Driving through the Cape Winelands in these autumn days, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the visual feast around us.
The autumn vines, the streams, the fynbos, the waves, our guardian peaks above. Achingly beautiful.
But my heart has recently ached for other reasons too.
My father still lies in hospital – having fought for his life for more than four weeks now.
Watching him sleep, week after week, watching him clinging to life, I wondered what may have been going through his mind.
I remembered this quote, by the legendary mountain climber Joe Simpson – who fell to near-certain death in the Peruvian Andes in 1985, but somehow crawled his way back to life.
He wrote, about that moment of falling: “Deprived of the ability to imagine the future, you are fearless … You have no time to ponder on death’s significance or fear what it may feel like.
In the cataclysmic violence of the accident you lose not only the future, but the past as well. Time is frozen for you into the present events and sensations, the knocks and bumps from which you can draw no emotional conclusions. I’m crashing, I’m falling fast. I’m about to die. This is it.
“In truth, you have far too much on your mind for such frivolous luxuries as fear.”
Sitting next to my Dad’s hospital bed, I have wondered: Perhaps that’s what he’s going through, in this moment. Hanging on with pure, instinctive courage. Falling “into the void”, as the climber did in the mountains of South America, but refusing to give up.
But driving away from Groote Schuur last week, I was reminded it’s not just my father who is “hanging on”.
A bakkie passed me on the N2. Crowded on the open back, stood a dozen women, like cattle.
Dressed in patchy overalls – off to grind through some taxing manual labour.
Mothers, wives, breadwinners – out hunting for economic scraps to sustain their families at home.
I saw their struggle to survive – just as dramatic as my father’s struggle. And I saw not fear in their eyes, just raw determination.
Hanging on to the bakkie’s railings. Hanging on for economic survival.
In every direction, I saw gripping courage, in live action, all around me. So I said a prayer. For my father. And also for every other person around us, in ICU too – in a thousand different ways.
Life is beautiful. Life is brutal.
In recent weeks, I have been so grateful to the Cape countryside around me, for its achingly gentle, nurturing autumn colours.
I asked for strength, for us all.
And I offered all I have: my love.