Farewell, Philip, and thanks for the talks

A drawing of the late Philip.

Johan van Zyl, Gordon’s Bay

My friend Philip passed away on Thursday June 4.

The first time I made his acquaintance we had both been strolling the mountainside streets here in Gordon’s Bay.

Being of a sometimes irritating forward nature, I caught his attention and started chatting with him about the pleasures of nature, etc.

Having experience with some folks who seem not to relish coming under a stranger’s radar unannounced, I was surprised at the warm response from this unassuming gentleman.

Slight of build and soft-spoken, Philip immediately warmed to me.

We exchanged some views while continuing our stroll together, and ended the morning with the intention of having coffee at some later date.

In time, one coffee session followed another, each time at a different venue, interspersed with long trail walks.

I fondly remember all these times we spent in reflective conversation.

It very soon became apparent that here was a man of considerable intellect.

His good-naturedness and natural humility made me look forward to every meeting.

He was the kind of man who would have a Doctorate in Physics and you would not know it, because he would not have informed you.

Now he is gone. From his family members I gleaned that he habitually tried to instill in them an appreciation of the higher virtues in life, even philosophy and poetry.

He once quoted for them the mathematician Norbert Wiener, who wrote:

“We are swimming upstream in a great torrent of disorganisation, which tends to reduce everything to the heat-death of equilibrium and sameness described in the second law of thermodynamics.”

On the same topic, he quoted for them the philosopher Kierkegaard, who said:

“We live in a chaotic moral universe. In this, our main obligation is to establish arbitrary enclaves of order and system. These enclaves will not remain there indefinitely by any momentum of their own after we have established them.”

When I read this, recollections of some of our talks flooded back to me.

We did not only share views about the wonders of nature, but also the massive problems we face preserving it.

I wondered, if these quotes had been under discussion as we sipped coffee, would Philip have connected them to nature conservation? Probably.

I might have responded by arguing that these words are also appropriate, especially applicable to us in our politically turbulent South Africa.

I might have suggested that these philosophical statements warn us about the way we govern our country.

Our schools, which are under constant threat of vandalism, will not remain standing unless we protect them.

Our public transport system will not encourage commuters to make use of them unless it meticulously holds to departure and arrival times.

Our children will not become the hope of the future unless we parent them with deep affection, strict discipline and unfailing honesty.

Our politicians will not succeed in eradicating crime, corruption and poverty unless they practice what they preach.

We cannot rise above greed, ignorance and hate unless we learn to embrace faith, hope and love.

I miss my friend Philip. He’s gone now, and our camaraderie has come to an end.