Radical gratitude

I departed from rain, and returned to rain. And in-between, a contrast so stark as to be almost unimaginable, senses reeling with the polarities, the juxtapositions, the burning desert sands and sun of the Tankwa, the icy nights, the sparks leaving the glowing brazier, and joining their glittering brothers and sisters in the night sky. Sheer iridescence, day and night.

Talking to people, from all walks and talks of life. Hearing, sharing, observing, contemplating, embracing, relating, pondering, concluding, feeling, articulating, shedding, forgiving, demonstrating, learning, offering, loving.

My word engine, located above brow, and also residing firmly in my heart – it yielded descriptions wrapped in poems, of what I saw and felt.

Seeing the colours of the rainbow, in faces and attire, tasting the spectrum of colour and temperature and language and age and origin, of bright sun and dark, shimmering night.

A howling dust storm did more than rustle feathers – swirling and ripping fabric from tent poles, placing grit in mouth and eyes and ears – frantic assembly and disassembly, riding out the moments and hours it lasted – perhaps offering a hand, a shoulder, a shelter to those hardest hit.

Then a smattering of rain, on us scatterlings of Africa – and it was over.

The sun blazed again in blue skies, and with shaking and dusting and laughing and music resumed, and copious tin mugs of rooibos were consumed, vegetables peeled for soup, and mother nature was the topic of all conversation.

As she more often should be (and not only when she has demonstrated her tempestuous temperament – but also when she is at her most embracing and encompassing – mother nature is what we should be connected to at all times, she is our very breath, our bread and butter).

But… it was elemental and powerful, and gratitude was felt when she unfurled from over us, and dispatched her storm troopers to the west (hopefully with moisture for parched lands).

Every drop of water we carried in was acccounted for, used with appreciation and caution. Food was shared, after being prepared in community with others (strangers perhaps, before this meeting, but bade farewell as friends).

I spoke to people who have devoted their lives to restoration, upliftment, healing and empowering others, offering sustainable solutions contributions; who operate as think tanks, and then liberate action from intention, and live in loving service, with humility and gratitude to be able to be of service.

I am in awe of the breadth, and the very breath, of humanity. It is the life force, what sustains us.

Our diversity is what keeps us together, keeps us going. What I saw was a celebration of diversity. My converstations were with but a few, all said – but those few, how powerful they were.

I admire certain qualities, many of which I encountered, to my great privileged, in this dusty microcosm.

Last week’s Wordsmith email offering was taken from Jabberwocky, one of my favourite poems, and the words sprang to mind during this time:

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

And then… Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

He chortled in his joy.”

As we went through the first pass, on the journey home on Sunday night, I switched on my cellphone, after those precious, blissful few days without any electronic communication to the outside world.

(I count the days, the years – where I have been cleaved to these devices, which enable us to such a degree, but also shackle us so effectively – to our work, our commitments and obligations, our accessibility and provision of instant gratification).

It’s insidious, and I really, truly needed a break. Then, back in contact, with a thud.

There was the SMS: that our beloved Norman Reid, feisty Irish gentleman – so often gracing our lives and Bolander’s pages – who bade us good morning and farewell as we passed him day after week after month after year, sitting on his bench at Radloff Park, with the river tumbling behind him (a whisper only in the dry summer, a roaring rapid-filled powerful force during the winter), that he had passed from this life, the very day I’d left to go camping, Wednesday April 27.

Us Radloff walkers could determine the seasons by his attire, he was our very own barometer.

Like when he switched to warm tracksuit pants, and his old faded green sweaters (not to mention faded green jacket, faded green beret, and aded green bicycle – the old dog blanket still tucked in the basket). All green, and faded. Like a green spirit. Which perhaps he was.

Then shorts, those dear shorts – and we knew it was spring, or summer. We all worried when he was ill, and spoke of him and held him in our hearts until he returned, time and again demonstrating his resilience, his love for life, his innate vitality.

He reminded me of my dad, with every day that passed so recently – as my own dad slipped from this world, first cognitively, and then physically.

Norman embodied so many elements I hold dear. He was dignified, compassionate, positive, radiant, respectful. My mind floods with words, associations.

What I wish for, whimsical as that expression always seems to be, is for more time to follow my instincts to do the right thing.

Like to have spent more time with Norman in the hospital after his fall off his bicycle, reading to him, holding his hand, sharing stories.

I knew, and hoped, there were others – and there were, so notably Pieter and Louise – who took him under their wing when his family moved to Australia, and held him so close to their hearts and daily lives as surrogate family.

I only knew Norman from my walks, and just spoke a few words to him most days during the past four years, and shared in birthday celebrations.

There are those who have known him and loved him for decades, and I can only try to imagine how much they grieve his passing.

He was, he is, an institution – at this very special place, along this lovely river, with view of trees and mountains and skies and clouds and colours and passers-by and happy hounds.

He knew that the way to help wounded hearts and bodies, was to be in a place of beauty and serenity, and be a friend to man.

I don’t use those words lightly. When I lived in the Rocky Mountains, 21 years ago, I spent a sacred summer with another venerable elder – Grandma Miller – and learned much at her 95-year-old-knee (with my infant son on own knee).

She had an embroidered picture, above her little cabin door, saying “I want to live in a house at the side of the road, and be a friend to man.”

I’ve recalled, and spoken of, that picture many times, when I find my words drifting towards that period of my life, with that powerful and wise woman.

Uncle Paddy, as Norman was also known, is one of those people to me – whom I shall always count myself as having being utterly privileged to have known and loved – and be loved by.

He graced us all, with his presence. Because he was PRESENT, in the moment. Which gifted, and grounded us, sending us on on our days with a smile, and a song in our heart.

He heard our stories, about our homes and children and lives and worries and joys. He knew us by name, and our dogs. He uplifted us by his presence, and I know we uplifted him in turn.

Every day, he mounted his trusty old steed, and cycled/ wobbled from Vonke House to the river, then took up residence on his bench.

Recently, when his bike was being repaired, I saw him walking slowly, and stopped to give him a lift (and the cacophany with which my dogs greeted him – and he them – made his hearing aid ring for the rest of the day, I’ve no doubt.

He engaged with the world, and his community and environment, in a way that must have restored and replenished and encouraged and enlivened him too – just look at the quality of his final years, enviable for its infusions of love and gratitude.

What an example, he set. Of generosity of spirit, kind-heartedness, tolerance and warmth.

Norman, I know your Irish eyes are smiling, which is balm to our aching hearts.

I remember, savour, the last time I saw you, in the hospital. You were sitting up straight, beautifully-combed white hair over to one side on your elegant head, your spry blue eyes matching the blue gown you wore.

I kissed your forehead goodbye, and whispered “we all love you” and left.

I’d thought of my dad, kissing him goodbye just a few months ago, but he could not bid me farewell at the time, which you had done.

I felt like a beloved lass to you, Norman, as I had to my dad. Thank you.

And today, Monday May 2, what I saw at Radloff Park was a gathering of people, souls and spirits and family, rubbing their hands in the morning chill, laying flowers on “your” bench.

Words were read, hugs were given, Guinness was poured, memories were shared, dogs barked (and bayed, thanks Phoebe), and played and rested – and we all held you in our hearts, knowing, with such gratitude, that you held us (and continue to hold us) in yours.

I’m still only trying to find a way to mourn my dad. But I saw you in him, and him in you.

And so I felt even more loved, and safe, and connected to you. As I’m sure so many of us did. You represented to us what is good.

To your family Down Under – your dad was epic. You know that, and we got to know that too. Thanks for sharing him with us all.

A parting note. I looked up an Irish word (“Craic”) that I’d written down on a serviette a few months ago, and then saw this other word just above it (which I found in “50 most beautiful words in the Irish language”, and thought “that’ll do”, for a concluding sentiment.

Comhluadar – meaning company, family, the harmony of being together. This Irish word primarily describes convivial company, namely people conversing pleasantly together, but may also refer to family.

By the way, the word I’d originally written down (after some random conversation, as is so often the case), was Craic – meaning entertaining conversation, high-spirited fun – the serious work of play. Funny how one word always leads to another.

And both apply. Have a good journey further, friend.

Carolyn Frost: Editor