Thank you for the Silence

So the car broke down for the umpteenth time.

I cannot find the surprise and shock any more. I have had my fingers in her oily belly. I have bonded with this car. So breaking down becomes part of me. (We are stranded 13 km from a place called Kakamas in the Northern Cape. We were on our way to visit Riemvasmaak to explore the people and the sounds over there. Now all is silent. Nature arrives when civilization trips).

I took a stroll into the veld. “Veld” over here consist of hardy bushes, lots of rock and red, sandy soils. The sky is a deep blue and the air crisp and clean. It is not as hot now as it could be over here.

The stroll lead me over the first little ridge into a small rocky vale. A higher ridge crawled past in front of me. I took off my clothes to allow the sun to unify my skin. And walked on. The presence of stone speaks in aeons. The further I went, imperceptibly, my mind lost its focus, and like air released from underneath the water, bubbles of memory started drifting towards my consciousness. Childhood memories, and older ones – of ancestry settling in Africa, then of the indigenous peoples living around here for thousands of years. Then of the great prelude to the story of humanity: the stories of these stones, of the more elementary forms of life: rubbery plants, thorns, insects and strange birds.

I feel how gravity works my brain cells: in the absence of surface stimuli, clusters of concepts and strings of understandings get ruffled out, find the chance to regroup, to settle afresh. Ah! The value of life coming to a standstill! Do I wish for a car, a system, a career, a society that works perfectly? Oh please, no. Even though we always work to achieve that, I am secretly glad that we’ll never be rid of fumbling. Cape Town experienced serious disruptions last week because of power cuts. But I am sure there has been a lot of spiritual gain: people needing each other more, feeling a sense of common destiny; candlelight dinners (food cooked over fire). I gave workshops without power and surprised myself how inventive one can be. And not least of all, there was an upswell of jokes going around.

Standing there in the wind of silence, in the presence of a past much deeper than any of our books can reveal, I reflected on our world of today. There is such a tide of fear that is creeping into the hearts of people. In many places, we opt for security above anything else. Governments turn hardline. Conflict is again seen as a solution. People have apocalyptic visions. We act like a body that is prone to heart attacks (death seems to be ready to grab us in an unnatural moment). We are chased by our (oily) addictions. We are suffocated by our successes. We relentlessly chase goals and fear at the same time that we won’t be able to stop ourselves.

And I looked at the rocks and saw that there are time spans more enduring than ours, there are dramas more fundamental than the human play; and there are values more dear than those we are fighting wars over (it is, for instance, more important that we communicate, than that we use a certain language?).

The car will be fixed, the budget will be stretched yet again, the race will continue.

But I say, thank you for the silence.

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