Three Stones and an Incredible Week of Kindness

A secret gift Copyright 2013 Wordycara

A secret gift
Copyright 2013 Wordycara

I love this time of year – the smell of a Christmas tree (real or plastic, I don’t mind!), fairy lights, food and festivities with friends and family, carols and religious celebration, and shopping for presents. With children in the house, Santa’s pending visit also adds a healthy dose of excitement. I look forward to Christmas as much as I did as a child. However, it was perfectly summed up by an acquaintance at a mutual friend’s party when she said that somehow by the evening of the 25th one feels deflated, like things just don’t match up to expectation. Although I’ve never allowed myself to verbalise that thought – this lady hit the nail on the head and it got me thinking. What was it that triggered those feelings of disappointment? Certainly not the presents I receive – I love anything under the category of ‘gift’, the celebrations and the people. Then the ‘Aha!’ moment arrived.

The presents, celebrations and people are all external to who I am. Since these things bring me joy in any case, surely it must be something within me that is lacking. Giving it some more thought, the word popped up like a Jack-in-a-Box right in front of my mind’s eye, “Kindness” closely followed by a visual of Ebenezer Scrooge in the film version of A Christmas Carol that has haunted me ever since I had the wits scared out of me at the age of five. Clearly the passage of time has softened the scary bits somewhat and I’ve slowly forgotten the true meaning of the season of goodwill.

Thus, with a renewed pre-New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to be more mindful about the needs of others using ‘Kindness’ as my measure. Now the thing with Karma, I’ve learnt, is that she doesn’t always boomerang around immediately and ensure you get the just desserts you deserve because of what you’ve just dished out. From a different angle, thanks to a long and protracted debate in my first-year Ethics class about altruism (doing going something good for the sake of it, not even for the feel-good factor) versus utilitarianism (doing something good and expecting something good in return, even just the feel-good factor) I’ve often felt slightly guilty about feeling great after doing a good deed. So, I embark on this mission without any expectation of gratitude, cosmic reward or the euphoria of being nice.

Well, before I can start acting and feeling like a fairy godmother, Kindness arrives in the form of a beautifully crafted Christmas tree ornament, handmade for me by a dear friend, that incorporates decorative elements of both our countries. This thoughtful gift will be treasured for many years to come.

The next time I see Kindness, it is just as we are crossing the road, on our way to a Christmas market. My friend cups her hand gently under her elderly – but spirited – mother’s elbow, carefully guiding her out of the way of the black ice and onto the pavement. It is done naturally without leaving her mother feeling dependant and also without any sense of duty or burden. Just a loving moment between mother and daughter. I am not sure that it occurs to them how extraordinary the moment is, but it leaves me with a lump in my throat.

Even though most things seem to “happen in threes” I am still left speechless when I am presented with an unexpected gift in a flat, silver box by two friends. It contains memories for me and memories that will one day belong to my children and their children. The perfect gift for a thoroughly sentimental girl.

Ah, but it doesn’t stop at Number Three. It’s midnight, I’ve just fallen asleep and am suddenly pulled back to reality by the grating sound of a rubbish bin being dragged along the cobbles of our communal driveway. Why on earth would our neighbour be taking out his bin? The rubbish truck doesn’t operate on a Saturday morning! Soon I fall back into a magnificent dream world until the morning when I’m woken up by the rubbish truck tipping and rattling the contents of the bins. Uttering a non-child-friendly word, it dawns on me that they’ve adjusted the schedule (which I did not check) to accommodate the Christmas holidays and our bin has missed its turn for the second week running. I don’t give it further thought until Husband asks me if I took the bin out. I frown, “No, why?”. He chuckles uncertainly and responds, “Well, I didn’t… and our bin is outside and is empty”. I am known to be fond of playing tricks, lying convincingly – only under these playful circumstances – and dragging it out, but I can’t take any credit for this. It must’ve been one of our neighbours, but the most likely one was most certainly fast asleep in bed, recovering from the flu. We live in a neighbourhood where people are friendly enough, but they get on with things – never interfering, meddling or being overly interested. The probability that it was an unlikely candidate seems to make the act even more thoughtful and kind. How remarkable!

We get back home in the evening after visiting friends. Husband unlocks the door, ushering the kids inside. As I get to the door, something on the welcome mat catches my eye. I bend down and pick up three polished semi-precious stones that have been left for us – no note, anonymous. It feels like magic – a coin from the tooth mouse, a stocking filled by Santa or a keepsake left by a guardian angel. Could it be from a neighbour grateful for us shovelling the snow from his part of the driveway? From a friend playing Secret Santa? Will we ever find out?

I don’t know if we will ever find the answer, but what is certain is that these acts of kindness have left an indelible mark in the very heart of me. I hope to be inspired by them and create as much happiness for others over time as I have been lucky enough to experience in one week. The three stones will be certain to remind me.

Born Free

Born Free Copyright 2013 Wordycara

Born Free
Copyright 2013 Wordycara

For many people worldwide and South Africans, in particular, this has been a week of solemn reflection as we process the passing of Nelson Mandela (Madiba), hailed as the last greatest leader of the 20th Century. Of his many traits that have been highlighted, the one that stands out to me today is his great sense of timing. He had this talent in every sense – from his unique style of dancing coined the ‘Madiba shuffle’, his spot-on public speaking, the delivery of his many punchlines and jokes, to his political and leadership timing that hardly ever saw him put a foot wrong.

It is, therefore, not surprising to me that even in death, his timing has been impeccable. Today, 16 December – the day after his funeral – is the day us South Africans celebrate as the Day of Reconciliation. The focus of the day is for all South Africans to continue to work together to build a nation based on mutual respect and equality.

The past week has allowed us to reflect on the principles that Madiba and his peers held dear. It’s ensured that we’ve taken stock of what we’ve achieved and what still has to be achieved – making sure that we attain the right balance in striving towards a shared future.

Today is not simply a day off work, reflecting on the past. The nature of the day makes us look forward and also allows for some introspection – how are we, on a daily basis, working in the spirit of forgiveness? Do we allow little hurts that others – friends, relatives, foes, strangers – have caused us to fall away or do we hang onto them, allowing them to taint our future interactions and become bigger obstacles than they ought to be?

For me, as I reflect, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that my children are ‘born frees’. The term ‘born free’ refers to children born after the fall of apartheid, who have (or SHOULD have) access to the same opportunities to realise their potential. Now, although my children would technically not have been ‘have nots’ under the previous government, I have termed them born frees because they have truly been brought up free from discriminatory thoughts. While they are aware that people have many different tones of skin colour, they do not care for labels such as ‘black’ and ‘white’. It makes no sense to them. They appreciate that people speak different languages and enjoy diverse celebrations. They are interested, intrigued and eager to consume knowledge about others that makes them true global citizens. They are free to do all of this without constraints to their thinking. What is even more remarkable, is that even though they have far greater knowledge about and interaction with other cultures, countries and people, they remain devoted to the country of their birth. They long for the feel of the African sand under their bare feet, the warm health-giving sunshine, the call of the jackal in the veld on a hot summer evening, and the vibrant colours and characters that paint our everyday lives.

The timing was perfect for the children to learn who Madiba was and why he was so important worldwide (simply told, but sufficient for them to have a better understanding). What great things they have learnt about forgiveness, about making a future that is nothing like your past and about being the very best person you can be each day. They’ve learnt it is possible to break expectations and exceed your own. They’ve learnt that the world is not always fair or right or kind, but it is how you respond to those injustices that is important.

How very fortunate us South Africans are to have a day set aside that allows us to carry out our own little reconciliation – seeking to find a better balance and having the opportunity to extend the olive branch, where needed. Today is the perfect day to reflect, free your mind from the negative thoughts that hold you back and move forward. You don’t need to be a South African to do all of this, and that is why I am sharing it with you.

Stand up, be Counted and Make a Difference to your World

Farewell Madiba  Copyright Wordycara 2013

Farewell Madiba
Copyright 2013 Wordycara

I remember the crisp, fresh autumn morning in April 1994 well, right down to the clothes I wore. I was waiting in a queue that went on and around a few blocks ahead of me – no front in sight. Behind me, the queue went on for even longer. People were chatting. Strangers striking up conversation with one another… laughter, joking, excitement, anticipation. English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, Setswana and so many more languages merging together into a unique rhythm, music to the ear. Strangers – young, old, healthy, frail, male, female and – then – most importantly, black, coloured, Indian and white all together with the same vision ahead of us.

18 years old, having just recently celebrated my birthday, I held my identity book as if it were gold. This was one thing that my normally flippant teenage mind grasped the importance of and I took a mental photo of that moment, standing in that line waiting to cast my first ever vote along with so many others who had waiting so long, too long to have their individual voice heard.

It did not matter which party we were voting for. What mattered was that we could now share the same experience, irrespective of our backgrounds, beliefs, language or colour of our skin. We knew that change was inevitable. What was not inevitable in our minds was how it would all turn out.

Everyone recalls this day – the first free and fair democratic elections in South Africa that marked the end of Apartheid. The picture of snaking queues of people that went on for kilometres and that filled television screens will remain imprinted in the minds of everyone around the world. What must not be forgotten is that the wheels were set into motion long before these queues gave the first insight into the sheer number of South Africans who yearned to make the country something to be proud of. I cannot detail the intricate political history or the many steps along the way, but I can share my memories – the thoughts of an adolescent who understood that what was happening was significant, but perhaps not yet how significant it all was.

The first memory I have of the impending change of ‘the way things were’ was on 11 February 1990, when I saw, on the news, a man called Nelson Mandela being released from prison. Not being too interested in adult chatter, but still managing to absorb snippets of conversation, I recall being unsure about whether this was a good or perhaps not-so-good thing.

A referendum was called in 1992 to determine whether white South Africans supported the negotiated reforms that would bring an end to the Apartheid system. Always grateful for my multi-racial schooling, I remember the entire school being led out onto the athletics field as the referendum was due to take place, creating a colourful chain of joined hands, singing songs of peace and hoping for a positive outcome. It was.

Leading up to those elections in 1994, there was naturally a great sense of apprehension and uncertainty. Would revenge be exacted by those who had suffered for so many years in so many ways – humiliation, physical violence, exclusion and separation? Would extreme right-wing groups scupper the work that was being done? What would happen and how would it affect us all?

Well, on that day in 1994, there was no sign of those worries and fears. Cleaners, gardeners, rubbish collectors, teachers, lawyers, doctors, the educated, the illiterate stood side by side. All wanting the best for themselves, their families, their future and our beautiful country.

Nelson Mandela became our President by means of a legitimate process, but he became our hero through his example, his instinctive talent for leadership and his decision to leave bitterness to evaporate in the confines of a prison cell.

He took what utopian thinkers might call the best possible outcome and made it a reality. We wanted to be able to live side by side, accepting of and acknowledging our differences, carving a life for our families filled with opportunity and making South Africa an example of how an infamous country can become one to be emulated, held up as a model of reconciliation, respect and worthiness.

He helped us to feel worthy – worthy to each have our place in society and on the world stage. I always smile to myself when people from overseas talk about the film Invictus and how magnificent the World Cup-winning rugby match must have been. It is indeed a wonderful film and one which had my husband and I teary eyed as we managed to catch it randomly and at least three times on TV after we arrived in Germany. Oh, but it was so much better in reality. To experience a such a sense of unity, of support for one another and our team, and to admire the example set by such a savvy, yet authentic and sincere leader is indescribable.

What a sense of pride it gives me to know that I am a witness to one of the most significant periods of African and world history.

As I think back to that day in 1994, it strikes me as significant that I cannot actually recall the very moment that I made my first cross on a ballot. What stands out is the camaraderie I felt in the queue, the excitement, the acceptance and the knowledge that every person has the power to make a difference.

I will forever be grateful that we had a leader who showed us that forgiveness and love for your fellow human will overcome the darkest possibilities. Nelson Mandela served his South Africans well. Now it is our duty to continue his work, to persevere and to never allow the principles, for which he and so many others fought so hard to make a reality, to be discarded.

Rest in peace, Madiba. You are our pride, who held our hopes in your hands and kept them safe. It’s time to take those hopes and continue to strive towards them as our guiding star.