Saturday, 26 December 2020

To continue ... and to love and to serve

You are born into this life with everything you need to live your purpose: to love and to serve. Thus, you will always have what you need so that you can give what is needed. No matter where you go, you will always be where you are meant to be so that you can do what you are meant to do. When you aren’t there where you wish to be, it wasn’t meant for you to be there. Accept what you have and where you are.

Nothing happens without a reason. When you live in humble gratitude, you will understand that what needs to happen for you to live out your purpose will happen, regardless of your thoughts (plans) and actions. Only through your choices, will you drive away humility and gratitude and burden yourself with worldly desires. Yet, your purpose in life will remain the same: to love and to serve.

It is pride that makes you rise in arrogance to decide who is deserving to be loved and to be served. Every day, you weigh people and situations and put a percentage on how much of yourself to extend to them. Yet, it is not for you to judge who you are to love and who you are to serve. Your purpose is to love all and to serve everyone fully while expecting nothing in return.

You have your own unique path in life that has been laid out for you. Every situation where you are bound to interact with people is filled to the brim with opportunity. These people are on your path for a reason. Every opportunity with them is a learning experience. Situations and relationships are temporary, but the learning experiences are permanent and will provide you with bitter or sweet memories.

It’s so much easier to understand your purpose when you are old and you have the opportunity to reminisce. It is then that you will remember the people that you have loved unconditionally and the service that you were able to provide to them.

Life is a miracle. While you are fortunate enough to breathe, live in the moment. Think less of a new year and new resolutions so that each day will be the start for spreading enthusiasm, joy, and love in everything that you are and through everything that you do. Don’t think of new beginnings. Think of continuation. Live life to the fullest and continue to live your purpose: to love and to serve.

“Remember that there is only one important time and it is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have power. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at your side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.” ~ Leo Tolstoy.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Grief reveals you!

In 1980, when I was 14, I left Rhodesia – my home. It was all I knew and I was consumed with loss. For twelve hours on the Greyhound, from Bulawayo to Pretoria, I had this rock nestled in my throat that just would not go away. The pain lingered because I refused to cry. I started writing to make the pain stop. There are many days when I feel that I’m still on that bus. Everything changed back then – within 12 hours. Nothing stayed the same. Yet, today, nothing has changed. Everything feels the same. 

When my father passed away in 1990, I was consumed with sadness. I knew he would die and I was prepared for the news. Acknowledging the inevitability of his death weeks before the actual day strengthened me until the day of his funeral. Again I faced loss. I poured out so much of my pain of his death at his funeral. My Head of Department, Susan van Rensburg, comforted me the day before the funeral and told me she would never forget the sound of the first shovel of sand that fell on her father’s coffin. I stood next to my father’s grave, broken, in anticipation, but I didn’t hear a thing. I walked for days wondering why I didn’t hear the first heap of sand fall onto his coffin. Then I remembered the huge flower arrangement that was placed on top of the coffin. Red and white flowers – I can’t remember the flowers only the colours. The loss and pain were etched in my heart for years and years and years. He was too young to die but too damaged to live. Knowing this didn’t seem to serve its purpose and there was no consolation for my heart. 

When Antjie van Jaarsveld, one of my friends from church, committed suicide in 1995, I was shocked to the core. I walked around for days wondering about nothing other than the futility of life. It was early in May on a Wednesday evening. She had opened the boot of her car and shoved a plastic shopping bag into my hand. It was heavy and I held it up against the light to see what was inside. I was shocked to discover that there was a gun inside the bag. I asked her what on earth she was doing carrying a gun around in a shopping bag. She mumbled something about shooting a snake on her mother’s farm. I was naïve. I believed her, even though I could see she wasn’t herself. Two days later, on Friday night, the 5th of May, she pulled the trigger. 

When Bennette Riekert died, I was consumed with sadness. He was one of the students that I had the privilege to teach from Grade 9 to 12, and one of the boys who had played rugby, since their primary school days, with my son. His death brought a new companion to my heart. Fear! I became anxious about my son’s life. To this day, whenever Colin leaves the house, I become anxious. And to this day, I am still sad because of the brevity of Bennette’s life. 

Many things throughout my life have affected me in great ways, and, like many others, these four experiences of loss still cling to my heart. 

Today I received the tragic news about Debi Staal who passed away. When I was 14 years old, almost 15, I started school at Springs Girls’ High at the start of the third term. I was in Debi's register class until the end of matric. I idolized her because she had a vibrant personality. She seemed to live life to its fullest – always joking and up to mischief. I was the shy “little” girl at the back of the class too scared to breathe or talk to any of the 17-year-olds. She stayed in my memory over the years and when I joined Facebook, she was the first person from Springs Girls High that I decided to find. I sent her a friend request and when she accepted, I nearly shot through the ceiling with excitement. I sent her a message in Messenger and when she told me she remembered me, I was elated. One Sunday evening she phoned me and we talked for quite some time. She made me feel so special that day because that is who Debi always was: a kind-hearted person who put others’ needs first. 

Today I feel empty. Again it’s all about loss and the brevity of life. It makes me realize, though, that I am blessed. I live with this chronic pain day in and day out and yes, I grumble. There are days I live with regret and days when I live with an ungrateful heart. This is who I am, a negative-minded woman; imperfect in every way. Yet, I’m blessed with a fighting spirit. I will never allow negativity to be victorious. I fight tenaciously and with an enduring will to conquer every minute spent in the dark. Every day that I am able to accomplish something regardless of the pain, I am a winner. 

I press onward! Simply, because I can!        

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

The conditioned mind and the opinion!

Everyone has an opinion and believes that their opinion has value. Opinions are formed by the way we perceive things. 

Think of birds. A bird perceives magnetic fields. At night, snakes can detect infrared radiation from warm bodies up to a meter away. Humans detect visible light. This simply means that what humans see is a direct product of their imperfect human minds. Plato said, “imprisoned in our cave, with our backs to the light, we can only watch the shadows on the wall.” The shadows represent what is visible and the light represents what we cannot see or even imagine. Shadows are vague, yet we interpret them according to how we have been conditioned to think through our mind and the culture in which it was formed. 

Sadly, there are properties of the mind that get in the way of seeing the truthTo really see with an open mind and a focused eye, we need to climb out of ourselves (our bias and cultural beliefs – our conditioned mind) and view things from an external perspective. This requires research – work; the lazy mind’s nemesis. All opinions are bubbles floating around in the air. Unless you are in agreement with an opinion, opinions become thinner and soon pop and disappear. 

Every day, we hear or read different opinions. Some things will trigger a memory, thought, or belief. This will affect how we feel and behave. When an opinion makes us feel angry, we need to step back and breathe before we act upon the emotion. In this negative world that we live in, our feathers are easily ruffled by the way people think. We need to learn to acknowledge, validate and tolerate opinions that are in disagreement with ours. Narcissistically, we only accept our own opinions as truth. Narcissistically? Yes. Human beings are social creatures ... But being social implies bands, and bands imply favouring your own above all others. [And needing] to feel good about ourselves ... we tell ourselves that we favour our own kind because we’re smarter, prettier, better, more virtuous, more caring—a superior breed of people in a world filled with lesser ones.” (adapted from The Narcissist Next Door, 2014). 

What makes your opinion the truth? 

When it comes to opinions, you need to understand how respect works. Respect in this case is about you – not the opinionated people out there in the world. Respect is all about your commitment to it, which then influences others. Never underestimate the value of your respect for another person’s opinion. When you respect the fact that there are other opinions out there (other than your own), you will learn to have the patience to maintain your composure and respectful demeanour when you disagree with it. You will find the courage to candidly challenge that opinion without stooping to a level of indecency, sneering at, or insulting the person. You will also find creative ways to see points of connection in the midst of conflict. Remember, you are arguing with a conditioned mind. You aren’t going to convince anyone to accept your opinion if you don’t show respect. 

You can't change the way people think. Change will occur when people convince themselves that an opinion is worth listening to or accepting. (Why is it so hard to change people’s minds, 2017

Choose your platform. Say what you want to. Grab that fleeting spotlight. It’ll make you feel good. BUT! Allow others the same. You’ve heard people say: Look at the universe and consider how small and insignificant humans really are. That’s one opinion. Here’s another: Look at the marvel of the human mind and the lens of the eye. How significant each is! When we show respect for the conditioned mind, we grow. Regardless of what a conditioned mind thinks, learn from it: accept the opinion or do research. 

When all is said and done, what we hear or read simply forms another opinion.

That’s life. 

We’re human … imperfect … conditioned to think! 

Monday, 20 July 2020

My fifth novel: Through the Bark

At last, my fifth book has been self-published. This one is a fantasy novel. I’ve never wanted to write a fantasy novel because I'm too much of a realist, but I was challenged to try and write it by a few students in my class. Since I've never been one to back away from a healthy challenge, I picked up the gauntlet.

I see myself as a teacher with a hobby to write. I'm not really an author in the entire sense of the word. It's simply because I don't like the phase that happens after the book has been written: the marketing phase. I don't enjoy putting myself out there to advertise and sell my books. Contacting publishers only to be rejected is not my cup of tea. So, most of the time, I see my books as my legacy for my children.

Through the Bark is probably the most difficult book and genre I’ve written. Regardless, it has shaped me in quite a remarkable way. I write mostly in the evenings, over weekends and during school holidays. I started writing the book in November 2018. I chose to write in the first person and to this day I have no idea why. Needless to say, somewhere along the line, in between preparing lessons, teaching, and assessing assignments, I lost my character. In July 2019, I realized the character in chapter six was not the same character with which I had started out in chapter one. So, I had to backtrack. Being tired, I decided to ditch the efforts. I stopped writing in August and threw the idea of being a fantasy writer out of the window.

In December, I read through the book and started from scratch with a new character. A whole new book came to light. I practically wrote the entire book during that holiday. Then I left it to rest until Lockdown, 2020. I completed editing my work in April.

I self-published the book through Groep-7 in Johannesburg. It is also available as an e-book with Kobo.

The blurb:
It’s the beginning of the end. The tree looms dark and tall over every challenge the young, depressed teenager has ever faced. Then, there’s the simple choice: to pick up the wooden beads or to leave them on the ground, half-hidden beneath the decaying leaves. Innocent curiosity brings a subtle transformation, which leads to betrayal and death. Within the dark and dank tunnels beneath the tree, there is a way that leads to sacrifice and a way that leads to eternal despair. Will courage be enough for this young hero to endure the consequences of the road taken?

The story is about a young teenager who suffers from depression. The story is written in first-person narration. The teen in the story has no specific identity: no name, gender, age, or race. It’s basically up to the reader to decide what the identity is. I will refer to the teen as a boy in this synopsis.
The teen is an only child and an introvert who isolates himself. He walks to school and home every day. It is a thirty-minute walk. A huge oak tree is the halfway mark. One day the teen finds wooden beads beneath a tree that look like a bangle. He decides to wear the bangle. A strange metamorphosis takes place, where the teen starts to feel positive about life. The tree’s future is in jeopardy when plans for a shopping center are made. The teen wishes to protect the tree. The teen magically is pulled into the tree. Whenever he is inside, the tree cannot be chopped down. When the beads begin to glow, the teen knows that the tree is in danger. That is when the teen needs to enter the tree. Inside the tree, the teen is able to walk in underground tunnels. He meets Filbert and Quercus (tree creatures). He also meets Fachen, a one-eyed blue boy from a mystical forest. The teen enters the mystical forest and loses the beads. By the time he finds the beads, they are glowing. He races back to the tree’s underground tunnels to save it from being chopped down. Will he make it in time?

Chapter One:
Silent shadows dance eerily on the road as I walk home. I’m neither keen to get there nor stay out here in the dark. My pace is patterned on perception: I move quietly because I fear the ominous presence that moves with me and whispers in the air.
With only the moon and stars to guide me, it’s obvious why my imagination is running wild. It feels as if I’m being followed. I turn to look back, as I’ve done so many times before. Yet, there’s nothing there to see.
I focus on the tree ahead of me. Its silhouette stands gracefully against the distant horizon, waiting patiently, as always, for me to pass. It’s the majestic half-way mark.
I simply love this tree.
It has an air about it that demands respect and admiration. I’ve never walked home this late before. When the sun silently sets behind the mountain, I’m usually safe inside my room. I have more things to do inside the comfort of my room than in this chaotic world. I prefer to sit on my bed and read or write. I can stay there forever. I don’t care for social gatherings, friends, or company. There’s nothing that draws me to leave my room when dusk descends.
Tonight has been an inescapable exception.
I walk to school every day and home again – alone. The thirty-minute walk gives me time to think. I’m not fortunate enough to have doting parents who drive me to and from school. There’s a bus, but I’d rather keep the money for more interesting things.
My parents’ interest in me is purely for the sake of boasting because, when they were young, they never bothered to amount to anything that’s worth talking about. Yes, they attended school, played sport, and achieved good grades. Yes, they attended university and graduated. They both have well-paying jobs, but that’s all they really have. They work long hours to make ends meet: they are hard-working, taxpaying citizens who have no joy in life. I find no sense in their ceaseless chasing after the wind.
They’re like tamed birds in a cage. Even if the door is left open, they won’t come out. They’ve lost their sense of curiosity.
They’re more concerned about what others think of them, so they play it safe. Keeping up the appearances necessitates their constant fear of losing their social standing. This makes them obsess over protecting it. To them, status is everything. I, the protégé, have learned best from my masters. I walk in their shadow.
I wish I didn’t have to fear people. Surely, something should neutralize the constant fear of judgment.
My parents have failed in their conquest to look into themselves, to find inner wisdom to counteract their fear of judgment. They plod along blindly in the security of routine. They no longer focus on what they really want.
Everyone has a passion. Surely they, too, must’ve had something that they were passionate about at some point in their lives. What that is I’ll never know because I never ask – and never will. Instead of showing any interest in them, I stay out of their sight.
Their constant bickering sends me off into my own realms where music and books reign supreme. Within this sphere, I can control all influences and protect my cracked world from shattering into smithereens.
Tonight, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in the stuffy school hall for almost two hours doing absolutely nothing. As with most formal school functions, the awards evening was mind-deadening. Time fragmented into insanely unsatisfying moments and my mood constantly tipped inward to drink from the dregs of despondency.
The only thing that I gained from the experience is to realize (once again) that the blatant obsession to excel puts acute pressure on the youth to develop superior skills. There are too many expectations that cleave to our conscience and not one of these expectations has anything to do with us or with who we really are. We are made to believe that there will be dire consequences if we don’t excel; we are worth nothing without our distinctions. Hence, we become competitive and we compete only for the best.
Why do we do it? We do it to become part of the privileged, the cream of the crop, and we pay an exorbitant price to achieve this status.
While some of it is self-imposed, adults are largely responsible. Instead of teaching us to have a passion for learning or for life, they teach us to live without equilibrium.
What’s the point of having all these book-savvy A’s? None of us are passionate about what we’re doing. In the real world, far from all the school-book knowledge, we aren’t worth a single one of these A’s. We have no experience. We suffocate in confusion because we know too little about ourselves and how to live a life. We only know what others have told us and how to chase their dreams, which is absolute foolishness. We’ve become over-protected, over-indulged, book-intelligent teenagers with neglected virtues, and our souls are impoverished.
The tree distracts my train of thought.
Dark and tall, it looms over me. I stop and look up at it with nothing less than awe and admiration. The prodigious tree stands independently and with such stature.
I ooze forward into the shadow thrown across the desolate road, with no intention to leave. It’s just me and the tree.
I try to wrap my mind around the significance of the moment. There’s an inner struggle of resistance I can’t explain. How is it that the tree just grows here? Who told it how to grow? It’s rooted in natural development according to its nature. It doesn’t burden itself with a past or plan ahead for a future. It just thrives in the moment. Why can’t humans be like that?
A shiver slips down my spine. I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the daunting darkness. The shadows of the towering tree are imbued with imminence.
I’m accustomed to fearing; it has been my constant companion during this night’s walk, but now it intensifies and anxiety grips my heart. I don’t mind being filled with fear. When it happens, I know that it’s not really shutting me down; it’s waking up my senses. I’ve learned that it’s only when I’m scared that I truly feel alive. Anxiety is different, though. I don’t like feeling anxious. I don’t want to be numbed by fear. I don’t want to be numbed by anything.
My home and parents have made me numb to many emotions. I carry hate as a daily burden. The conflict between them just drags me under, deeper and deeper. It’s not them that I hate. I hate their behaviour towards each other because of each other, and what it’s doing to me.
As I grow older, I become more aware of the exhilaration that creeps into my veins at the prospect of leaving them. If it means dying in order to leave, then so be it. They make me yearn for moments where I can just let go of life. They’ve made me feel comfortable with the idea that there’s more to life after death. I’ve no idea where I’ll be once I’ve crossed over, but I’m happy to know that I won’t be here. The world is a wonderful place, but people, like my parents, have ruined it.
I pause.
I move ever so slightly.
My first footstep barely tramples the autumn leaves that lay motionless beneath the tree when my eyes impulsively dart back to the very spot where it lies. It’s almost as if I shouldn’t see it lying there, camouflaged and half-buried beneath the decaying pile. Yet, I do. I see it so clearly as if I’m meant to.
I’m not sure what it is that made me look down. Perhaps it was the slightest of a rustling noise that caught my attention.
I bend slowly to pick it up.
I move out from the shadows into the moonlight and notice the different shades of each little wooden bead. The beads are smooth and not one is like the other. Is it a beaded bangle? I slip the beads over my wrist. They are warm against my skin and I feel comfortable wearing them. Whilst admiring the unique beauty of each little bead, I start walking again. Curiosity creeps slowly out of the dark recesses of my mind and I wonder: to whom does the bangle belong?
Distance changes slowly when it’s done on foot and so do my thoughts.
It’s the last leg of my journey; there’s just one more turn in the road and then I’ll be home. The warmth of the wooden beads has seeped in and spread throughout my body. Strangely, I feel better. I also feel different about home. Somehow, I’ve found a smidgen of courage to go there.
The amber windows wink warmly, lovingly, but I know they aren’t – and, even knowing this, it’s strange that I should think of them in this way. It’s strange that I should think of the house as a place where love can thrive.
It’s never been hospitable.
It’s never been… a home.

Friday, 31 January 2020

My faith should carry me through

Even before I awaken every morning, my mind is aware of the pain and heaviness with which I'm burdened.

Still, I rise.

I get out of bed carefully, make sure I can sense that I’m standing, and then shuffle off slowly to the bathroom, using the walls and furniture as support. Never once do I think of staying in bed. My heart is always at school, with the children and the work that I have prepared so carefully for each day.

By the time I have dressed, eaten breakfast, and gathered my things for school, the adrenaline has me in the car. Nick drives me to school every day because I’m not allowed to drive anymore.

When I get out of the car and walk into the schoolyard, I pretend to be okay – in case someone is watching. Then I climb the stairs and walk into the staff room, ready for the staff meeting, twenty minutes before it’s due to start. I greet Rienie (she’s always there first) and sit down with a sigh. I watch my colleagues walk into the staff room. I especially look at their feet.

I never sit down to teach and my timetable is quite full. So, standing for eight teaching periods is the order of most days. When I hear the last bell, I always sigh with relief. Then I try to walk to the front gate and get into the car without attracting too much attention. I climb in and Nick’s empathy is evident.

Most of my afternoons, I sit. Then, I try my best to help with dinner. Most of every evening, I sit.

After a relaxing bath before bedtime, Nick starts to massage my calves and feet. He knows exactly what to do to get rid of the heaviness and it helps to ease the pain. It’s the only way I’m able to sleep.

I fall asleep almost immediately. Sometimes I sleep for an hour. Sometimes I sleep for two hours.

I wake up as soon as the heaviness and pain return. It’s very hard to fall asleep again, but eventually, after hours of lying in bed, I do.

Wednesdays become slow days. Thursdays are an effort. Fridays are my special days in hell.

The doctors have said that I can’t continue teaching. I can’t imagine sitting at home wallowing in self-pity all day.

My faith should carry me through, but my mind makes me stumble. The insecurity of not knowing what will happen next makes me suffer another day on my feet.

One day, I will have no pain. I will walk, dance, run, climb, jump and skip without effort. Until then, I can only pray for the strength to endure.

When I look at myself ...

  The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that yo...