One of my daily pleasures is to read the email I have a subscription to, from Wordsmith.org, called A. Word. A. Day.
It relates to the beauty, complexity and history of the English language, and every week there is a new theme, which includes the meaning, etymology, usage… and my favourite, the quote of the day – sourced to correspond with the birthday of the particular author.
On Monday, as the production of Bolander moved apace, I paused to enjoy this week’s offering, and the quote was from the artist Vincent van Gogh, and it resonated powerfully.
“The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people,” he said.
A man who was tortured by inner turmoil… yet this was still his conclusion.
In this time of great upheaval, uncertainty and anxiety, accompanying the mass of information about Covid-19, it pays to focus on what is certain, what is true, and what is reliable.
And illuminated, above all, is love. We all witness the surge of love and camaraderie that has manifested in all shapes and forms; it heartens us, grounds us, and recalibrates our energies and actions to become productive, not only for ourselves, but for the greater causes, evidenced in such (often agonising) abundance in South African society.
The juxtapositions are so stark, when observing living conditions in our land.
For some, the concept of being “locked down” in their homes is little more than an adjustment here and there, perhaps not heading out to walk the dogs, or going to a social gathering, but still the capacity to be comfortable, well-fed, the ability to walk around a spacious home, or get some fresh air and sunshine in a garden.
For others, in cramped conditions, with extended family members ranging from young children to the elderly, with minimal facilities in terms of kitchen or living space, not to mention ablutions, it must be utterly intolerable.
And yet there is no option, other than to submit to the “new normal” for now, and abide by the authority’s instructions and regulations, or face the consequences, legal and medical.
The provisioners of services leave me in awe. From the medical practitioners to the refuse collectors; the food distribution chains to the law enforcement offiers; from the long-distance truck drivers to the municipal workers – who are keeping the infrastructures intact; the ones we rely on, in times good and bad.
Rabindranath Tagore said: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
This morning on Cape Talk a woman called in to share about what she and her family had done over the weekend, in transforming their garage into a learning zone for their little children to have a home school for now (they are 3 and 4).
She is an anaesthesiologist, and was on her way to the hospital she works at, so right there, an example of someone who is juggling the realities of family life with little ones, while being out there on the front lines in the fight against this virus, as a medical worker.
“We had such fun,” she said, describing the family effort in creating a special space for the little ones to have their educational time, adding “my husband is the teacher this morning, and the children are so excited,”
Neighbourhood groups are sharing recipes, and I’m inspired to try to create some of these meals for myself and my loved ones (all simple, using fresh ingredients).
Even though I’m not on social media, other than WhatsApp, it’s hard to keep up with all the information flowing. It’s amazing how much is flying back and forth through the ether, bringing smiles, nods of agreement, tears of joy and sadness, solutions to communal problems and suggestions for how to manage what we as citizens of the globe are collectively facing.
The images of empty city-scapes and streets lend a surreal quality to landcapes that now seem unfamiliar, despite the recognisability.
At the same time, it reinforces our capacity to heed the voice of caution, to submit to the discomforts of confinement and restricted mobility.
What we watched approaching from afar is now here, and how we act, react and pro-act will be instrumental in flattening the curve, a description we are all having to come to terms with, the implications and significance.
During the day I listen to my portable radio, for local news, and in the evenings I stream NPR (National Public Radio) from America to keep up with what is going on abroad – and when I settle down for the night, I look for something to watch on my laptop.
On Sunday evening I discovered a new documentary on Netflix, called Crip Camp – a powerful take on the fight for equal rights by disabled people in the US.
I was riveted by the sheer determination of those who put in such effort, over the course of many decades, to secure rights that now seem so self-evident. It is hard to comprehend that there were politicians and lawmakers who resisted for so long, putting the fiscus before the people who faced such mighty obstacles.
Another documentary I have embarked upon (but have not completed yet) is Pandemic (could it be more appropriate!).
A phrase I encountered while living in the Rocky Mountains, by a friend who was somewhat of a sage, was “We are the architects of our own misery”. I have never forgotten it, and my friends know I refer to it regularly.
How is it that the human race continues to use and abuse our home, the earth, with such impunity and indifference to her health?
Do we not, or have we not until most recently, realise that our health is inextricably linked to the health of this incredible planet?
We are part of the greater whole, and our actions, choices, habits, attitudes and consumption all have outcomes.
Not so long ago, I discovered that a drainpipe from my home, going through my garden, had been damaged by roots from a huge tree.
Unbeknownst to me, the contents of the water running from kitchen, basins, toilets, dishwasher and laundry machine had been seeping into the ground nearby.
After it had been repaired by the plumber, I stood at the site of where the leak had occurred, and proffered an apology from my heart, for the fact that I had been inadvertantly sending a concoction of harsh detergents, from dish washer and toilet cleaner and laundry detergent, into the soil and plants.
I thought of the ground dwellers, the earthworms and microbes and organisms contributing the health of the ground; of the bushes and shrubs and trees, and felt such a sense of failed responsibility, the realisation that due to my own actions, I had contaminated the very things I hold so dear.
It reinforced the fact that, despite knowing that all the drains from all the houses are going into the same holding sites, it doesn’t absolve me as an individual from doing what I can to keep my part of the system as clean as possible.
To choose, instead, to use biodegradable products as far as possible, to clean my toiletes and drains with vinegar and bicarb and lemon juice, instead of harsh and abrasive cleaners.
To use gentle, natural detergents (meaning the laundry water can then be used in the garden, without damaging the plants).
It was a painful wake-up call, a bringing home, quite literally, of the effect of my direct actions, and I felt I had betrayed my intentions and contradicted my words in the past.
We are the custodians of our families, of our homes, of our planet. It is a sacred obligation we have, and what we receive, in return, are the multitude of blessings that accompany our journey as humans on the face of earth.
The plight the world’s inhabitants now face is akin to war, but not one between different nationalities and countries, but one that has infiltrated our very lives and consciousness.
We are called to arms, not with weapons of destruction, but with attitudes, insights, understanding, obedience, acceptance, cooperation, humility, and the ultimate force, the power that is love.
This is a time for great introspection, and during the moments when we are not filling our minds with information or entertaining snippets, or dealing with the needs of home and family, it is advisable to find a quiet space (if possible!), and reflect upon all that counts as a blessing, and to state our intention to be part of the solution, versus the problem.
As we continue to put out an edition of Bolander every week, I ask that our readers share their stories with us, so that we may continue to feel a solidarity with one another, and identify where we may be of assistance or comfort to one another.
We may be in isolation for now, but we are not incapacitated from being resources and of benefit. The ripples of loving kindness that we can demonstrate continue outwards, and serve as inspiration to others.
Frustration and despair can be replaced by a sense of belonging, the notion of Ubuntu has never been more tangible. For we are all one, ultimately.
I’ve been starting my day with a mediation, some yoga and a cup of ginger tea. And during the long wakeful hours of night, I try to hold all those who are in a state of suffering, in my heart and my prayers, that they may be equipped with the strength and support they need to endure these dark times.
And I give great, heartfelt thanks to all those who are on the ground, putting their health and lives at risk, to keep the wheels turning; all the unsung heroes.
I’ve heard a chorus in the evenings recently, voices and clapping and trumpets, sounding the call of thanks. I am humbled.
Carolyn Frost: Editor