So the Philosophe and I took an afternoon walk yesterday to go collect his car after being serviced. Which means it was before 5pm, and the roads were full of people eager to get home, or to the beach, or wherever grumpy people go after work on the day before a public holiday in Cape Town (today the world has shut down in observance of “Day of Reconciliation”, whatever that is).
Soon, on our narrow pavement next to said cars, we were (not unusually) accosted by someone asking for money. But (unusually, thankfully), said beggar/gangster/dirty person threatened to be hiding a big knife in his sleeve pocket, and refused all the usual refusals of money (“no, not today”; “sorry, we can’t help you”, etc). As grumpy/complacent/pussy people drove by in their cars and watched the show, b/g/dp managed to threaten us into a state of fear and submission thick enough to walk away with all the money in the Philosophe’s wallet – R100 in this case, surely a bounty for b/g/dp with his maybe-maybe-not imaginary knife, and a small price to pay for our safety.
It’s a sobering kind of experience. Mostly because in the 15 years or so that I have lived in this country notorious for its high crime-rate and “unsaftey index”, this is the very first time that I have been that fearful. It doesn’t happen every day, and it’s very unlikely that it will happen again to me or to us again in the near future. (Besides, that stuff only happens to tourists, those easy targets!).
Still, now I don’t want to walk anywhere anymore. I know that life must go on as usual – and yesterday we faced that challenge valiently, it being the cocktail hour and all, soon to be followed by the dinner hour (which consisted of ostrich burgers laced with gin, juniper and dried apricots – not to mention a salad dressed with horseradish and caramelised celery. Yum).
Statistically, yes, life should go on as usual. But is that really the most efficient way to go about life? We listened to someone call into the radio today – the program featured some sort of laughing expert – it was a preacher calling to hear how he could teach himself to laugh after losing both his wife and his daughter. That’s fair and well, a laugh might be a good form of catharsis, but wanting to laugh in the face of tragedy also diminishes the value grief and (if applicable) remorse. I don’t think I’ve experienced a freakier thing than a Baptist memorial where NO ONE cried – all song and dance in “celebration” the deceased’s life. It was actually scary.
And if a friend betrays or hurts you? Should life go on as usual? If the friendship is over, then probably yes. But if not, it must be the duty of anyone who cares about that friendship to say something, and to do what they can to prevent life-as-usual, which can only be artificial from then on.
“Get over it” may sound like the harshest and most difficult of sentences, but being in it is actually the greater challenge. It takes courage to face that which truly sucks, whether it’s random or predictable.
In a parallel universe, I suppose we could have been killed or seriously injured, senselessly, yesterday. We didn’t, and life will go on. But it’s also worth paying attention to the fact that it feels really good that none of that happened. Life can be quite shit, but it can also be very worth living, if only to reminded of the urgency, once in a while, of knowing that you always did the best that you could.