As a child, I recall idyllic holidays in the heartland of Kwazulu Natal. A small farm town with only basic amenities, and a farm with an abundance of natural intrigue, even more than beauty. These are two destinations that merge into one in my mind when I reminisce about the long drives down the rugged gravel roads to the farmhouse and the shop where so many memories were made. We had polite but sincere exchanges with the local Zulus despite barely being able to speak each other’s languages. We made meals out of whole loaves of bread with tinned fish and a haphazard array of vegetables or spices that we could lay our hands on, as we crammed all the ingredients into the cavity we dug out from the centre of the loaf.
We’d sit by the river and build little dams in which to swim, while we wandered downstream wondering how far the river would take us, eventually turning around to head back to the shop before closing time. The sticky mangoes swelling from the branches of the trees and the smell of fresh cow dung. There was a crispness to those experiences that appear to be lost in the years that followed. Memories abound. It’s easy for memories to surface from times that I associated with innocence and warmth. Warmth of the human spirit reflected in the sincerity of interactions that had no veils of political correctness or courtesy about them. There wasn’t a need for adequate expression of words because the bonds we shared transcended such frivolous qualifications.
One particular trek down that mountain in my uncle’s Land Rover always stands out more than the rest. The road was one he travelled almost every day of his life while he wrestled with the gearbox of that old car. The steep inclines sometimes felt almost vertical to a child of 6 or 8, while I grabbed the seat trying not to fall through the windscreen as we crept our way down the rock-laden path careful not to get my skinny legs in the way of the gear shift that my uncle cursed. I looked up at him one day and asked quite innocently, “Do you ever get used to this road?” His reply was soft, but terse. “You never get used to pain!”
I smiled sheepishly without realising the gravity of his statement while I continued to take in the beautiful sights around us. I had seen it many times before but even to this day I still stop and stare in awe at any scene that reminds me of it. Even the smell of the bark of a tree burning in an open fire takes me back to those days. The rocks that he saw as painful obstacles I treasured as a playground during the many times that we’d get out of the car at the river crossing while he drove on to the shop. We hopped over the rocks in the river bed as we chuckled through the path less travelled. My uncle, on the other hand, didn’t see those rocks the way we did. He was looking at it from behind that gear shift, while we felt it beneath our feet giving us the firm foothold we needed to make our way through that majestic land.
Much later in life I grew to appreciate the reality he was faced with. No matter how familiar we are with pain, it doesn’t ever become pleasant. There may be some comfort that we draw from the familiarity of it, but it never ceases to be pain. Quite ironically though, the pain is usually because of a perspective we embrace rather than the reality that we face. He looked at the rocks as the painful hurdles that offered no respite, while it was the faulty gear shift that in fact tainted the beauty of the rocks.
I’ve found that when I’m caught up in the rapture of the moments that offer curt reminders of betrayals past, I lose sight of the reality of the beauty around me. The minor betrayals that are in reality not much more than annoyances now hold harsh reminders of the graver betrayals of the past. The annoyances now become my faulty gear shift, while the betrayals of the past in fact inform the appreciation I have of the beauty that life has to offer. Only once both have been experienced, betrayal and beauty, can the one be more fully appreciated in the absence of the other. But it takes more than just the realisation of such dichotomies to remain mindful about the good that we have. It takes a gear shift that isn’t a constant annoyance to avoid the distraction from that which is a blessing.
Too many times I’ve fallen foul of the procrastination to make the tough decisions from fear of creating a reality that held no certainty. The certainty I desired was the odd comfort that I drew from the familiarity of that pain. Eventually I would reach breaking point, by which time the destruction in my wake was tenfold worse than what it would have been had I acted when I first realised that a change was needed. But each time that I contended with that wake my boldness and confidence to deal with such destruction grew, and so the appeal to delay the inevitable became a taunt that goaded me on to push the limits of my patience to points where the mere contemplation of the potential outcomes of losing it left me lightheaded and weak-kneed knowing that my tolerance was being depleted, while my inclination for flexibility decreased.
Every decision, whether taken or subdued, is a step closer to the inevitable. The more we resist this reality, the greater the cost when eventually what was intended to come to pass, does.