fr. agile.

~ on hopes and long shots ~

It’s been a while since I last put pen to paper for public thought. It’s been a while because I’ve been grappling with a sudden change of direction that comes from a failed dream and a broken heart. A failure that really put to the test my own faith in what it means to believe in a hope filled life and a life of long shots. In saying this, I have to admit that if hope is a drug and taking long shots the fix that comes from it, then I am addicted to both of these things. I’m addicted to the optimism I have to find in standing up again, after having fallen down. I’m addicted to the self-belief that’s needed in extracting purpose from a situation where that belief just didn’t materialise. I wanted to write a piece on fragility simply because it had been on my mind. And, it seems quite pertinent now to just write it anyway. There’s a vulnerability to being human that is so patently obvious. Equally as obvious are all the actions we take to deny that same fragility exists within us. I can never quite understand why we hide in plain sight like this. We’re fragile, get over it.

To be entirely honest, I’ve no idea what to make of the current state of things. I never thought that I would be living through a global war against an unseen enemy – a threat that I still can’t quite comprehend actually even exists. On the weekend I had to go for a drive around the city just to be sure this was all real. And sure enough it was, and is. I couldn’t help but notice the emptiness of the streets – as I am sure anyone else who was on the roads would have. Empty, except of course for those who have no choice but to call them home. Even the homeless – the most vulnerable amongst us – who’ve nothing but those streets and each other to rely on, were being disbanded into groups of less than one hundred to try stem the spread of this pandemic. It’s just completely bizarre – as if reality itself, finally tired of watching us try to predict our own demise, stepped into an apocalyptic film set and served us back its own concoction of a truth we just weren’t prepared for – to remind us just how fragile we actually are. 

It’s been completely surreal watching country after country close borders, then public facilities and then go into lockdown – all in a global struggle to stop the spread of something we cannot even see. In a globalised world it’s just weird that things still need to hit home before they actually hit home. I thought modern society had relegated this kind of thing to the annals of history – for the people of yesteryear, who didn’t know what they were doing – not us who have access to all the world’s information in our pocket. Yet, in witnessing the way we are acting and reacting, it is evidently clear that our generation really didn’t know what it was doing either. And we best figure it out, quickly.

It’s almost as if this pandemic is a microcosm of a world that has had enough of asking us politely to stop with all the neglect and abuse. It’s as if the planet finally ran out of patience in dealing with our inability, as its custodians, to recognise that the way we treat it (and each other) is just not good enough. It’s a byproduct of a broken system and a great leveller for those of us who mistakenly believed we’d mastered it. And now we’re being sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done – the consequences of our collective actions already taking an immense toll on liberty, livelihood and life. It’s almost unfathomable to think that this invisible thing, born in a place I had never heard of, jumped to a handful of people and cast its grip on the entire world by taking advantage of the essence of life itself. Of our breath and our breathing. All this, with the futile aim of spreading itself at the expense of those who unwillingly and unwittingly carry it within them. I don’t understand the pursuit of exponential growth, but this is it, stripped of all the marketing. And I don’t think I will understand this crisis in the coming months either – I’m not a God with all the answers, after all. None of us are. And we should know that. We’re just ordinary people facing the unknown, together.

In South Africa, where I am from, we are at the infancy of dealing with this global crisis on a local level. Right now there’s a fog of inevitability and imminence descending as we await an evil that still seems so uncertain and far off. It’s like we’ve been given the script, read through it, seen it play out and still aren’t quite sure when it starts or how it ends. We all know how dire things will be if we get this wrong and so, as I try to find my own strength, I’m reminded of exactly why hopes and long shots are so critical – almost at the expense of everything else. Last night those of us who witnessed our President address the nation with the conviction he did, must surely have been filled with such pride to be South African citizens right now. I’ve watched prominent leaders, from prominent nations, bumble their way through managing this crisis – failing to speak calm into the hearts and minds of their people. 

And then I watched our leadership instead choose to speak with integrity and honesty. With backbone and with heart. I sat there listening to someone who reminded me that the long shot is not a dream but a practical reality if (and only if) we can all just believe, trust and do our damn part. He didn’t diminish the gravity of the situation but he also didn’t give us any cause for panic or concern. This may change in the days to come but I sure as hell will do my bit to just stay calm, listen and do as I’m freaking told. On the back of all these thoughts and emotions I can only hope that as South Africans we can be an example to the world of how to make this pandemic short-lived. So much of my love for South Africa flows from it being a country of miracles. Our story, as a nation, is one grounded in hope and in overcoming, in spite of all the oppression, hatred and suffering that our history made us walk through. We’re fragile, but we’re not yet broken. And we all get the opportunity once again to share in this beautiful story of hope. 

I’m so damn proud to live in South Africa and to be facing this with South Africans. I’m so damn proud to be able to listen to a leadership that has given us a backbone from which to hinge our hopes on. And I am so damn proud of all the South Africans who are going to be on the front-line in the coming days and months. I never thought that when called up to do my part in a war, I’d be asked to sit at home and just be patient. That isn’t in my character. But aren’t the majority of us so lucky that, in order to fight, we just need to wait it out, at home, with our loved ones. It’s here that I have to pause. I have to pause and to heap praise on the people who’ve been called to the front-line. Praise to those people who never would have thought this responsibility would be their responsibility. I never imagined that the people who would be called to our aid in a global fight would be those same people called to serve us at our local grocer – our shelf-packers and our cashiers. I can’t wait to greet you properly again when this is all over and to get those Sunday donuts served with their usual dose of hugs, laughs and smiles. I freaking miss it already.

When I do venture out, you guys will be a reminder to me of my own hopes – after all, you’re serving so that I can keep reaching for them. Isn’t it funny how it’s always the unexpected that’s left to accomplish the unachievable! Always the little guy that’s called to take on the fight. Whether God’s up there or not, I will be on my knees daily, praying for Him to bless you all with good health. And that same prayer goes out to all the doctors, nurses, scientists, police, military and other personnel, serving us on the front-line. Know that there are people sitting at home who have complete trust in the success of your long shot – because, when it comes down to it, your long shot is our long shot to. No matter what comes from this, when all is said and done, I’m never going to stop thanking you for the work you do.

It’s a time to embrace and honour the very qualities that this virus seeks to dismantle, if not now, then for a future date when this is all over. For all our modern shortcomings, we’re fortunate that we’ve built up enough digital capabilities to keep the human connection alive. In a strange way I am comforted that we face this challenge as humans against something alien and not as humans fighting against ourselves. This seems to have helped us in rising above our own agendas and interests, as we brace for what’s to come. I hope we all do not lose sight of this. We are in this together – against something that doesn’t discriminate or choose. And if it is united against us, perhaps we can all just get our shit together and unite against it. Forgive the cheap wordplay but, divided we are fragile and in unity we are agile. That’s an easy enough phrase to remember. 

I’ve never let the disappointments that come from misplaced hopes derail my dreams. And I’d encourage us all to take up a similar attitude. Even when this is over, we are going to have to be resolute enough to build again. And to dream again – to chase the hopes and the long shots. Remember, in hope, circumstance becomes irrelevant. And this time round, when the fog lifts and the rain comes in, in living in this hope, we should be mindful that we’re not being asked to do that much – just stay at home and risk boredom so we can keep our elderly, compromised and sick safe. We can all probably use a healthy dose of introspection anyway. 

In writing this piece, I am acutely aware of how prepared so many of us are, for waiting this out. We’re all going to get frustrated, but I hope we can remind ourselves, in those moments of inconvenience (because that’s all it is to a lot of us reading this), that restricted movement, in terrible conditions, is the common reality for billions of people the world over. So let’s all just step up, even if ordinarily we couldn’t care less. 

In this moment I am reminded of something I once wrote for a friend who is no longer here. I’ve edited it slightly and it may be a bit premature, but I hope these words will resonate, in the now and when this pandemic is gone:

“Maybe when it’s over we can all learn to hold to the ones we love just a little tighter, and longer. Maybe we learn to breathe the breaths we draw just a little deeper. Maybe we learn to live out all life’s moments with a little more vigour. Maybe we learn to smile and stand against all the hardship life throws at us. Maybe we embrace life’s simple moments with just a little more enthusiasm. Maybe we take time to look up when we otherwise would have looked down. Maybe it is from all of this mourning, that we discover the joy in our lives that unifies us who remain, even if for a moment. Maybe that’s the victory we glean from death. Maybe, just maybe, knowing that their faith and will to fight was unrelenting, is cause enough for us to confront the finality of our own journeys with a little more faith.”

That seems a fitting place to end.