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.