In Memoriam

(I wrote this on Thursday 13th November, scribbled on the programme for my mother-in-law’s cousin Jenny’s memorial service, while we waited for the official proceedings to begin)

Each funeral, memorial or cremation now evokes for me vivid memories of previous such occasions, as well as recollections of those now dead whose formal commemorative events I was unable to attend. The first clear memory I have of a memorial was as a young teenager in an overflowing Church in Pietermaritzburg, where I shed tears alongside many others for a handsome, vibrant young man killed at sweet sixteen on the motorbike he so loved. I remembered the first time we had kissed, when we walked along a road in the moonlight and he recited a poem about the stars as if he had just composed it, although his best friend later told me it was one he had memorised to impress impressionable young ladies such as myself. I recalled our final kiss with even greater clarity, only months before his death, when his family immigrated to New Zealand. I can summon up the image of standing in that Church so vividly, yet I don’t remember what my reflections on death were at that time, eighteen years ago.

I remember how, after days of being focused on practicalities, I broke down and sobbed when I saw a photograph of my mother at her cremation (“I will send a full report on mom’s cremation as soon as possible. For now, let it suffice to say that it was as positive an event as is possible in the circumstances. Beautiful words, beautiful wild flowers picked by Andi, the kids, Brian and Vusi and woven into a wreath by Anna, lovely music, and many, many a tear. It was such a relief to sob and sob and sob until I could barely breathe.”).

Tessa's coffin

Today, each time I look up at the photo of Jenny with her family at the front of the Church, I feel the tears spring up again. These images of those we love, so full of life, just as we remember them, brings the reality of what we have lost to our emotional awareness in a unique way. There she is, so real, so ALIVE – how can we even begin to grasp the absence of that in our lives, not as the memories we will always carry with us, but as some solid and present in each moment from here forward?

Kindness

My mother once wrote, during a discussion about relationships and my marriage, “It’s a huge boon to have something like “kindness” in a relationship. You have that between you; it is valuable, and not soooo common.

My sister Elin recently shared an article by Emily Esfahani Smith entitled ‘Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits’, which highlights just how crucial such kindness is to the sustainability of relationships. One of my favourite paragraphs in the article is:

“There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.”

For all the challenges our marriage has faced over the years, I can see that our mutual commitment to this work, over many years, has paid off in gradually-increasing connection and intimacy – and I believe we are stronger, fitter, and more committed to continue staying in good shape than ever. It’s always interesting to reflect on how the findings of research compare to our own experiences, and can reinforce the lessons we have learnt through the events and choices within our lives. Continue reading

On Angry South African Expats

Laurel's Reflections:

Two years after moving back to South Africa, after nearly eight years in London, with so many people asking why we were moving home, this was great to read. Ah, Africa sure gets under your skin, and I LOVE this beautiful country! (That said, I loved London too).

Originally posted on The Disco Pants Blog :

What I’ve come to realise, over the past few weeks, is that there can be no angrier, more unreasonable person on the planet than the South Africa expat who is told that the country has not gone up in flames (yet) and that we actually spend a lot of time camping, hiking, hanging out on the beach and drinking very nice, inexpensive wine on our expansive lawns in the sunshine while somebody else does the ironing. I think it is fair to say that a goaded bull with a punctured testicle being shown 42 red flags simultaneously could not be more enraged than the (ex) South African who sold up, spent all their money on relocating their family to Wellington before the Swart Gevaar put a torch to the entire country only to find that it’s not quite the utopia they imagined and that their life is actually kakker than…

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Ecotopian Equality

I’m only 34 pages into the novel ‘Ecotopia’, and I am already enraptured. I was quickly drawn in by the vision it offers of an ecologically balanced, while technologically advanced, society, and it offers many moments in which to pause and reflect on how we – I – choose to engage with the world.

While it’s easy to cynically approach the novel from the viewpoint that it isn’t possible for such a society to emerge on such a large scale (particularly within the United States of America), given the nature of humans, politics, power, and current economic structures, I choose instead to see it as an invitation to remember that things don’t have to always be as they are. If we can visualise a different way of being, we can keep striving, in our own way, towards that vision – and even if we can’t change society at large in any dramatic way, we can be consciously aware of our own actions and choices. Continue reading

Mastery of Self in Service

I had the privilege, a year and a half ago, of becoming part of a truly remarkable community of caring, open-hearted people committed to keep learning from life – just as it is – in each new moment that unfolds. This is the joy of being involved with the More to Life programme.

I spent the past weekend as part of an amazing team of fellow volunteers creating a safe space for 28 participants to find a new depth of connection with themselves and others, and to step forth into their lives with a new sense of purpose. To see the growth in each member of our team, as well as the blossoming within each participant, was a humbling experience for which I am truly grateful.

One of the participants shared her experience with us on the third day of the course:

It’s good to meet yourself again. I realise now that moving forward I have to be ME; it’s the only way to be better for everyone around me. I feel at peace with myself now, and realise that looking after myself isn’t selfish – it lets me give more to other people. I have dreams and passions and things I want to do, but I didn’t know why I couldn’t DO them. Now I know – it wasn’t anything external stopping me, it was me. Now I know I can do anything. I was lost; I was looking for myself. I want to dream, to impart knowledge, to serve others – but I can’t serve them if I’m not fully present myself.Continue reading

Choices, and defining who we wish to be

A friend sent me a link to a TED talk by Ruth Chang about ‘How to make hard choices.’ It’s a brilliant, well-constructed talk that leads to an empowering conclusion:

‘Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition. That the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here in the space of hard choices that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse, but a godsend.’

I hesitated over sharing that ‘spoiler’, but I encourage you to watch the entire video to see how she steadily, logically and engagingly takes us with her to this conclusion.

What this comes down to for me is the reminder of something I have believed for as long as I can remember: that each of our choices – from the clothes we select to wear, to the jobs we invest our time in and people we decide to spend our time with – are neither right nor wrong, but simply about WHO WE CHOOSE TO BE. Continue reading