Saturday, April 30, 2011

In the Aftermath of My Dad's Death, a New Perspective

"I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monument of human pride." - William James

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 8

20 October 1945 - 27 April 2011Good-bye, Daddy. I will miss you. Thank you for your legacy of music.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 7

Now music is a funny thing because it allows you to say things you would never say in everyday conversation. It gives a freedom that transcends culture and language, and bypasses the mind and intellect to directly pierce the heart. It negates the necessity for words and "rational thinking" and opens up a world of possibility fraught with the dangers of emotion, beauty and the mystery of unanswered questions.

And this is the lullaby the girl wrote for her dad:

Once upon a time a mother tucked you in,
And though you're old and grown now,
You still long for her to stroke your cheek and kiss your brow-
Comfort you in the here and now -
You're so tired.

So close your eyes.
As you lay in bed and your fears grow big in the dark of night,
Let God hold you tight,
Kiss your cheek, stroke your face,
Cover you in a blanket of grace.

Please let go of any worries and regrets,
And know how much I love you.
There will come a time when we can sing and play,
Making beautiful music all day,
Up in Heaven.

So close your eyes.
As you lay in bed and your fears grow big in the dark of night,
Let God hold you tight,
Make you whole and complete,
Cover you in a blanket of peace.

Close your eyes.
As you lay in bed and your fears grow big in the dark of night,
Let God hold you tight,
May our Father above
Cover you in a blanket of love.
Make you whole and complete,
Cover you in a blanket of peace.
Kiss your cheek, stroke your face,
Cover you in a blanket of grace.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 6

The girl realised that she could not change the past or erase the hurt and loss, but she could choose the manner in which she responded to it. Some hurts will always hurt, that is to say, one never fully gets over them. But the girl could accept them as part of who she was and allow God to make something beautiful of it (not that she knew how, mind you).

And so the girl yielded to the pain, had a good long cry, and in the stillness that followed a song was born. A lullaby, to be exact, which she sang for her daddy over the telephone (incidentally, that was the first time the girl ever called her father, "Daddy").

There would still be a long road ahead, the girl knew, but she vowed to submit to life's challenges in the hopes that she would learn a sweetness and compassion which she could use to encourage others.
"There, in those dark caves, drowned in the sorrow of his song, and in the song of his sorrow, King David very simply became the greatest hymwriter, and the greatest comforter of broken hearts this world shall ever know." - from A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards
And while the girl would never be a King David (not even close), she could be herself, and the best possible one at that.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 5

The girl didn't know what to do about the silence and the many questions in this time of waiting, so she herself kept silent and listened carefully. She heard many things while she was listening - the birds outside her window, the laughter of her children, the impatient sounds of traffic, the wind rustling through the trees, and the sound of typing on a keyboard.

Because it was Easter weekend the girl also heard a lot of music - voices singing, guitars, piano, flutes, violins, the marimba and even a lute. And she remembered that she, too, could make music and that she inherited this gift from her father. So she stopped listening and began to sing.

She sang softly and mournfully, and then, as her spirit began to lift, her voice grew stronger and more confident and she sang a song of praise which echoed against the city buildings and into the African bushveld and all the way to the very ears of God.
"I have no idea what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away. And for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free." - from The Shawshank Redemption
And the girl knew the answers to all the questions that had been floating over her head these many days.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 4

But there would never be another breakfast, or even another visit with her dad. And the girl wondered, "What do I do now? I've always known what to do, always had an answer (or at least an opinion), but what now? How do I stand this waiting, this lonely waiting half a world away?"

There was no answer; only silence.

So the girl began to fill the silence with words. She wrote. She wrote stories and blogs and even songs to try to remember anything she could about her father - to try to come up with some way to honour him and fit the puzzle pieces together.

"I remember that he once worked at a chocolate factory. And then a winery. And he played the French horn. He loved motorcyles. But what did his voice sound like? Did he ever hug me? Did he love me? "

Eventually, she ran out of words. And as she sat alone in the silence, she took a deep breath.

Now silence is a funny thing because it forces you to face your fears - those deep fears you try to suppress with all sorts of entertainment and noise and busyness. Fears we'd like to laugh off with a false sense of confidence. Fears like, "Am I the only one who feels this way?", "What if they knew my secret?", and "What if I can't do it?"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 3

And the girl wrote a poem:

I'm not embarrassed of you
anymore -

of drool that falls from unused lips

to pools in your lap

velcro shoes protruding

from wheelchair's foot rest

atrophied muscles and

damaged brain

you are still made

in the image of God

so remember this

when they change your diapers

give you sponge baths

comb your hair the wrong way

see the waitress stare as you
drink coffee through a straw

eat waffles with hands, for

in your dreams
they buy season tickets

wear their finest clothes

to hear your French horn,

watch hands uncurl

finger brass valves effortlessly
interpret every nuance
of the conductor's baton

as though you've never been gone

and when you wake

the applause still thunders

until the nurse comes in to dress you

change you feed you

but we will

have breakfast again

because I'm not

embarrassed of you


Friday, April 15, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to My Dad, Part 2

As a child, the girl used to wonder things like, "Who will teach me how to drive a car when I am older? Who will walk me down the aisle when I get married?" Fortunately, there were people who loved the girl and were there to help her in those moments, but at the time she wondered these things she didn't know that. And so every night as she fell asleep she slipped her hand up in the air and asked God to hold it.

The girl would visit her father every now and then and tell him about her life, but it's hard to have a conversation with someone who can't talk back. As she got older she began to dread these visits. "I just don't know what to say," she told herself, but the truth was that she was embarrassed of her father. "If I just pretend it isn't there - if I just pretend he isn't there - then maybe it won't hurt as much," she told herself. And she lived like this for many years until she had children of her own.

Now having children is a funny thing because it forces you to think about your own parents in a new light. The foolish things they did you now see as wise. The way they stifled your freedom you now recognise as protection. The late nights nursing a sick child enlighten you to the sacrifices they made for you. And the mistakes they made are more easily forgiven.

One day the girl and one of her uncles took her dad out to breakfast (this was just before the girl moved to Africa). Because the dad had been in a motorbike accident, you remember, he had great difficulty feeding himself. He drank his coffee through a straw. He ate what he could with his hands rather than using a fork and knife, got more food on the floor than in his mouth, and made such a mess that several people in the restaurant began to stare. And as they stared the girl suddenly realised, "I'm not embarrassed anymore. I don't care what they think. This is my last breakfast before I move, and I won't see my dad again for a long time."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Saying Good-Bye to my Dad, Part 1

Once upon a time there was a music teacher who had three sons. He loved his sons very much but didn't show it in the way that you or I might show love. He showed love by pouring music into his sons' lives and encouraging them to practice more. He didn't mean to be so strict (or maybe he did) but all the same, he really did love his sons.

Each of these sons grew up to be musicians, just as the father had hoped. The oldest son grew up to play French Horn, the second son the euphonium and baritone, and the youngest son played clarinet and saxophone. They played in different orchestras and symphonies all over the country.

The eldest son, who was by now married and had three small children of his own, was the most brilliant musician among the three sons (though they were all very, very good). If he had stuck with music there's no telling what he could have done - what orchestras he could have played in or what great teachers he could have studied under. But he was in a motorbike accident one day that left him unable to walk or talk or do much of anything for himself. And he stayed like this for 34 years.

His children grew up, got married and had children of their own, but the questions they had from childhood they carried with them into adulthood. The youngest child - a girl - especially wondered many things. "If only I had gotten to hear him play French Horn," she thought. For you see, she had inherited his gift of music and wanted to discuss many things with her father.

She was a stoic girl, however, and didn't often talk about her father. Even as a child she never allowed herself to grieve the loss, for how can you grieve the loss of someone who's still alive?

This daughter, who also had three children, moved to Africa one day to do a work that she and her husband felt to be significant. One day she got news that her father was dying, but because of the distance and immigration laws, she could not fly home to say good-bye to her father. And so she waited, half a world away.

Now waiting can do funny things to a person, especially a person who has been waiting for 34 years. All of the losses began to pile up - one on top of the other - and she began to cry.

Thursdays With Auntie Hope

Today Auntie Hope met me at the door crying. "I'm just so lonely," she said. "Why am I here? I woke up in the middle of the night and I just don't know why I'm here. Do you know?"

I could tell Auntie Hope that her family comes to visit her every week, but she won't remember, and it won't take her present loneliness away.

She asked me how I was doing, and I shared with her how my dad is dying but I can't leave South Africa until our visa paperwork is processed by Home Affairs, and how hard it was to be away from my family at a time like this.

We shared a cup of tea, we cried together, and then she looked at me and said, "Who are you? And why are you here?" Auntie Hope had already forgotten the conversation.

"You know," she said, "My mother owned a laundry when I was growing up, and she sent me away to boarding school." Just like like that, Auntie Hope was back to telling the same two stories that she tells every week. It's funny how quickly she moved on, and how in other areas, she's hopelessly stuck.

Life's like that, isn't it? When someone we love is dying, life can move too quickly. At other times, we're hopelessly stuck. Sometimes we don't remember things that we should, and other times we hang onto things that are best forgotten.

With Auntie Hope, however, there are no expectations. There is only being... being in the present, being accepted, being lonely, being sad, being silly, being thankful, being disoriented, being loved and being forgotten.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'm in Love

I've posted the Preamble to the South African Constitution before and won't post it again, but it really is a beautiful piece of work. I read it again today and just can't get over how poetic and... good it is (I know, that sounds cheesy).

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, with a Bill of Rights that not only rivals that of the U.S. Constitution, but may even surpass it. And yet when I read it - and all that it outlines - and then look around me at what's actually going on, I can't help but feel sad. There is so much work to do to reach those lofty ideals, and so many who have gotten side-tracked by selfish ambition.

One of my favourite phrases in the Preamble is this: "... improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person..." How could you not love a government who wants to free the potential of each person? And it made me think - what am I doing to free the potential of each person? Can we really depend on government programmes to do that? Or does it require each of us to do our part? I think a little of both.

Call me a nerd but I think if everyone read the South African Constitution - or at least the Preamble - we'd all be inspired to reach new heights in making a difference in this world.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's the Same All Over the World

No matter what country you live in, traffic has its challenges: aggressive drivers, indecisive drivers, psycho pedestrians, traffic jams, unclear road signs, etc. Over here my two main challenges - (okay, three) - are as follows:

1. Roadworks. When we moved here in September 2007 they were beginning to upgrade the highways for the upcoming Fifa World Cup to be held in 2010. Nearly one year after the World Cup, they are still upgrading the highways. In the same spots. What this equates to is that for 3 1/2 years it's been faster to take the long way around the highway rather than use it.

2. Street hawkers. I don't mind people selling things on the street; I really don't. I can completely respect a person's right to earn a living. But when I'm driving to a particular destination, say, and in that process have to convince five different people why I don't need pirated DVD's, an inflatable life vest, a cell phone charger, a poster of the digestive system or a green Spongebob Squarepants, the drive is hardly relaxing. I used to think that the frame of my car defined my personal space on the road. I was wrong.

3. Bakkies (trucks). More specifically, the drivers of said bakkies. I don't know what it is about people who drive bakkies in this country (and if you know, please explain it to me), but they seem to think they have the right of way no matter what. If the robot is red, that doesn't stop them. If they want to change lanes and you're in the way, they will happily drive you off the road. If you get to a traffic circle before them, they still speed up to cut you off. Every time (and I literally mean every time) I've been cut off in traffic, run off the road, or yelled at, it's been by a man in a bakkie. The other day I actually yelled back, "You're ruining my sense of ubuntu!"

What is it about traffic that can make us feel so violated?

Sunday Quote

"Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear." - from The Art of Possibility

Monday, April 4, 2011

Random Observations From My Day

  • I'm taking a course on play therapy techniques every evening this week. The instructor is a woman who is amply qualified in her field, and yet we call her "Tannie Hermien" (Auntie Hermien). I love the hierarchy in the Afrikaans culture. It took me a while to get used to, but there's a lovely juxtaposition of respect and intimacy in calling someone "Auntie", even if they're a complete stranger. Much better than "Professor Hermien."
  • I drove home late at night, in a Land Rover, shifting gears with my left hand, watching the lightning bolts streak across the sky and listening to South African music. Now I'm listening to the crickets, rain, and rustling of the thorn trees in the wind. Doesn't get much better than that.
  • My course was from 17h00 to 21h00. This occurred during normal dinner hours. South Africans, however, don't seem to mind eating at odd times. They will gladly put off eating a meal in order to attend a course or do something more important. Food is not a god for them. I love that about South Africans. They will willingly set aside their own comfort for what they deem more important.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Snapshots of My Day

Here are some photos from my day. I wish I could take photos all the time so you could see what I see. South Africa is an amazing place.