I can’t stop looking. For what is happening in this little circle is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

Here is to every friend and family member of mine that form part of my village. I need all of you desperately. I salute each one of you as the heroes in my life. A village in action is indeed one of the most beautiful, hopeful things on earth to see. I count myself as the most privileged amongst privileged to be able to experience this.

And this is all I need to know right now.

To get up and show up (Part 2): My hope for a better South Africa

This is more a letter to my children than anything else. I hope they can look back in a few years and draw hope from this like the purest water from a well in the middle of a desert.  In fact, may they be the purest water in a well in the middle of a desert.

There are a million ways to make a difference, good or bad, to the challenges we face in our country. Each one of them begins with getting up and showing up.  Evil is everywhere to be found.  The hope I carry for our country is however rooted in the fact that there is far more good to be found than evil.  Everywhere we show up, we have the ability to do three things.  We show up to create evil, we show up to fight evil with evil or we show up to win evil with good.  The point is we have to get up and show up.  This post is dedicated to all the people who get up and show up, all of them to win evil with good.  I write about a few people who get up and show up in my life every day.

I think of my husband who gets up at the crack of dawn most days of the week to show up for work. Relentlessly, he provides for us.  The saying “no one is irreplaceable” does not apply to him, I believe with all my heart.  He works incredibly hard to be irreplaceable.  With many years of dedicated input in this country and with each passing day still, he is building a legacy in his field.  I think of how he, sometimes as a joke and sometimes with a pang of sadness, says, “If we leave the country, it will probably be too late.”  I hope that he will never find himself desperate to leave.  I hope that he will continue to literally build our nation and in doing so set a good example for his three sons and daughter.  I hope that he will continue to show up to be a moral compass in circumstances where shadows abound.

I think of Lindiwe, an angel who works in our house three times a week. She gets up at four o’clock in the morning to take the bus to be in time for work.  Her challenges are immense, bigger than I can ever comprehend.  Yet, every time she walks into our home, she has a smile on her face and hugs my children with incredible compassion.  Not once in the past seven years has she complained about the state she finds our house in.  She just goes about her work of cleaning our house with a humble heart.  She laughs with my children and tries to teach them Zulu.  She brings good with her and does good in our home.  She makes it easier for me to be a better mother.  She shows up to help build our family so that we can be able to show up elsewhere.  And she does it with joy.

I think of my son. It’s Thursday evening in a scorching hot Pretoria and together with almost fifty six year-olds and their proud families, we show up for his crowning function. Dressed in gowns and caps, they look older and wiser than their years.  They are finished with preschool.  They each get a turn to stand alone with their teacher and headmaster on the stage.  They are not crowned with words describing what they are best at.  They are also not crowned with shiny things like medals or trophies.  What they are crowned with is words of affirmation.  Bits of their character are described.  What they each bring to school each day that makes a difference is told.  They are crowned with blessings prayed over them.  The fact that these little ones show up for school each day makes this evening and this life spoken over them possible.  The fact that they can take from an evening like this the fact that what grows in their hearts are more important than worldly achievements, is wonderful.

I think of the headmaster who says a few words describing the themes of the school. This year, the theme is “Worship to victory” and next year it will be “Fellowship through unity”.  I think of every teacher who shows up at school, dedicated to their calling.  I think of the privilege to be part of a school where the incorporation of themes like these in academics, sports and culture are priority.  I think of how themes like this give my child the confidence to get up and show up and love others.  We look on with gratefulness as he builds friendships at school across multiple boundaries and barriers, oblivious to these.  Fellowship and unity are only possible if we show up, we as parents first in line.

I think of my daughter, who gets up every day and is never in a filthy mood. She carries in her being such incredible joy that it literally knocks me off my feet and I sometimes find myself unable to deal with it.  The hope she carries with her is not something I have anything to do with.  It is the sheer love and joy of a Father who created her in his image.  It is freedom and potential poured out in her from God who became man and showed up to pay the ultimate price.  It is compassion that does not see a difference from one person to the next and is able to embrace life in all its glory.  It is a prayer prayed over her each day, “The Lord blesses you and makes you a woman of big influence.  That’s why you can be a blessing to others.”  It’s to get up and show up in her little world and be a good influence, even at four years old.

I think of every father and mother who gets up and shows up for the children they brought into the world. The ones who are anything but perfect and also don’t try to be.  The ones who are authentic and deal with unique challenges with courage and determination to build a next generation.  I think of generations of men and women who work hard to be irreplaceable.  I think of the generation currently in preschool who are oblivious to the apparent state our country is in.  They are not aware of countries out there where the grass is apparently greener.  They are too innocent to even try and compare apples with pears.  They are too busy playing and building friendships and enjoying this life.  In doing so, they are slowly but surely learning to show up and to pour out the hope they have in them into our country.

There are indeed a million ways to make a difference, good or bad, to the challenges we face in our country. Each one of them begins with getting up and showing up.  And then to win the evil with good, one single dedicated human at a time.  May we be the people who get up and, indeed unapologetically, pour out the hope in us everywhere we show up.

My dear children, this is how the hope for a better South Africa is kept alive.