Monday, December 20, 2010

A mother's love, a child's need

I can think of nothing worse than having to give my child up. Or not being able to protect my child from some unimaginable harm, or watching him starve because I have no money to feed him. Yet that is the choice that so many mothers face every day. Truly, can there be anything more devastating?

I just watched a movie called "The Brave Heart of Irena Trendel". The story is of a Polish social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish children during the holocaust by placing them in Christian homes. I sat there, holding my sweet 10-week old in my arms - so precious, so completely innocent - and watched mothers put their little babies into tool boxes and wheelbarrows so that they could be smuggled out of the Jewish ghetto. I felt as though my whole body was weeping with the emotion of it all.

And the quote that has been ringing in my ears for the past few weeks now came back: All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

I don't want evil to succeed. I believe we can do something. Join me in taking a stand this season. Help a mother or family in need in whatever way you can, be that a R5 coin or a bag of groceries or a little toy for their kids. We are blessed with so much - let's bless others too.

If you would like to do something to help a child out but don't know what to do, drop me a line and I'll give you details about a baby's home I'm trying to help out. Let's change a life this Christmas!

Monday, September 20, 2010

I am not powerless

Powerlessness is the most debilitating and disempowering feeling imaginable. It attaches itself like a vice to your neck and squeezes until there is just enough air left for you to breathe in short, frantic gasps, but not enough air for you to feel alive. It fools you into believing that the only thing you can do is get by – nothing more. And so getting by is all you ever aim for. After all, anything else is mere futility.

That’s how I’ve felt about our country in so many ways – completely and utterly powerless in the face of a one-party government, a crumbling medical and education infrastructure, and crime statistics that make countries at war look like a picnic in the park. As desperate as I am to do something about it, I’ve simply been overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues at stake, and thus relegated myself to the scrap heap of the incompetent and unworthy. In other words, I’ve convinced myself that anything I say and do is pointless, so why bother?

I then read a book about the siege of Sarajevo, described as “the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare”. Essentially, Serbian soldiers surrounded the city for four years, attacking ordinary citizens with every form of weaponry and decimating the population. Bosnians caught up in the siege were reduced to primitive living conditions, fighting for access to water, bread and other survival basics. The situation went far beyond anything I’ve ever seen and ever hope to experience.

The characters in the book move from an utter numbness to a realisation that “the men in the hills” (i.e. their Serbian attackers) aren’t the ones who will make or break them, but that they themselves are responsible for their fates. So when a citizen is shot down whilst walking home, one of the central characters Dragan chooses not to walk away, but instead to risk his life dragging that body out of the street. Although the man is dead, Dragan realises that his city used to be one where you’d never find a dead person simply lying in the road, and that if he is to fight the decay of Sarajevo, he needs to do something to stop his city being one where the dead are left out in the open.

A simple twist, an elegant change in philosophy – from blaming “them” for the war and devastation to finding a way to counteract the evil. From powerlessness to power in one seamless move.

I don’t really know how to counteract the poverty, corruption and crime that torments our beautiful home, but I do know that I am not powerless. Today, I start taking my power back by writing these words. I hope and pray that it will be a catalyst into something greater in the future, but until such time, I will continue doing what I can, however small.

In the words of the great philosopher, Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band):
To change the world, start with one step. However small, the first step is hardest of all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When is your pain my pain?

We’ve all faced them at some point in our lives – truly hurt and damaged people. They are jaded and sad and often unable to articulate or express themselves in a way that is conducive to healing. At times, they give the appearance of pulling it together, but underneath that flimsy coating are cracks and fault lines – brokenness.

The question that I find myself asking more and more is whether this brokenness entitles people to a free pass for any and all behaviour. Often, these people act maliciously, wounding others and leaving a path of destruction in their wake. And for those of us reeling in the chaotic aftermath of these storms? More often than not, I find that we justify this reckless behaviour, we condone it because we feel hurt people have the right to express themselves and hopefully find healing. We feel guilty as survivors, believing we need to offer unconditional support because tragedy hasn’t hit us. But how does a perpetual cycle of hurt generate anything other than more hurt?
I found myself asking this question whilst watching an episode of Private Practice last night. The storyline went down like this: Violet, a psychiatrist and expectant mother was violently attacked by one of her patients who cut her open, removed her baby and left her for dead. After a touch-and-go surgery, both her life and the baby’s are saved. But Violet is irreparably damaged and eventually makes the decision to hand her newborn child over to her lover (Pete) and walk away from both of them.

Everyone (including Pete) does everything in their power to accommodate her extreme decision, allowing her “the space” and time to heal. But in this particular episode, her “healing” takes the form of sleeping with a colleague’s father. When Pete finds out, she tries to justify her indiscretion by saying that she now has hope that she can feel again, implying that there is now hope for her relationship with Pete and her son.
Pause that scene… Now replay it again in slow motion. A hurt person inflicting damage in all directions, but finding a way to make it seem acceptable. Sound familiar?

The sad truth is that this phenomenon is peaking in our country. Children and young people struggling with the remnants of Apartheid grow up in poverty, abuse and hopelessness. As such, there is a real sense of their right to grab and hold onto any opportunity at any cost.
But for those of us living on the periphery of these damaged lives, it becomes an intolerable burden to bear. I have walked away more damaged, depressed and lost from many of my attempts to reach out – largely because I give and give and give in an attempt to right the wrongs from these kids’ pasts. But when that giving has no boundaries, when the relationship becomes about supporting someone’s dysfunctional lifestyle, it can only perpetuate the cycle of hurt.

I’m not sure what the answers are, but what I do know is that you aren’t doing anyone any favours by allowing people to behave as they please, especially when that behaviour is hurtful to others. Filing destructive actions under the category of “It’s my life and I’ll live it as I please” sometimes need to equate to a response of, “Well then live your life and leave me out of it.”

Unless you are the direct perpetrator of hurt to an individual, it is not your responsibility to fix them. But when and if you do choose to undertake this task, do so with wisdom and intent. Don’t be railroaded by someone else’s pain. Don’t become a victim. There is no honour in being hurt by someone you’ve reached out to, so don’t condone it. By caring for and protecting you, you can only shine a brighter light to others.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why I still have hope

Today I drove into a neighbourhood very close to where I grew up. The best description for it would probably be “the hood”, but in reality that term would probably be a romantic notion for what this is.
As we drive in, the dust is thick in the air. There are no trees or any other vegetation to stop the soil from overpowering the stale air. Young men sit at the side of the road doing whatever it is that the unemployed do. A young girl runs up the street with a tattered skirt and no top. A toddler not much older than my son swears vehemently at his mother. Life has a certain kind of lifelessness here.
And despite my sadness, despair and hopelessness at what surrounds me in that moment, I am overwhelmed by a deep sense of deep gratitude for not being a part of this tragic scene. I look over at my son, reassured that this level of poverty will not mark his young life, that he will know something better.
All of these realisations are a real watershed moment in my life right now. For so long, I have been sunk in something close to depression. I look at the magnitude of the poverty, crime and inequality in this country and I despair – is there any real hope?
But as we make our way to my aunt’s house to see my grandmother who has just arrived from Cape Town, I see four generations of hope sitting around the table with me. My Ma, who grew up poverty-stricken, worked in a factory for most of her adult life, and who now presides over a brood of 8 children, 30 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren – all healthy, happy, educated and competent.
My dad, who spent his youth fighting seven siblings for a slice of bread, growing up in Q-town, the yester-year version of the Cape Flats. A man who couldn’t complete his schooling and was chucked out of a couple of “respectable Christian establishments” for voicing his opinion on their lack of response to the Apartheid regime. A man who has literally set foot on every continent in the globe, who has met dignitaries and world-influencers, who has made his mark on the world.

Then there’s me. Although I am still shaping my path, I have gone further along the road of education than anyone else in my family. I too have travelled and seen way beyond the world of my humble beginnings in a non-white neighbourhood. I have had the privilege to influence and shape many lives along the way.
And on my lap (protesting vehemently at not being allowed to run riot through the house) is my two-year old son, Cole. At this age, he speaks English almost fluently and is starting to learn Zulu. He is learning to swim and starting to read numbers. He navigates my iPhone with absolute ease and knows how to get the cereal HE wants out of the pantry. Above all, he has all the opportunity in the world lying wide open before him – NO LIMITS!
All of this life, energy and beauty sprang forth from a situation not that far off from the one I saw today. If anything, the start was much worse because of the restrictions of Apartheid. And yet here we stand, testament to the power of a mother’s love, a story of hope in the midst of hardship, the reason why I can still hope.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I am who I am

I’ve had a strange few months of trying to get to grips with who I am (yet again!) Isn’t this supposed to be a done deal by the time you’ve spent all your teenage years grappling with it??? Apparently not. It seems with each new stage of our lives, we have to discover our equilibrium once more – it isn’t a natural progression, but rather something we really have to grapple with.
So with the advent of a new baby, I find myself in the midst of round 3,041 in the boxing ring of life. The fight is with my deadliest opponent – myself. And to be honest, I’m not sure I have a clue about how to deal with this opponent, despite years of practice. She is a chameleon, a shape shifter, a mystery. Just when I think I know her, some new aspect bursts forth and makes me question her all over again.
But I digress… Here’s the point: I’m an A-type personality, always have been and as any true A-type will tell you, that’s just the way it is. I LIKE doing the impossible. I get a kick out of studying two degrees at once. I like juggling a career, a husband and a kid whilst running a project in Soweto. This is just who I am.
But since I’ve become a mom, my desire to do all things has not been greeted with the same enthusiasm it once was. To put it in plain English, I have felt serious pressure to stop being Miss Do-it-all and just focus on being the best mom I can be. The current theme of this pressure goes something like, “Just enjoy your pregnancy.” (That particular statement makes me want to induce food-poisoning in the speaker. Perhaps after a day of constant nausea, they’ll think twice about glibly chucking THAT one out!)
For some reason, I stupidly decided to take on this new challenge and go with the whole “yummy-mummy who does tea in Sandton” routine. I’m still trying. It’s not working.
In the process, I have sustained major collateral damage. In trying to fit into a mould that simply is not accommodating my current pear-shaped figure, I’ve simply lost huge chunks of what makes me me.
So after months of swimming around in this self-imposed limbo state, I’ve finally realised that it’s ok to want to study and work and write and be a mom, and whatever else takes my fancy. It’s ok because it’s what works for me. By shrinking all these aspects of myself down to the one major role of mom, I stopped being the mother that I was made to be and started playing out some shadow version of someone else’s life.
We are not meant to shadow the lives of others. Yes, we can learn from others, take their advice, and even ask for guidance and mentorship. But in all this, we are never meant to become carbon copies, even of our most adored heroes. The reality is that we will never live up to them - for the simple reason that we weren’t meant to be them. And so we will always feel like we’re lost when what’s really happening is that we’ve just got the wrong directions.
I have felt small, insignificant and lost for the past few months. In acknowledging who I am and what I’m meant to do with my life, I’ve felt the blood rushing through my veins and reinvigorating my senses once more. I feel as if I am waking up after a long, drug-induced sleep and it’s beautiful!
Sure, people are questioning my sanity as I start taking on big projects just weeks before my second son is due. But this time, I choose me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reluctant Dreamer

I love how big my dreams are. They’re all-consuming and inspiring and larger than life. They are dreams that have the power to inspire countless others. And what’s more is they’re dreams that really matter – not just to me, but to an entire generation. I feel excited and blessed to own such a massive vision.

I am also terrified, overwhelmed and completely unequipped to have even the vaguest clue where to start, or even if I WANT to start. And I KNOW you know what I’m talking about!

Most of us eke out our daily existence in this phantom zone of “getting there one day” - if we still have the courage to at least hold onto that hope. For many others, the hope has been crushed in the daily grind of life. We know that we once had this “thing” that ignited a raging fire within us, but we’ve convinced ourselves that the thing is no longer that important, that it no longer has the ability to change the world.

But if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, “the thing” is still great and beautiful, honorable and noble. What’s lost its glitter and glamour is US. The invincible, powerful heroes of our youth that could do and be anything have become desk clerks and middle managers, run-down moms and tired dads. The princes who could slay dragons and the princess warriors who fought nobly at their side have been relegated to the scrap heap of life.

I am in the process (yet again!) of rescuing that beautiful part of who I am from the scrap heap, dusting it off and trying desperately to breathe some life into it. The truth is that as frightening as the thought of failing hopelessly in my quest to fulfill this giant of a dream is, the thought of living a life devoid of the deepest levels of passion and fulfillment seems imminently more devastating.

And so here I sit, late on a Wednesday night, with the sound of vuvuzelas blaring all around me (South Africa is playing Uruguay in the World Cup), trying to revive a latent aspiration to write something truly individual, inspiring and edgy. I have spent the large part of today dealing with a whiney, snotty 2-year old who has recently discovered the ability to use toddler-logic in his dealings with me (case in point: “Mommy, I can’t sleep because my hair is sore”)… enough said! I am getting strange looks across the toy-strewn lounge (cleaning lady not in today) from my husband, who is evidently wondering what epic catastrophe could induce his wife to be working away on her laptop at 9pm on an icy winter’s night. And of course the game is incredibly tempting…

My point is that reclaiming your dream is no simple task. Forces will conspire against your every move, you will discover that YOU are your biggest nemesis and you will spend at least every other day wondering if any of this is worth it. The truth is that although I have a vague suspicion that it is worth everything you can give and more, I can’t offer any real guarantees. What I do know is that sitting here tonight, in spite of my exhaustion and reluctance, and finding the words to match the thoughts and fears warring in my head, has been the most rewarding moment of a long and tiring day.

I leave you with these moving words from Marianne Wilson’s “A Return to Love”:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is a regular revolutionary?

Today I emerged from a drug-induced sleep (drug of choice being panado as that's all I'm allowed at 21 weeks of pregnancy) to the sounds of my 2-year old son whining for chocolate - at 6 in the morning. It goes without saying that this is a delightful way to start the day, but let's face it: it doesn't exactly fit the descriptor of "revolutionary", does it?

So that's where the "regular" part comes in handy. Regular because every revolutionary, from Nelson Mandela to Bono, still has to muddle through every day life and its incumbent challenges. As much as we want to be the people on the cutting edge of life, trailblazing the way for countless others to follow us into new and exciting adventures, we are still just human beings who need to eat, sleep and brush our teeth. Aaaah... the glamour!

But wade through all of that surface run of the mill stuff and you'll discover that we have dreams and passions that could incite entire nations, move mountains, and of course, change the world. We're dreamers and thinkers. Our plans are always bigger than we can ever capture with mere words. We live in a world where poverty and
injustice are simply dragons that we need to slay as we triumphantly march through the epic journey that is our life. Nothing is unattainable. Everything is subject to the power of our will.

So whilst we're living out our quietly ordinary lives as slaves to the whims of 2-year olds and prisoners of war to insurance call centre agents, we are also fighting for a future that promises more. More life, more boldness, more fun and adventure, more passion and fireworks, MORE!!!

Rest assured my fellow revolutionaries, your quest is not in vain. There are many, MANY others just like you who march to the steady drumbeat of a life less ordinary. Men and women who have gifts and passions that are just bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to erupt into the routine of life and infuse it with big things. I am one of them... just your regular revolutionary.