For­tu­nate find, apt pre­dic­tion part of a whole



Some­how it doesn’t feel like a co­in­ci­dence that I found my­self in tears this week. Don’t be con­cerned. They were good tears.

West­ern so­ci­ety has long had a thing about cry­ing, hasn’t it? Like it’s some­how an in­trin­si­cally neg­a­tive thing. That it shows weak­ness.

An in­ci­dent from my teenage years popped out of the mem­ory bank as I re­flected on those tears. On a lawn in Cape Town, where one of them had lived for some time, my older half-broth­ers and their re­spec­tive young sons were play­ing foot­ball. I was about 14, and in the makeshift goal.

An in­ci­dent saw one of the young­sters go down, in­jured. Tears flowed.

‘‘Come on, champ,’’ said my brother, his uncle, go­ing to help him up. ‘‘Cow­boys don’t cry.’’

Quick as a flash, the in­jured party’s cousin added: ‘‘Es­pe­cially in front of their horses.’’

We laughed about that as a fam­ily later, be­cause it was cer­tainly mem­o­rable. But it also pointed to a phi­los­o­phy, a per­spec­tive, passed on to kids their age, and mine. The last thing you wanted to be la­belled as a boy grow­ing up in the ‘70s or ‘80s was a ‘‘cry-baby’’.

But when I found it on Sun­day morn­ing, the tears that coursed down my cheeks car­ried not the slight­est hint of em­bar­rass­ment. A lit­tle sad­ness, yes, but in an­other sense they were hugely up­lift­ing.

We were de­clut­ter­ing, re­ar­rang­ing the prover­bial, and lit­eral, ‘‘cup­board un­der the stairs’’, and clear­ing out some stuff we’d never use. I didn’t find Harry Potter, but I did stum­ble across a copy of the or­der of ser­vice for Dad’s fu­neral, and the eu­logy I de­liv­ered – a com­bined ef­fort pulling to­gether trib­utes from through­out the ex­tended fam­ily – more than 15 years ago.

I’ve of­ten thought of that day, just a year after I moved to New Zealand, but had for­got­ten I’d brought those copies back with me. Nat­u­rally, I had to sit down and read the eu­logy, and just as nat­u­rally, the tears flowed. Some­times I find there’s noth­ing quite like those emo­tional sluice gates be­ing flung open to make me feel bet­ter, feel alive.

I’m not much of a taker of self­ies, al­though a cou­ple taken with, and by, (so tech­ni­cally they’re not self­ies – Ed.) my daugh­ters have popped up on my Face­book page in re­cent years. That’s be­cause what I con­sider my worst phys­i­cal fea­ture, my nose, is so close to my best, in my opin­ion, my eyes. My kids are an­other one of my best fea­tures, so thank­fully they’re there to res­cue the pics.

But see­ing that or­der of ser­vice, which fea­tures the fam­ily’s favourite photo of Dad, re­minded me how the sparkle, the kind­ness, in his eyes, helped en­dear him to so many peo­ple.

They made him ap­pear ex­actly what he was, de­spite his nat­u­ral shy­ness; open, car­ing, en­gag­ing, lov­ing. I think – I hope – I in­her­ited those eyes. I know mine have the same ten­dency to spring leaks, so there’s a chance.

The find felt sig­nif­i­cant as well as for­tu­nate, though, be­cause, in the spirit of the new open­mind­ed­ness I’m seek­ing to fos­ter, I’d re­sponded the pre­vi­ous day to a Twit­ter con­tact of­fer­ing free Tarot read­ings for the new year.

Just the fact that I did that will al­most cer­tainly put me at odds with some long-time friends, and fam­ily mem­bers, but that’s tough. Too much of the pain in our world is a re­sult of peo­ple not be­ing pre­pared to see be­yond the con­fines of their own nar­row be­liefs, or cling­ing to those be­liefs be­cause they re­in­force priv­i­lege, and I’m done with that non­sense.

In that con­text, it turned out, the read­ing that came back could scarcely have been more ap­pro­pri­ate: ‘‘Death: This is such a lib­er­at­ing card! The dead­wood is ready to be culled from your life, leav­ing room for new growth to spring forth. Say­ing good­bye to dearly held be­liefs can be painful, but the fresh per­spec­tive is worth it.’’

I know many will scoff at the state­ment’s ori­gin. I’m not here for a de­bate about Tarot – you make up your own mind – but it felt to me like a con­fir­ma­tion of an on­go­ing process in my life of con­fronting, in­ter­ro­gat­ing, re­ex­am­in­ing things I’ve lazily be­lieved be­cause I was brought up with them, but that are hurt­ful to oth­ers.

Get­ting that back on the same day I found Dad’s eu­logy felt sig­nif­i­cant, mo­men­tous even, like they were both part of a greater whole, com­bin­ing the bless­ings of the past with those of the fu­ture. As I con­tem­plated this col­umn, I re­alised I’d be writ­ing it on my birthday, and that in­creased the sense of a re­newal, a new be­gin­ning.

Of course, that could in­volve more than what’s al­ready un­der way. The full ex­tent of the dead­wood may not yet have been re­vealed.

The idea also speaks to thoughts cir­cling my con­scious­ness, par­tic­u­larly in the last few months, about how I need to be do­ing more of ex­actly what I’m do­ing at this mo­ment, writ­ing. I feel more cre­ative than ever.

That’s been re­in­forced by gen­uine kind­ness from so many peo­ple, in­clud­ing three who crossed my path this week. I be­lieve the fact they chose to take the trou­ble to say the kind things they did was sig­nif­i­cant too.

But it’s hard, and I’m scared. There, I said it.

Maybe some of the dead­wood I need to hack away is fear.

How­ever I’m en­cour­aged too. As a very wise woman once said: ‘‘When noth­ing is cer­tain, any­thing is pos­si­ble.’’

I started out cry­ing, so I should end that way, with one of the most res­o­nant books of my youth, Alan Pa­ton’s anti-apartheid epic Cry, the Beloved Coun­try. The fa­mous quotes from it are myr­iad, but this one seems most apt to me right now.

‘‘Pain and suf­fer­ing, they are a se­cret. Kind­ness and love, they are a se­cret. But I have learned that kind­ness and love can pay for pain and suf­fer­ing. ‘‘

Here’s to new starts.

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