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 na├»ve. 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! 

When I look at myself ...

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