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The Middle-agesd

They say age is just a number. Today my number is 40.

People tend to hang a lot if significance on this particular number. It’s considered a milestone, much more than, say, 30.

It’s when the infamous midlife crisis is supposed to hit. I haven’t decided what mine is going to be yet…a sports car isn’t practical with the state most of South Africa’s roads are in and I just don’t have the time or energy for a mistress. I already tried the quitting my job to become a writer schtick in my early thirties, so that’s out. I’ll have to give this some thought and get back to you.

Supposedly it means I’m now indisputably an adult – no longer am I included when people add the young prefix to the word. But I still feel like a dumb kid without a clue and OMG how did anyone approve that guy for a home loan and they let him have a kid what’s this world coming to aren’t there any standards any more!?

Also, I got a children’s book and some lego for my birthday…

It’s not all bad, though… I’m two years away from being the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, so that’s something to look forward to…

A letter to my daughter on her fifth birthday

A letter to my daughter on her fifth birthday

My dearest Elizabeth,

As I sit here today, I don’t know where to start. So much has happened this past week, at one point I wasn’t even sure we’ll be able to celebrate your birthday…

Today you turned five. A week ago, South Africa burned. A bunch of bad people with their own selfish agendas manipulated many more sad, angry, frustrated and hopeless people, in an attempt to take our country for themselves. All I could think of as society appeared to crumble around us was keeping you safe, and keeping you from knowing what was really going on, lest the innocence of childhood gets snatched away from you prematurely. Many will surely judge me for staying with you and Mom instead of going out into the streets to protect our community, but all I cared about was protecting you.

Through the grace of God we made it through the unrest, and today we could celebrate another rotation you’ve completed around the sun. Once again I stand amazed at how much you’ve grown.

You still believe being brave means not being afraid, but you’re one of the bravest people I know. Bravery takes many forms. Accepting the disappointment of once again not being able to have a party and see your friends on your birthday, by smiling and making the most of what you can do, is brave. Yes, you were sad, as you had every right to be, but you did not let that stand in the way of having an incredible day. Many grown-ups can’t manage that.

I wonder at how easily you make friends, and how freely you share what you have with them. That also is brave.

I love how you’re exploring and pushing your boundaries. Whether it’s trying a new move on the trampoline, going that little bit faster on your bike or higher on your swing, or venturing out on your own where we can’t see you. That’s brave too.

Your hunger for learning is refreshing. You can’t get enough of this world, and you keep trying new things. You fail and you get angry and frustrated; sometimes there’s even tears. But you keep coming back and trying again. That is one of the greatest acts of bravery of all – getting up and trying again after you’ve failed the last time.

With the bravery, curiosity and compassion I see in you every day, you can do anything. There is no challenge too big for you to meet. You won’t always succeed. But if you hold onto these qualities, you will always learn, always grow even when you fail. I want you to remember this.

Thanks for filling our lives with another year of smiles, hugs, made-up songs, giggles, wicked dance moves, random little presents, the coolest Duplo giraffes ever, magic potions, fairy adventures, and pretty pebbles and shiny shells collected on the beach. You are brave, you are beautiful, you are kind and you are smart. I love you, and I’m proud of you.

Happy birthday!

Dad

Pray for South Africa

You may have seen some reports of South Africa in the news this week. In case you’re not sure what’s actually going on, here’s the short version:

Last week, our former president, Jacob Zuma, went to prison for contempt of court (I’m not going to get into the details of why, as I try to keep politics off my blog). His supporters took to the streets to protest, the protests turned violent, and on Monday devolved into large-scale looting and riots in several parts of the country. Including Kwazulu-Natal, where I live.

Across the province armed mobs descended on businesses, factories and warehouses, taking everything they could carry, vandalising and burning everything they couldn’t. They blocked off national roads, access to cities and towns, and torched trucks.

Miraculously in my town not a single business was looted – early on Monday already our police service, security companies, and private citizens co-ordinated by our community policing forums, blocked off access routes to town and somehow managed to keep the looters at bay, and to drive those who did come through (passing less than 2 km from my house) back. But one person (that I know of), a high school senior who was part of a group of protesters who got into a confrontation with the police, was killed.

In our sister-town across the highway, the entire business district was looted, with some businesses completely destroyed, and several sugar cane farms were torched.

I’ve had people reach out to check if we’re okay. First, thank you to all who did. You have no idea how much that means.

We’re not okay, but we’re safe. We’re safe, but we’re stressed out and tired, tired from sitting up at night praying while others patrol the streets, tired from hiding our fear and stress from Elizabeth, so she can enjoy the innocence and ignorance of childhood for a while longer. And yes, we’re afraid that things will start escalating again, though we bury that fear very deep down lest we fall into despair.

And while I have faith that this too shall pass, I can’t help but worry about what still lies ahead.

With the entire goods distribution chain disrupted, with stores and warehouses destroyed, and the roads not yet safe for delivery trucks to bring in new stock, there’s a real danger of food running out. Petrol pumps are already running dry. In a stroke of luck we bought some groceries over the weekend, so we won’t go hungry, but from tomorrow I’m taking my coffee black, and there won’t be a birthday cake for Elizabeth when she turns five on Monday. Many people are not as lucky as we are.

But I’m even more concerned about the other, long-term effects. As much as our community rallied together across different races to protect our town and to start cleaning up in the aftermath, these events have defined a new Us and a new Them. Seeing my neighbour walk down the street with a firearm strapped to his hip, talking about shooting first, and hearing people refer to the looters simply as “the enemy”, fills me with dread at where we’re heading. Rebuilding the businesses (those that can be rebuilt – for many who were already struggling due to Covid, this was likely the final nail in the coffin) will take months. Rebuilding the new rifts this has created in our community will take years.

As we ride out the storm, if you believe in prayer I ask you to please pray. Pray for peace to be restored, and for shelves to remain stocked so people can have enough to eat. Pray for hope, faith and compassion to prevail over fear, anger and hate. Pray for the people defending our towns, police, army and civilians alike. Pray for their safety, but also that they won’t need to reach for a weapon and take something that can’t be given back. Pray for the people doing the looting, most of whom are simply desperate, angry and frustrated after years of poverty and broken promises, making them easy to manipulate for those with political agendas.

Above all, pray for healing of the divisions in our country. While there has been many setbacks and failures along the way, South Africa has come a long way since our first democratic elections in 1994, and we’re running the risk of going back to square one. Pray that we’ll have the courage to finally address the rift between rich and poor, in concrete, sustainable ways instead of just talking about it. Pray that our leaders will finally put politics and personal gain aside and do what’s best for the people they were elected to serve.

Pray that we come out of this stronger, not more divided.

Sing-a-long

Now play this on a loop for the rest of the day, and make sure you sing the “all the king’s horses” line EVERY. SINGLE. TIME!

It’s really cute, though, isn’t it? I’ve been changing it up, translating the line to Afrikaans (took the minion a couple seconds to process that, after which she just continued), or transcribing it to “all the king’s soldiers and all the king’s steeds” (that one threw her completely, but mostly just due to quickly-diminishing limitations in her English vocabulary…)