Tag Archives: faith

The Many Faces of Faith

Credit: demotix.com

Credit: demotix.com

“Don’t you wonder sometimes, Oudoom, about faith?”

This startles the old pastor, who puts down his beer slowly while formulating an answer.

“No disrespect, Dominee, but the thought has been bothering me for some time.” Kleinpiet’s furrowed brow speaks volumes. “I mean, over in the Middle East you have two groups of people at each other’s throats about religious differences – and now it’s spreading to the rest of the world. Surely one group must be wrong…but who?”

“And that’s not all. In Christianity there are 41,000 different denominations, each claiming to be representing the true faith. These days it is even popular to start up your own house-church because you differ from the conventional approach to religious matters.” Vetfaan joins the conversation. He ia standing up, of course, after his recent altercation with the surprised caracal. “And then there are other beliefs, too, complicating the situation even further.”

“Well, faith is an universal thing.” Abstaining from the subject is unthinkable for Gertruida, who has specific opinions about everything. “As far as history goes back, mankind has always revered some form of deity or other. It’s as if we were wired to accept the concept of a Higher Being, but only given enough data to process the basic idea – and not the full knowledge of what, exactly, happens after death. So people have solved the problem by falling back on belief. I believe this…you believe that, that sort of thing. The Bible contains the writings of men who struggled to describe heaven, for instance. Ezekiel tried to convey the glory of heaven by telling us about wheels of fire; while St John was more practical and gave us a vision of earthly riches in Paradise. I understand Kleinpiet’s confusion, but my only point of reference remains the Bible.”

“Faith,” Oudoom says gravely, “is one of the most complicated and yet simple things we have to deal with in this life. Complicated, because we tend to dissect our beliefs to the point where we simply cannot answer the questions. Simple, because we’re not supposed to.

“You see: Gertruida is right – as usual. We can, indeed, grasp the basics of who and what God is. He’s the Creator, the Planner, the Final Judge. All religions – in varying ways and different forms – agree on that. There’s no culture on earth that doesn’t have a story of how it all began – and, not surprisingly, these stories overlap to a remarkable degree. Everybody agrees that everything was created by a Superior Being. Equally, it is common consensus that there are such concepts of Good and Evil, Sin and Salvation.

“But after that, we as humans start complicating matters by wanting to explain everything. We want to analyze the Bible, God, our faith…and explain what happens to our souls once we die. We even imagine we know what it takes to be accepted in Heaven, or rejected in Hell. Fundamental extremists hold on to the most amazing ideas concerning this, and become fanatic about their absolute impression of what they are destined or commanded to do in this world. And don’t think I’m talking about any specific religion or faith here – it’s as true for us as Christians as it is for others. Remember the mass suicide at Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978?

“So.” Oudoom sits back, satisfied that he’s made his point. “The bottom line of faith – by whatever name you call it – is Love. Loveless faith is an oxymoron. If the religion you follow isn’t characterised by Love and Kindness, I’m afraid that you are on the wrong track. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus was – or is – the epitome of loving kindness. Thats why we preach forgiveness. And moreover, our religion dictates that every word, every action, should be weighed against these two things – and that the way we interact with others, should leave reflect our faith. That’s how, in the end, our lives will be judged.

“Actually, this isn’t just about faith. It’s about common sense. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out at all: if your life is characterised by your kindness towards your fellow man, surely that leads to harmony. And harmony is the basis of Love, is it not? Harmony is the flipside of conflict, as much as Love is the opposite of hate.”

“But then, Oudoom, it means that killing each other in the name of religion is wrong? I mean, what do I do if a heathen threatens to destroy my way of life?”

“Good question. But let me ask you another. Is it right to defend your faith?”

“Gee, of course!” Kleinpiet slams down a fist. “Nobody has the right to attack me because I believe in a certain way!”

“Read your Bible, Kleinpiet. And then think about the message of Love. Take a step down from your high perch and consider why you might be a target because of your faith. If you lived a kind and forgiving life, caring for your neighbour and looking after your own – would that not avoid conflict? Does living in harmony not tell the world who you are and what you believe in?”

“That’s easy to say, Dominee.” The flush in Kleinpiet’s neck spreads to his cheeks. “But that’s all just theory. Look at what’s happening in the world? How do we forgive those that trespass against us if these trespasses involve murder and rape and wanton aggression?”

Oudoom shakes his head. “That’s why I agree with Gertruida. We don’t know everything…but we do know right from wrong. The fact that others – according to our belief – are doing wrong, doesn’t justify us going down the wrong path as well. So…we forgive. Like Jesus did. The judgment isn’t our concern. Not at all. The Bible tells us to try to talk to such people, and if we are unsuccessful, to avoid them.”

“It’s an ageless conundrum, Oudoom.” Gertruida’s voice is soft, making her seem particularly vulnerable. “The world is threatened by Evil, and only through Faith will we find everlasting joy.”

“But that’s my question: which faith? Everybody can’t be right?”

“True, Kleinpiet, But look at your faith carefully. Is it Kind? Is it Loving? I’m not talking about Mills and Boon love here – I’m talking about Love with a capital ‘L‘.  Are you a believer in harmony? Do you acknowledge God? If you can answer affirmatively, you are – at least – on the right track.”

“But that means the world is filled with men and women who aren’t.”

“Indeed, my friend. That’s the tragic reality – has been like that since the beginning of time, will be thus until the end, unless you show people another way. Your job isn’t to convert the world to the one true faith – it’s to show the world what it means to be humble and kind. You can be a president or a king or even a nobody – but if you don’t start with these simple things, the world will never change.”

“But…”

“No buts, Kleinpiet. The churches of the world have made faith wear many coats, show many faces. That’s wrong. Stick to the basics, the things we understand, the things we can do. The rest like they say, will be history.”

It’s one of those discussions that’ll never reach a satisfactory conclusion. For everything Oudoom says, Kleinpiet and the others will have an answer and even more questions. In the end, Gertruida holds up a tired hand, motioning them all to sit down. “Let’s just agree on this: in your heart of hearts you know what you believe. We believe in Christian way of life – and this means we have a responsibility to live our faith. It implies many things, some of which we find particularly hard to do. But you know what? When the final whistle blows, God isn’t going to ask us to present Him with a scoreboard. He’s going to ask us if we played the game properly, Faith isn’t about winning, It’s about loving. You’re asking the wrong question, Kleinpiet. The question is: does faith prod you towards Love or not? That, my friend, is the only answer you should concern yourself with.”

Surprisingly, her statement is met with worried stares.

When the Black Dog Gets You

_65927423_cingulumcloseupx1Gertruida, as we all realise, knows everything. She is opinionated, passionate about the truth, and seldom hesitates to respond to the most impossible situations. This, Servaas says, is both a blessing and a curse, and maybe he’s right. After all, when Gertruida started staying at home while they all partied at Boggel’s Place, they all knew something was terribly wrong. And later, after Precilla said that  she had seen Gertruida walking up and down Voortrekker Weg at 3 am (she was closing the window because of the cold), it was Oudoom who remarked about the sleep disturbances you get with depression.

Servaas, of course, blames himself. Before he went on his memorable road trip, is had been he, Servaas, who wore black and was cynical about everything. At that time it didn’t bother him in the least that the townsfolk joked about his morose nature – in fact, he rather relished the attention he received as a result of his dark moods and comments. But now, after enjoying the time on the old Enfield so much – and having met such wonderful people – Servaas simply loves being called The Kalahari Biker. Men of all ages admit (some under duress) to a strange phenomenon: if you manage to astound your peers, you get a weird sensation of superiority. It’s a primitive, childish reaction, yet this is exactly the stupid reason why men climb mountains, participate in drinking competitions or go to parliament.

And who can deny that the Servaas who came back from that trip, is a completely changed man? The bushy eyebrows no longer gather in disapproval, the kudu-ponytail bobs up and down when he laughs, and the dark suit seems to be a thing of the past. Oudoom says the change is a miracle, while Mevrou occasionally pokes fun at the much shorter church council meetings – Servaas seems completely happy with the sermons these days. In short: the cantankerous old man has become the life and soul of the parties in Boggel’s Place.

And this new-found happiness has had a devastating effect on Gertruida. Somehow she seemed to have found solace in his depressed state in the past – as if his dark moods were confirmation that somebody else in town was worse off than she was. With both of them being single, she could always point out that Servaas was more lonely, more obtuse and more depressed. But now, with Servaas regaling them with stories of his adventures, Gertruida has had to face the fact that her life is empty and dull. Sure, she has this vast knowledge and can contribute to any intellectual discussion…but where is the fun, the adventure, the joy? Servaas has broken out of the prison of self-pity and solitude, explored the wide world out there, and came back as a new man – while she, Gertruida, still has to read the National Geographic to kill her many lonely hours.

***

“We have to do something,” Vetfaan says when Oudoom sits down with a contented sigh. It’s Monday and he’s already worked out the next Sunday’s sermon. Servaas actually suggested the theme of ‘Joy’, and supplied several verses which turned out to be most helpful.

“About Gertruida?”

“Yes, Dominee. She doesn’t join us here anymore, rarely leaves her house and refuses to answer the doorbell. Precilla tried to talk to her, but Gertruida slammed the door in her face.”

Oudoom sits back, laces his fingers behind his head and stares at the ceiling.

“I think,” he says after Boggel pushed a beer over the counter, “that she’s depressed because we’re too happy. And, because she knows everything, she realises the problem isn’t the fun we’re having – but the lack thereof in her own life.” Quite accurately, the clergyman sums up that the change in Servaas’s demeanour precipitated the plunge in Gertruida’s mood.

“Well, I like Servaas the way he is now. Wouldn’t change it for anything.” Vetfaan shrugs. “But that doesn’t solve the problem with Gertruida…”

“No, it doesn’t. We’re really stuck, aren’t we? There isn’t any eligible bachelor in the district we can ask to help, either. And she doesn’t come to church anymore, so my sermon on Joy isn’t going to be useful either.”

hjarna3Boggel shakes his head. “We will just have to be inventive, that’s all. The latest National Geographic has an article on Professor van Wedeen, a neuroscientist working in Massachusetts. It’s fascinating. They use a scanner of sorts, a huge thing, that uses enough electricity to power a submarine. They are trying to explain how the brain works, see? Now, if we can get Gertruida to talk to him, it’ll boost her morale, don’t you think?”

They gape at him.

“Sure, it won’t be easy…but it’s worth a try.”

“Are you suggesting that we phone the professor in America and ask him to be interviewed by a woman – not even a journalist – from a place that’s not even on Google Maps? What are the chances…” Vetfaan purses his lips – Boggel can be so naive…

“Well, what about a journalist phoning her for an opinion?” Clearly desperate to find an answer, Boggel shrugs as he spreads his arms wide. “What can we lose?”

It takes three rounds of peach brandies to hatch the plan. Since they know no journalists, they decide to manufacture one. If they can get Sammie to talk with two ping-pong balls stuck inside his cheeks…? Of course! Great idea…! (The logic behind this idea will confound even the esteemed professor van Wedeen, but we all know how convincing peach brandy can be after the second tot.)

***

“Hello (mumble-mumble-click), is that Gertruida?’

“Yes, what do you want? I’m busy.”

“Ghood. (mumble). Ah’m phoning in connection (mumble-click) with that ahrticle about van Wedeen. Ah, mmm, the phrofessoh. We nheed infohmation abaht his wohk (mumble) foh ahn ahrticle (click) foh tha Uhpingthon Phost.”

The group in the bar wait with bated breath. Will she take the bait? A long silence follows.

“Juhst youhr thoughts. (mumble-click-mumble). Youh’re the ohnly pehson who chan hhelp ush.”

For a moment they thought they had her. Then…

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! Sammie? Take your bloody balls out of your mouth and speak properly. Goodbye!”

***

Prof van Wedeen is most probably the world’s best researcher into the working of the human brain. Using the powerful scanner, he has mapped out the pathways thoughts travel and has formulated new theories about brain function. For this he deserves praise.

But in Rolbos – in the humble bar run by a hunchback – they’ve discovered the cure for depression. It’s not anything new, mind you. It’s called laughter.

When Gertruida stormed into Boggel’s Place after the phone call, she was spoiling for a fight. She was met by such sheepish looks and suppressed giggles, that she considered turning around and leaving the silly group to continue the party.

But then she saw Sammie, who couldn’t get the ping-pong balls out of his cheeks; looking for all the world like an overgrown chipmunk who had just robbed a chestnut warehouse.

And she found – much to her own surprise – the corners of her lips moving upward.

“If you can whistle, I’ll forgive you,” she said, forcing a straight face.”Otherwise I’ll have to kill you.”

***

Isn’t it strange that a single event can jeopardise a life-long friendship? Or, on the other hand, how a single giggle can defuse the most depressing situation? Still, Servaas isn’t taking any chances. He’s taken to wearing his black suit again, and tucks the kudu-tail under his hat when Gertruida is near. He’d rather fake a black mood than face Gertruida’s black dog. Still, although he tries to hide his new-found sense of adventure, he can’t disguise the glint in his eye.

Oudoom did give his sermon on Joy that Sunday – a powerful message of faith if ever there was one – and concluded that joy is a most fragile commodity.

“Joy, brothers and sisters, is a state of mind. It is the source of contentment, of acceptance, of the will to go on. Without it, faith – even life or love – cannot survive. But…,” and here he paused dramatically, “it needs to be nourished. And how do we do that? I’ll tell you.

“Joy lies not in what we have experienced in the past – although we might cherish some wonderful memories – but it is in the realisation that the future is what we are destined for. We nourish joy by hope. Without hope, there can be no joy.

“So, when we find that joy has left the building, we must look at what we’ve let in.” He ticked off several points at this stage. “Dispair. Self-image. Taking ourselves too seriously. Losing faith. And what are these things, my brothers and sisters? They are self-made – they are produced up here, in our own minds.” He tapped the side of his head. “If you are not the master of your own thoughts, you will be a slave to your own self-destruction.”

Boggel reckons Oudoom can teach that professor something, but that could be the peach brandy talking. In the meantime, he keeps two ping-pong balls under the counter. He says it’s a better antidepressant than Prozac.

The Conversion

blkfrock“Hallelujah, Bothers and Sisters. Salvation – at last – reaches your fine town. Praises be, look, I am here!”

The group at the bar swivel round as one, to stare open-mouthed at the figure in the doorway. One cannot blame them for doing so. The man with the brilliant smile is dressed in a black coat with tails, a white shirt and tie, and a top hat. In his left hand he holds a silver-topped cane, while his right hand clutches a black book of considerable size.

“Well,howdydoody to you, too, Come on in, have a drink.” Boggel recovers first, despite the feeling of unease coursing through his mind. “I’m Boggel,” he says, extending his hand.

“Jeremiah Terblanche. My friends call me Bull. You know, Jeremiah was a bullfrog?  Well, the Bull part stuck. And no, my Brother, I shall not touch alcohol. It’s a sin, didn’t you now? No, not for me! If you have nothing else, I’d just settle down and get on with your conversion. You fine people need worry no more. From now on, this moment, you will be able to pass the threshold of ignorance. Wisdom, my friends…wisdom is at hand!”

“My word….” Gertruida whispers with that voice she uses when she is surprised. Like we all know, that doesn’t happen frequently – but today she is.

“Yes my dear Sister. The Word! I have come with it. No longer will you wonder about salvation! I have come to set you free. Aren’t you the luckiest town in the Kalahari? Wow!” The man bangs his cane on the floor, smile spreading even wider. “Come now, gather around, let me be your path to enlightenment!”

“Er…Mister Terblanche…Jeremiah…what denomination do you represent?” As elder in Oudoom’s church, Servaas feels he has the responsibility to protect the town against false prophets, Despite the man’s obvious zeal for his calling, one must be careful about these things.

“Oh no, Brother, don’t start with that! Why do people insist on denominations? This church, that church! And why? Because of Mammon, my friends. It’s the money! Church buildings cost money. Preachers must be paid. So there! Without a building or a salary, I am free to preach anywhere I like, and nobody has to pay a cent! So call me non-denominational and let’s get on with it.””

“No church? No salary? Then you are going to ask for donations.” Vetfaan doesn’t like the man or his demeanour. “Not from me, thank you. If you feel you must, then deliver your message and get on with it. We have serious issues to discuss. The drought, for instance. And my tractor. It won’t start again. “

The man takes a deep breath. obviously fighting to keep the smile in place.

“An unbeliever! You see, Brothers and Sisters, that’s why you need me. One bad apple and the whole town is doomed….”

He is about to continue, but Kleinpiet interrupts him.

“Now wait a second, Mister! I’ll have you know that Vetfaan is a loyal supporter of the church. He donates a sheep to the bazaar every year and even helped when we fixed the roof of the vestry last summer. Call him a bad apple again, and I’ll make you eat your silly coat.”

Later, they’ll all agree that something strange happened to the man when Kleinpiet addressed him in such a rude manner. His eyes darted this way and that and for the first time they noticed the trembling lips when he forced his smile even wider. At the time, everyone in the bar thought he or she was mistaken, but when they discussed it afterwards, they all mentioned the phenomenon.

Jeremiah draws himself up to stand ramrod straight, takes a deep breath, and soldiers on. “The problem,” he whispers, “is the blindness that cloaks the world. Giving sheep won’t get you to heaven. Salvation isn’t bought by hammering nails into a rusty roof. No sir! Salvation comes from here.” He taps his chest with the black book. “Without it, you’re lost.”

“…And salvation is in here, as well.” Gertruida brings a finger up to her head. “Salvation, Mister Terblanche, involves the realisation that one must be careful with your thoughts and your words. Salvation isn’t something you give – it’s something you receive. Yes, preachers must preach and the Word is a guide…but in the end it’s a gift we receive, not something you have the power to dish out to people you know nothing about. Salvation, my friend, is the whisper directing our actions; not the shout that leads us astray.”

By now, Jeremiah Terblanche seems a bit deflated. “But,” he tries once more, “I only want to help…”

“You can help by telling us a bit more about yourself, sir.” For some reason, Precilla feels sorry for the man. Why would he barge in like this? What drives him?

“Listen, Jeremiah, come here and sit down. Let’s top the charade. Rolbos is a quiet little town and we love to hear people’s stories.” Gertruida can be extremely persuasive when she sets her mind to it. She pats an empty chair next to her. “Come on, Boggel, give him a lemonade.”

And so – in bits and pieces – they hear the sad tale of Jeremiah ‘Bull’ Terblanche. After losing his job as a clerk in Prieska’s co-op, he found out that able-bodied, middle-aged, white men have just about a zero chance of finding employment is South Africa. He tried everywhere, even to the point of applying for the job as a cleaner at the Oasis Casino. Eventually, broke and disheartened, he made a decision.

“Look, there’s one thing we all worry about: what happens after this life is over? We can fool around with words, but nobody really knows what happens next. So that was my ticket to escape my dilemma. If I could tell people to live right and be saved, I’m not harming anybody, am I?  And yes,” here he hangs his head, “I do ask for donations. The bigger the donation, the more I promise. Who’s to know whether I’m right or wrong? Anyway, it sure beats knocking on doors to ask for work you know you won’t get. In a way, I’m living my faith, see?” He’s almost pleading now.

“No, you’re not.” Gertruida now uses a soothing voice to calm the man down. “Faith isn’t always something you preach, but it’s always something you do. The old saying is true: actions convey a much more convincing message than any sermon ever preached.”

“And humility gets that message across, my friend, not arrogance.” Servaas has to get in his two cent’s worth. “Religion isn’t a fancy coat or a frock. Faith doesn’t wear a white tie and a top hat. Faith’s hands, my friend, are dirty and calloused. Those hands work harder than the mouth. That’s when you know it’s genuine.”

“That means I’m finished. Completely. No work, no faith, no nothing. If I can’t even get simple people in a little village to listen to me, I have nothing left. Might as well die…”

“And then?” Servaas downs his beer. “What awaits you on the other side? And how do you think your reception will be once you get there?”

Jeremiah doesn’t answer. Without his top hat, he seems to be much smaller, almost shrunken, as he sits with his head in his hands.

And now, right at this moment, the rumbling of Kalahari Vervoer’s lorry rattles the windows of Boggel’s Place when it trundles down Voortrekker Weg, A few minutes later, the driver enters the quiet little bar to stare at the group at the counter.

“Jeremiah? Bull? Is it really you? Man, I’ve been looking all over for you!  Fists Fourie, who owns Kalahari Vervoer, has been looking all over for you. He needs somebody to do his bookkeeping after Miss Joubert had to leave so suddenly. You remember her? We used to call her Wigglebottom, because…” He stops in mid-sentence, blushes, and rushes forward to greet his friend. “Anyway, if you’ve got nothing to do, I’ll give you a lift to Upington.”

***

It’s funny to take step back from Life every so often to look and really see the way we are directed to live our faith. Sometimes you have to reach rock bottom to realise what faith means and how precious it is.

Take Jeremiah, for instance. He got the work as a clerk for Mister Fourie and is currently doing a correspondence course in theology. This, of course, doesn’t surprise the patrons in Boggel’s Place. What really impressed them was the rain the day after Jeremiah took that lift to Upington. That, and the way Vetfaan’s tractor started with the first try the next day.

Servaas says they should read something in that.

They’re still talking about it…

The Miracle

hare-head01plFaith and politics, Gertruida will tell you, have a lot in common. A lot of what we believe are based on promises that we choose to believe. The action following the promise, however, is a matter of personal interpretation.

Take for instance – and here Gertruida will smile knowingly – the case of Ma Roberts’ rabbits. If ever there was a club for non-believers, then Ma would have been the founding member and life president. And it wasn’t like Oudoom didn’t try either. Back then, the townsfolk would observe a full minute’s worth of silence – staring longingly at the glasses in front of them – every Wednesday afternoon as Oudoom’s old Ford huffed its way down Voortrekker Weg to pay a visit to this formidable woman.

Oudoom used to say Ma Roberts was his equivalent of Jonah’s whale, especially placed on earth to test his faith, his conviction and his commitment. To his credit: it must be said that he never wavered. Regular as clockwork, he visited the huge lady with the short temper – every Wednesday afternoon. He took his Bible along, of course; but he was careful not to overplay his hand. With Ma you had to be careful…extremely careful. She had a way of clamming up, growing red in the face while her eyes bulged ominously, before telling you what (exactly) you could go and do with yourself. This was the same for the occasional traders that visited her farm, the campaigning politicians, and poor Oudoom. He said she can move surprisingly fast, just like a hippo – which we all know is the animal responsible for most killings in Africa.

And, Gertruida will add, one must not forget that Ma was a progressive farmer. Quite successful too, if one considers her methods. She started off with chickens, which she supplied to the fried-chicken franchise in Grootdrink. It is rumoured that she made quite a fortune with this endeavour; which one can understand if you take into consideration that after two months, her neighbours didn’t have a single chicken left. These neighbours remembered what happened to Japie Mulder, the chap who had a dream of representing the district for the ANC in the town council. Oh, he can walk quite well again, even without the crutches (for short distances).  But still, one thinks about such an incident quite deeply before accusing Ma Roberts of stealing a simple thing like a chicken.

With her supply of chickens gone, Ma Roberts contemplated the prospect of a diminishing cash flow, which would have meant reducing her intake of peach brandy. That’s when she took up rabbit farming. Actually, it wasn’t rabbits she kept in that cage behind her house: they were hares. But skin a hare, marinate it ever so slightly in lemon juice, and not even an expert will tell the difference.

Gertruida says one mustn’t confuse hares with rabbits. Rabbits have a soft, succulent flesh – which is why the Belgian restaurant in Kimberley was keen to procure the real thing. But hares? They’re a lot tougher than rabbits. They occur naturally in the Kalahari, fend for themselves within an hour after birth, and do not need the fancy feeding rabbits do. As an aside, Gertruida will remind you that a baby rabbit is called kittens, while the young of hares (which are hairy at birth) are called leverets. This she says just to impress you – not because it has anything to do with The Miracle.

So Ma sent out her labourers to catch the hares on her farm (for a start) and after a week she had eight of the furry animals living in her old chicken coop. After a month, she had twenty-four, due to the original hare’s natural…er…social interaction.

And during this time, Oudoom redoubled his efforts to get Ma Roberts to reconsider her faithless life. He told her about Hope, Love and Mercy. Ma wouldn’t listen, telling him that’s why the country is in such a terrible state. Oudoom changed tack and told her about Jesus – His life, His teachings, and His crucifixion.

Now, Gertruida adds happily, it’s time to talk about Herman du Preez, the chickenless neighbour. Herman was a sickly old man, patiently waiting for the end of his days on the dying farm where the drought (and Ma Roberts) finally stole his hope of a better life on earth. Realising The End was slowly creeping up on him, he took to reading the Bible on his stoep every day, while the only other living thing on his farm – Butch the sheep dog – rested at his feet. Oudoom visited him occasionally to assure him the Paradise was real, and yes, the streets were paved with gold, indeed. This made the old man very happy.

That is, until the day he realised Butch was missing. He closed the Bible, noting the chapter in the book of Job he was studying, and shuffled to the back of the house to look for his faithful friend.

And he found Butch.

With a hare in his jaws.

The hare was dead.

And old Herman looked up at the sky and told the Lord he still had to finish Job. And the New Testament, old Herman prayed earnestly, needed another going-through as well. Surely he can finish that before he closed his eyes for the last time? He reminded his Maker that Ma was a rather deadly opponent, just look what happened to Japie Mulder?

So he sat down, took the dead body from the guilty-looking Butch, and he thought about his problem deeply. If Ma knew his dog had taken one of her rabbits…er, hares…

Herman washed the little body in the basin in his kitchen. Then he dried the dead hare, fluffing up the fur as well as he could. He remembered his long-departed wife’s meagre collection of cosmetics, fished out the almost-dry lipstick and added colour to the lips and a touch of rouge to the cheeks. The brush came in handy, too.

That night, when all the Kalahari slept peacefully, old Herman walked all the way over to Ma Roberts’ farm. Being old and frail, this took longer than he expected, but he made it an hour or so before dawn. He found the wooden gate to the chicken coop, opened the latch, and quietly deposited the small corpse next to the one sleeping hare, who didn’t seem to mind too much.

Then he started shuffling back home.

That Sunday he attended church as usual and was completely surprised to see Ma Roberts in the front pew. Oudoom smiled broadly and halfway through the service he said one of the members of the congregation had something to say.

Ma Roberts hoisted her hefty frame upright, turned around and said she was happy to announce that she’d been wrong all along.

“Look,” she said, “Oudoom has been badgering me about faith for a long time now. As you all know, I thought it was just to soothe his own conscience. But…” and here the whole district saw Ma Roberts falter for the first time in her life, “I was wrong.”

She took a deep breath.

“Oudoom told me about the Resurrection last Wednesday. I listened with one ear. He asked if he could pray for me. I said yes because I wanted his sorry ass off my property.” She ignored the giggles. “Well, he prayed for a sign. Any sign, he said, to make me see the Truth.”

Another deep breath…

“Then one of my rabbits – er… hares – died and I buried it in the veld. It was dead. Really dead.

“And you know what happened? That bloody hare rose from the dead, returned to the coop and looked more alive than I’ve ever seen any hare look like – in all my life.”

***

Old Herman died the following month – peacefully in his sleep. When Koos Kadawer laid him out, he was amazed. Corpses, in his experienced opinion, have slack faces. Mostly expressionless. Unless they died of fright or after being struck by lightning, like Electric Eddie, the best weather forecaster the district ever had.

Not so with old Herman. He looked contented. Happy. His lips curled upwards in death, like a smile.

Or like somebody who knows a delicious secret he doesn’t want to share.

The Fable of a Perfect Life

IMG_0419There once was created a Perfect Life. It was shiny, new and the envy of all the other Lives.

“Look at that!” Jealousy was angry. “That’s not fair. Why must I be dull and uninteresting? This is discrimination at its worst.”

“Oh, shut your trap!” Anger flashed a furious look at Jealousy. “All you do all day long, is to complain when you’re not the center of attention. Complain, complain, complain! I hate it!”

“I can’t take it any more.” This time Depression joined the group. Rarely seen in public, Depression usually hides in the shadows – but today is different. Perfect Life has brought on the worst in it. “Look at that: a Perfect life! I’ve always wanted to be like that, now it only serves to remind me how horrible I am.”

Perfect Life – being perfect – tried to calm things down. “You all could be like me, you know? It’s simple, really. All you have to do is to let go of your pasts. Of course, you need Hope. What have you done with Hope?”

“Oh that one? Huh! Let me tell you.”  Faith stood a little way off, blinking away tears. “Hope was my best friend. But then these Lives stopped believing and they lost me. In fact, they chased me away, saying I’m not welcome anymore. I left…and Hope followed me. Somewhere along the way, Hope got lost. It must still be out there, somewhere.” Faith swept a hand out to the desert, where the endless dunes stretched to the horizon.

“But why, Faith? Why would they chase you away?” Perfect Life – although perfect – could not understand such madness.

“It started when Love died. It was so sad. You see, Anger and Jealousy got everybody together and told them about Love. They said Love was the reason why there is so much Pain.” This time, Faith pointed at the pitiful figure of Pain, curled up in the sand. It was writhing in agony. “In fact, what you see here, is just one, single Pain. There are many more of them living amongst the Lives. Some are, indeed, the result of Love, but there are many other causes. Love just got blamed for most of them.”

“And so…?” Perfect Life still didn’t understand.

“The three of us left. Love, Hope and me.Hope got lost. Love died. And, without my two friends, I am left to struggle along alone.”

“But I believe in you. And Love. And Hope… Can’t we team up against the rest, and make the world a better place?”

“Oh, Perfect Life, you are such an idealist! I’d love it if we tried…but it won’t work. Anger and Jealousy are formidable enemies by themselves, but look who are supporting them.”

And Perfect Life looked, and saw Gossip and Greed and Hate and Ego and Deceit standing behind Anger and Jealousy. And Perfect Life knew – without having to ask – the Truth had been the first to leave, because the Lives could not stand being honest with themselves any longer.

Perfect Life – being perfect – realised it would never survive amongst the Lives,  It took Faith by the hand and walked away, choosing to believe there was a better Life in the desert than amongst the Lives.

Since then, the only way to find Perfect Life, is to follow Faith.

And we know, don’t we? If we choose to live amongst the unhappy Lives, we’ll never find Perfect Life. That’s why the start of a new year is so daunting: we’ve lost too many important bits of our Lives. Now we accept Mediocrity as the only Perfect Life available to us.

If only we had Faith. Or Hope. Or Love… But those are reserved for Perfect Lives, aren’t they? For those more fortunate than us? So settle back, stop trying, and wait for the Other Lives to complete their work.

Or not.

It’s your choice on the first day of January. No, it’s not a resolution. It’s not a threat, either. Just as you cannot will yourself to stop breathing, this is something you simply have to do. You’re at a crossroad and you have to decide which way you’re going in 2014.

Your Life depends on it…

On Days Like These (# 1)

Winslow Homer (1878)

Winslow Homer (1878)

On days like these, Boggel hides under the counter. His customers are arguing about whether President Booma will resign or be sacked – and he knows it’ll make no difference. Instead, he allows himself to think back to remember a time when politics didn’t matter so much. He seldom does this, you have to understand, because it hurts so much. But today, because it is December and because it’s almost Christmas, he can’t stop the memories from rising to the surface. There were Chrismases – back then – etched into his very being, into his soul, and he  can still not answer the Big Question: what if…? 

He gets up, tells Vetfaan to take over his duties and walks out into the sunshine.

“What’s with him?”

Mary Mitchell, Servaas. He gets like this at Christmas time, every year.” Gertruida – who knows everything – watches as the bent little man sits down on the bench in front of the church. “He won’t be himself for a few days.”

***

They had sneaked out of the orphanage to their ‘secret’ place, which wasn’t so secret at all. It was a flat stone next to the small hill outside Grootdrink. Hills in this area aren’t impressive: they’re mere elevations dotted on the flat surface of the district, covered with a few sun-burnt rocks and small shrubs. Still, their spot afforded an endless view over the veld, which in those days wasn’t marred by pylons and telephone poles,

Boggel remembers these hills well: he always liken them with his life: flat, uninteresting, unremarkable; a few moments of happiness scorched and shrivelled by the unfairness of life. Or Love, come to think of it…

“I wanted to talk to you,” she said, looking uncertain, “about us.”

Boggel shifted his position so he can see her eyes. There was no mistaking the pain. She had just returned from a weekend visit to her parent’s home – which explained her need to be alone with him. Boggel always listened without commenting; he never condemned or judged…even though he had the impression she never told him the whole truth. Not entirely. She’d allude to the time spent at home as unbearable; describing the time spent there as ‘hell‘ and ‘never-ending‘, but always refrained from providing details. It was only later – much later – that he finally understood how dark and terrible her ‘hell’ had been.

“Boggel?” The little frown between her eyes deepened. “What do you think about Love? I mean,” she hesitated, biting her lip, “is there such a thing? People talk about it so much, but I don’t know…”

He was sixteen; she, a year younger. He knew no life outside the orphanage. She had her weekends at home. They both had never been outside the Grootdrink district.

“Yes,” he said, “because the Bible tells me so.” He sang the last words on the familiar melody, trying to make light of the moment.

“Oh, Boggel… The Bible tells us we have a Father in Heaven. He’s supposed to look after us. When we pray to Him, He’ll protect us. And you know what? I don’t see that happening a great deal. It’s more like He…well, He’s forgotten about us. Maybe Grootdrink is just too small. Maybe He’s busy elsewhere. But He seems so…distant.” She managed a wobbly smile. “You’re actually confirming my question, Boggel. Love. God. Do they exist?”

Boggel wanted to tell her yes, love exists. Yes, because I love you. But he was sixteen and didn’t have the courage. Or maybe he was wise beyond his years, knowing that such a statement would drive a damaging wedge between them at that time. Whatever happened during her weekends at home, this was not the time to make romantic advances.

“I..well, I suppose love and God are as real as you wish them to be, Mary. Maybe it’s the same as believing. Either you do, or you don’t. Not much grey in those concepts at all.”

At a certain stage in Life, young people are terribly clever. They have the answers to every question ever asked. The horizon is endless, the possibilities without boundaries.  Then we grow up, get knocked around a little, and realise we know so little – so very, very little. And then we bandage the wounds caused by our ignorance and start closing doors. That’s when when we start living in little boxes, because we bleed less in those.

“And you, Boggel? Do you believe in Love?”

He nodded. At that moment a small herd of springbok appeared from behind some rocks some distance away, grazing peacefully.

“How long have we come here, to this very place, to chat?” He saw that the question had startled her.

“Oh…I don’t know? Seems like forever.”

“…And this is the first time we’ve seen some springbok while we’re sitting here.” He smiled at her questioning look. “What I’m trying to say, is that Love is like this. You can look for it everywhere and never find it. And one day, out of the blue, it finds you. That’s what makes it so precious, I guess.”

She remained silent for a long time, staring at the little herd.

“We’ll always be friends, won’t we?”

This time it was Boggel’s turn to be caught off guard. Friends? He had hoped for more, much more… But at that stage he didn’t understand her need for friendship was bigger than her need for a romantic liaison. She needed trust and loyalty and respect and kindness more than a clumsy kiss on the cheek. She’d become comfortable with Love later – but it had to germinate and sprout leaves in the rich soil of friendship first.

“Of course,” he said, feeling hurt.

He got up abruptly, held out his hand, and walked her back to the orphanage in silence.

***

“Pondering the past, Boggel?” Oudoom’s question shatters his reverie and he moves to one side so that the clergyman can sit down as well.

“You know,” Oudoom says this casually, as if they’ve been chatting all afternoon, “I told Mevrou just the other day; I said it’s sometimes difficult to believe in things. When Vetfaan came back from the war, he questioned God. I think he stopped believing for a while.” Oudoom falls silent as he watches a dove pecking at the side of the road. “And I understood that. I think we all get to a point in our lives when things just don’t make sense.”

Boggel twists his neck to look up at the pastor. “But why, Oudoom? Who don’t things work out? It’s as if God adds misery to our lives on purpose. You know about my past, Oudoom. Why can’t I have somebody in my life? I’m not asking for much…just a friendly smile, a cup of coffee in the morning, a hug at night? Why must I feel so…lonely?”

Oudoom shakes his head, causing the dove to flutter off.

“It’s Christmas-time, Boggel. For some, it’s a time of joy and celebration. For others these days hold an incredible amount of pain…even depression. It’s as if Christmas acts like a prism – allowing our memories to accentuate specific emotions we live with each day. So, on Christmas, we become aware of a special bit of the spectrum – causing laughter for some, tears for others.

“What is important, is that these memories always involve other people. It’s about acts that mattered in the past.” He lays an arm across the skewed shoulders. “So, Boggel, you have to answer a question: when you think back, are you ashamed of what you did? Or did you contribute to help somebody along on the path of Life?”

Oudoom feels the shoulders begin to shake. A large tear falls from Boggel’s cheek but he makes no effort to dry his eyes. Oh Lord, Oudoom looks up at the sky, why is it so hard? 

“Next year, Boggel. Maybe next year things will be better.” What else can I say?

“You think so, Oudoom?”  Boggel sniffs loudly. “That’s what I thought last year as well…”

“God’s time isn’t our time, Boggel. His plans aren’t our plans, either. But you’ve got us, at least.”

Boggel thinks the old clergyman is using the royal plural but when he looks up, he sees the whole town gathered around them. A small figure forces her way to the front.

“Mister Boggel, sir, we’ve baked a special pudding. Mister Stevens and I…well, we thought to give it to you on Christmas, but maybe today is more appropriate.” Miss Kenton! Boggel can’t even remember when last she and Mister Stevens visited Rolbos. “And there’s a letter, sir. Nice feminine handwriting, if I may say so. It arrived on the farm this morning, and Mister Stevens insisted we bring it to you immediately.” She smiles sweetly as she places the Christmas pudding and the letter next to Boggel on the bench.

“We had given up hope of receiving an answer to Missus Fanny’s letters, sir.” Mister Stevens spreads his arms wide. “But yes, here it is. An answer. I suppose you’d want to read it, won’t you, sir?”

The little crowd moves forwards an inch, curiosity forcing them nearer.

New Beginnings, New Story…and a New Book

After all the excitement of Vetfaan, Fanny, Gertruida and who-knows-who-else, this weekend is a quiet one in Rolbos. The townsfolk will relax in Boggel’s Place and swap yarns about the days when they had nothing to do, For avid readers, they suggest you spend time with Servaas in the old-age home, where a young nurse reminds him that it’s not ideal to die as a virgin-pensioner:

This e-book is available through your usual online bookshop, and Amazon, of course.

417irpY-WyL

For those with a hunger for the wilds of Africa, there is the option of an e-book or paperback when you order this book filled with unusual and wonderful stories. Some of these adventures are based on real experiences during my travels through Africa. Some are based on stories I heard. And some…well, they simply came to me. Enjoy the unusual, and Imagine: Africa! like you’ve never done before.

***

And, in July/August: SHIMMERstate... The story of the Power behind the Universe. What makes us do the things we do?  Why does good and bad things happen to us? Is eternity possible, and how did we come to live on Earth? Why? And then the ultimate question: what is the purpose of all this?

Follow the story of Peter Small, an elderly Coloured man from Cape Town, as he explores the realms of the unknown beyond our consciousness.

Oh…it’s not just that. There’s a baby that is about to be born, a murder or two, some really bad guys and even a few good ones. Together they’ll take you on a journey that is bound to change your life.

Editing will start on Monday. Marinda Ehlers (eBooks for Africa) will see to it that the professional quality of the final product will please readers – so for the next few weeks I’ll be busy with that. Even though the birth of a book is a drawn-out process (and sometimes painful), the result is worth the effort.

This book is the result of several year’s worth of thinking and research – don’t miss out.

Fanny’s Surprise (# 28)

“I thought so.” Gertruida, who will never admit surprise, sits back with a knowing smile. “She had the look.”

“What look?”

“The pregnant look, Boggel. Women who are expecting, look different. And they get moody.”

“I bow, madam, to your superior knowledge.” Boggel knows her well enough not to pry any further. “And now they’re off to see Oudoom? That’d be interesting – her being Catholic and all that.”

“I don’t think Oudoom has ever managed so many problems in such a short time.” She lifts her glass in a mock salute. “But of course, he’s not the one I’m worried about. Servaas can be very narrow-minded sometimes. Even worse – he’s got his black suit on today. It spells trouble.”

***

Servaas, as head elder (and the only one) of the congregation, sits stiffly next to Oudoom. On the other side of the table, Vetfaan and Fanny share worried frowns and anxious looks. They’ve just told Oudoom about the pregnancy, and want to get married as soon as possible.

“Wait a minute.” Servaas has his brows knitted together again – it’s a bad sign. “If you’re pregnant, that means you had….sex? ” He whispers the last word. “Before marriage? Before?”

Fanny feels the muscles in Vetfaans shoulders bunch up.

“Yes, Servaas. We did that thing you can’t even say. It’s a horrible, despicable, loathable act between two people in love.” The veins on his forehead stand out as he speaks. “And you know what? It was one of the holiest moments of my life. Maybe you never loved anybody as much, and I pity you for that. And now, now you’re addressing Fanny and ignoring me – as if she did something wrong. Remember the incident when Jesus came upon the adulterous woman? The one the crowd wanted to kill?

“You’re that same crowd, Servaas. You’re standing there, stone in hand, ready to kill the sinner. Now, let me ask you…what did the crowd say or do to the man involved?” He pauses, breathing hard. “Let me tell you: he doesn’t even get a mention. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not a single word. They were ready to take the woman’s life, while the man probably bragged about his conquest in the nearest bar…”

“Now, Vetfaan, maybe…” Oudoom tries to calm the big man, but he’s not having any of it.

“No, Oudoom, I’m sorry. The Bible is full of stories about inappropriate sexual conduct. We read about so many whores – and then we read about David. The women get slandered, but David was ‘a man of God’. Men get excused, but women get blamed for sinning. And yet, one prophet was told to marry a woman of ill repute – to be a symbol of God’s union with a sinning community. Go read Hosea, Servaas.

“And don’t you ever, ever insinuate that Fanny is a whore, Servaas. By all that’s holy, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Servaas doesn’t want to back down. “Don’t you get riled up, Vetfaan. Right is right. Wrong is wrong, All I’m saying is that there’s no such thing as a small sin. And sex before marriage is a sin. Full stop.”

Vetfaan gets up to tower above the old man. Oudoom wants to intervene again, but a furious glance from Vetfaan makes him sit back. Where’s Mevrou when I need her…?

“You go get your Bible, old man. And then you show me where it says sex before marriage is wrong. The Book teaches us about fidelity, but then we read about Solomon’s vast harem. I’m not going to argue about nonsense, Servaas. I’m telling you to get off your high horse. This,” he points at Fanny, “is the woman I love. She was brought up as a Catholic and we had sex before we got a piece of paper to say we’re committed to each other. If you can’t live with that, then so be it. I’m not asking you to understand or condone anything. I’m telling you we’re getting married, and that’s it. Either Oudoom agrees to confirm our loyalty to each other, or I’ll get a magistrate to do so. Is that clear?”

Fanny tries to keep a straight face, but Vetfaan’s outburst brings back the guilt she feels about the evening with Henry Hartford III. As she bursts out in tears, her raw howl of anguish fills the room. Vetfaan swirls around to try and calm her down.

“No…Fanie…sniff!…Servaas is right. There’s something I must confess…”

***

When she stops talking, nobody says anything for a long time. Vetfaan, ashen-faced, stares at Fanny with the saddest eyes. Servaas sits back in triumph, satisfied that his opinion was vindicated. Oudoom gets up quietly to fetch the bottle of brandy he hides behind the books on the shelf.

“Now listen,” he says, still searching for words, “don’t let us get carried away here. First of all: I don’t care much about the differences we humans like to tag our faith with. Originally there was one God and one faith. Then some people started telling each other their faith – their church – is the right one. Now we have thousands and thousands of churches, faiths and religions. I wonder what God thinks of that. After all – there can only be one God, one Creator. My idea is that it is important to live your faith by showing others kindness, compassion, respect. That’s what God wants – not this plethora of churches vying for the attention of people in search of God. And you know what drives most churches? Not faith, my friends. Money. Power. That’s what. I think God cringes when He sees what we have done with His commandments.

“So, Servaas, her being a Catholic simply means she’s also looking for the answers, just like we are.” Oudoom hands out the glasses with the neat brandy, even serving a very small portion to Fanny.  “Now…as for the evening with Henry? That’s more difficult.”

“At that stage Fanny knew how much Vetfaan loved her. It was wrong. A mistake. But…don’t we all make mistakes? Henry Hartford was a troubled young man. He could manipulate his way into any situation. He used and abused people…and then he saved Fanny’s life…. by sacrificing his own. That tells me a lot – he wanted you, Fanny, to have the future he couldn’t have himself. In giving his life, he blessed the union between you and Vetfaan. I think he had  a moment of clarity and honesty, and he knew…

“So, Vetfaan, if Henry gave his life – tell me – what are you prepared to give?”

“But Dominee…” Servaas is still upset.

“No Servaas, this is not the time to come with your own preconceived ideas. The Bible teaches us about love and forgiveness. To a certain extent, the question I asked Vetfaan is the same question I direct to you. Both of you: are you brave enough to live your faith…or do you read your Bible only to get handy arguments against your fellow men and women? Select verses to feed your sick egos? Don’t, gentlemen, be hypocrites. Love. Forgive. And live in peace. You’re so busy with loving your own little egos, that loving thy neighbour means nothing to you. Quite frankly, I’m disgusted…” The speech leaves the clergyman breathless. Where did that come from?

Servaas sits back suddenly, struck by the enormity of what Oudoom has just said. The Bible is a guide to living a pure life, a kind life – and nobody is so perfect, so holy, to be able to adhere to every letter of the Book. His self-righteousness disappears in a flash.

Fanny dares not look up. Why did she tell them? She should have stayed quiet, and a lot of the anguish would have been spared. Sobbing softly, she storms from the room.

Vetfaan sinks his head into his hands and nearly misses the motions Servaas is making with his hands. Go after her, they tell him, go after her you bloody fool! Now!

Big Question… Listen to the video and then answer the question:

There are two types of crowds. The one is ready to throw stones. The other joins Rod and Amy in singing.  There’s no middle ground;  you can belong to only one of the two…the question is: which?

The Wordless Easter Sermon

download (31)“Oudoom will give the same sermon he delivers every Easter Sunday.  I don’t feel like going.” Vetfaan sips the strong coffee Boggel served, pulls a face and puts down the mug. “He’s always going on about the stone that was rolled away, and the significance it has. Now me? I’ve got enough stones to roll away. I think I’ll sit here and contemplate my life while you guys go.”

The rest of the group sees the determined look on Vetfaans face and decides not to argue. He’s been in a morose mood all week, so picking a fight with him right now isn’t going to help.

Living alone on a farm has many advantages. Vetfaan doesn’t have to get up or go to bed at set times. He usually starts his day when it’s quite dark still, and often flops over into his bed soon after sunset. Meals are simple affairs of bread and whatever else he can find in the fridge. It also allows plenty of time for thinking.

He’s spent a lot of time contemplating life lately. Politics, relationships, the meaning of life, love, hope  and dreams have been foremost in his mind. Somehow, the state of the world and the way we live just doesn’t make much sense to him at this stage. So, under the awning in front of Boggel’s Place, he allows his mind to roam over the events of the year since last Easter. It’s been a good year, a bad year, a happy year, a sad year. He remembers his moments on Springbokkop and the reassurance he got from them.

He’s so engrossed in his thoughts, he doesn’t hear the approaching footsteps. It’s only when Oudoom lays a hand on his shoulder that he wakes up from his reverie with a start.

The whole congregation is there, standing quietly in the sun, in front of Boggels Place.

“They know my sermon by heart,” Oudoom smiles wryly, “but I think they finally got the message. This year I’m not going to repeat it – instead, I thought I’d preach the most important sermon Jesus ever delivered.”

Vetfaan recovers sufficiently to raise an eyebrow. “The Sermon on the Mount? That’s quite something…”

“No,” Oudoom’s smile widens. “The silent one. When He rose from death, He didn’t announce it with a grand speech filled with big words. He left the grave quietly, alive, well. He didn’t need to say it, the Resurrection said it all. His most powerful statement, Vetfaan, didn’t need words.”

“Ja,” Servaas climbs up the stairs to the stoep to sit down next to Vetfaan. “So that’s what we’re doing on Ester Sunday. A sermon of silent love. It’s what our faith should be about, isn’t it?.”

Gertruida  reaches over to pat Vetfaan’s shoulder. “The message Jesus left us with, is to love God and one another, remember? Love, like we all know, needs no speeches. It is. It’s there in how we care for each other, the way we speak and the way we act. St James put it so nicely: faith without action is no faith at all. And St Francis of Assisi taught us to convince people of our faith in any way we can – and only  if we’re really desperate, only then to use words.”

It is a quiet day on Boggel’s stoep. Nobody needs to say anything.

And Vetfaan got all the answers he prayed for so much. Sermons don’t need churches. They don’t need fancy pulpits and long speeches. It’s in the silence of caring, kindness and respect that the message of the Resurrection is most tangible. Anybody can profess to believe, he realises, but it’s absolutely rare for people to live Christ’s most important statement.

Faith, he discovers on the stoep, is like the love of the little congregation holding their morning service in Boggel’s Place. Words aren’t necessary. Words tend to make things superficial, even meaningless. That’s why lawyers make a living by debating laws, politicians believe in their own causes and churches differ. It doesn’t matter what you call your religion, or what ideology holds your truth. It even matters less if words have been the stumbling block in your search for truth.

Trusting that inner voice to guide one’s actions, is what it’s all about. It’s in this wordless sermon we start to mean something to others.,

(Don’t watch this without a box of tissues…)

Starting over? Definitely!!

“But we  can’t hold a concert here,” Servaas says earnestly, “who’d come?”

“Not that kind of concert, Servaas. If we asked Oudoom to use the church, then Ben can play there. And we don’t ask money – if somebody wants to donate something, that’s fine. We give whatever comes in to the orphanage in Grootdrink. We kill three flies with one stroke: Ben gets to play, the orphanage will get something and the church will be full, for a change.” Gertruida glances over to Vetfaan. “You’ll see to it, won’t you?”

When Gertruida uses that tone of voice, people pay more attention to what she’s saying. It’s a mixture of playful octaves, with a high ‘you’ll’ and a low ‘won’t’. It’s said in a joking manner, but the eyes are steely-grey and direct – there’s no mistaking that some parts of your anatomy may go missing if you ignored the remark. Sure, he’ll tell Oudoom…

Vetfaan can only smile sheepishly and flex his considerable biceps. Sure…he’d rather argue with a deranged Kalahari lion than cross swords with this woman.

Servaas is brave enough to ask if Ben knew about Gertruida’s plan. She gives him a withering look.

“Ben has been practicing for three months now. The driver of Kalahari Vervoer’s lorry told me so himself. Every time he drives past Bitterbrak, the sound of that violin makes him stop and listen. He says it’s improved a lot. And remember: that driver is a member of the Grootdrink Skoffelorkes – he knows his music.”

Ben, quite naturally, gets taken by surprise by Gertruida’s visit the next day. No, there’s no way. Definitely not. Impossible.

Gertruida ignores the man and walks through to the make-shift kitchen area. The old tin mug and a faded and chipped dinner plate glares back at her from the basin of soapy water. The shelf above the Primus is empty, except for three packets on instant soup (tomato) and a single tin of beans. Without a word, she chucks out the water, loads the mug, plate and food into the basin, and walks out to her car. Ben is so shocked, he can only stare.

Gertruida returns to the cottage, staggering with a big box. She starts unpacking the crockery: four new plates, mugs, a salt-and-pepper set (full), and a set of knives and forks. Next are the groceries: coffee, sugar, bully beef, tinned meat, long-life milk, sugar. By the time she’s finished, the shelf can barely hold everything.

“W-w-what’s this all about, Gertruida? I can’t pay…”

“Oh shush, you silly man. You haven’t been to town lately, so it was logical you had just about no food left here. We held a collection in Boggel’s Place.”

“But I don’t nderstand?”

“It’s not a gift, Ben. It’s your pay for the concert. One piece. You only have to play one piece. That’s all.”

The people of the Kalahari are a proud lot. They’re honest, too. (Most of the time.) Generally, they don’t accept charity. You grace a homestead on an isolated farm with a visit, and you’ll leave with a bag of biltong. Or maybe a leg of lamb. Or some eggs. People in these parts are so independent, that they never want to feel they owe you something. They pay their debts. Always. Gertruida knows this, and that’s why she has no doubt that Ben will reciprocate with a little performance in the church the next Saturday.

With a smile and a mock curtsey, she leaves Ben gaping as she drives off.

***

When the sun sets in its red throne of glory, the patrons in Boggel’s Place empty their glasses and amble over to the church. There’s a box at the door (marked: Orphanage), which fills up with home-made toys and teddybears. Gertruida has lit a row of candles down the small aisle and placed two lanterns on the lectern. The atmosphere is soft, inviting,  as the little congregation sits down in the silence only churches have. It’s different to the quiet outside, where one feels more in touch with the dust and the vast landscape around. Here, especially in the flickering glow of the candles, they become aware of a Bigger Presence – something holy and sacred.

Nobody wants to say anything – the mood is too fragile.

Oudoom and Gertruida exchange worried glances. She had told Ben the concert would be at sundown, and then left; certain he would have no choice. But…what if…

The drone of the old Land Rover lights up the faces with brilliant smiles. Ben is coming! Everybody tries hard to believe they never doubted that he would come; nevertheless, the relief is tangible. The old wooden benches creak and groan as they twist around to see Ben enter the church.

Ben obviously went to a lot of trouble to do this right. The long khaki pants were pressed to smooth the material under a mattress, while the white shirt really seems white in the golden candle-glow. His shoes – shined with sheep’s fat – are even made more impressive by the fact that he is wearing socks for a change.

Ben stops at the door, uncertainty overwhelming him. The fine sheen of sweat on his forehead is clear even in the twilight. Oudoom sees this, and extends both arms to him.

Without a word, Ben walks to the front of the congregation. As he unpacks the violin with tender hands, Gertruida notices he has brought no sheet music along. Then he closes his eyes; takes a deep, shuddering breath; and starts to play.

The music moves like a gentle wave through the audience. In the sad and forlorn melody, everyone is carried back to an age of innocence when it was so easy to believe everything would work out. It drenches the regrets of lost loves and shattered hopes. The notes eddy back and forth amongst the successes and failures that exist in everybody who has ever grabbed at life’s trapeze – missed – fell – and got hurt. It’s a melody of healing, one that touches everybody in that church; even Ben, who plays on with his eyes shut and the picture of a beaming Lori in his mind. She’s there, he is certain, smiling her approval as she dabs away a tear.

There is a hushed silence at the end of the piece as the shabby man packs away his cherished violin. There’s no applause. It isn’t necessary. The shining eyes and arms reaching out to comfort each other say it all..

Gertruida will join the others at the bar later on, after she has spent a few quiet minutes with Ben in the church. Starting over is so difficult – so painful. Its foundation is previous failure; its future is so uncertain.  Along Life’s way there are loved ones who find new, greener pastures; some find new partners; and some depart on the final journey. Whatever we aim for doesn’t always reward us with the expected bounty. And in the late-night hours, every soul on this planet will – on occasion – wrestle with the age-old question…what if…?

This is when Ben’s music will be the rising tide to float the floundering ship. It’s the wings that lift us above the storm. It’s there, in the happy smile of a child, receiving an unexpected gift. It is, in the end, the flickering glow of a candle in a small church, reminding us that starting over is the only way ahead…