Today, the Kalahari has started sliding towards winter – ever so slowly. The grass forms a parched, yellow carpet and the early-morning chill can be felt despite the boots and thick socks. Gertruida walks with determined steps towards Bokkop. She needs time to be alone, away from the babble in Boggel’s Place.
In fact, she’s been aware of a problem for some time now, and it isn’t something she can discuss with the group. She’ll have to work it out all by herself, and there’s no better place to do it than under the thorn tree on Bokkop. You can hear your heart beat there.
Her Cracked-Plate Theory has such a final ring to it. Is it true that, once a relationship develops a significant crack, it can never be fixed again? Is life not all about conflict and resolution? Forgiveness should, after all, be the ultimate crack-solution? Could it be that one can retune an instrument to make pure music again?
The issue, she decides, is not in seeing the crack – it’s being the crack. It’s not the ear hearing the disharmonious music; it’s the origin of the melody (or lack thereof) that should be considered. Sure, the plate may be cracked – but why did it occur in the first instance?
Then, if people all over the world yearn to love and be loved, why do once-beautiful relationships break down? The answer, she decides, is in the reward of the relationship. People bond with others – in churches, societies, politics – because they expect a certain return on their investment. They get something because they gave something. This may be time, influence, knowledge, even money. When the reward is high enough, the association blossoms. However, when the expectations aren’t met, disassociation results.
But Love…now there’s an animal of a completely different nature. Love isn’t about receiving at all. It’s a giving thing. What then, the reward?
While she’s turning the thought around in her mind, she sees a small colony of ants working nearby. The workers are scurrying to and fro, carrying snippets of dry grass to their nest. They seem to be in a hurry to gather their supplies for the winter, when the veld will be bare of any nutrition. The incoming line of ants will on occasion touch feelers with the outgoing workers, telling them where they are harvesting right now.
“It’s easy for you guys. You have a plan and a purpose: surviving the winter is a matter of having enough to eat. Working hard now, carries the reward of later satisfaction.”
A small bulb lights up in her mind. Love, she realises, is not a now-thing. It’s a future-thing. Sure, loving and being loved is a heady, beautiful feeling…but it’s just that – it’s a feeling. Like the lines of ants working away furiously to secure a better future, Love’s reward isn’t in the moments of bliss and happiness. Love’s reward is the security that awaits in the future – by working hard at it now, the winter won’t be so bad at all. And true to human nature, there will be winters.
“I envy you.” She tells the ants, “because you can predict the winter. You know when it’ll happen. We humans aren’t so fortunate. Our winters happen without warning. It can happen over prolonged periods of time, or be instantaneous.”
Relationships break down, get cracked, for many reasons; some accidental and some not. When they do break down, it’s because the pantry became empty. Not enough was done in the good days to ensure survival during the harsh times. The cracked plate happens because of neglect, it’s as simple as that.
But why then, do some relationships endure even the famine that occurs in those unexpected winters? Forgiveness? Is it ever complete? Surely only God has that ability? We tend to remember, even after forgiveness was given and received. Those words in anger can never be erased, the wrong never forgotten.
Forgiveness isn’t enough. Not human forgiveness, at that. There has to be something deeper, something more, to explain why couples survive catastrophe.
The ants work on tirelessly, scurrying, cutting leaves, carrying it back. They’re not going to be caught off guard. “But we do,” Gertruida tells them. “We don’t know how to predict, you see?”
She gets up to walk back, the problem still nagging in her mind.
Back at Boggel’s Place, Vetfaan brightens as she walks in.
“Hey Gertruida, we didn’t know when you’d be back, so we kept a chair open for you.”
He’s joking, of course; him being the only customer at this time. He is, however, surprised by her snapping her fingers.
“That’s it! Thank you Vetfaan! Preparing for an unplanned future! It’s about keeping a chair open, even when you’re alone. It’s about constantly preparing, living every day as if it’s your last. If you knew tomorrow will be your last, what would you tell people? How would you act towards them? Will you have time to fight and argue, or would you rather make sure the hours are spent in kindness and respect? And that means every day… Keeping an open chair even when it is ridiculous to do so.”
He gapes at her, shrugs and returns to his beer. Gertruida can be weird sometimes. Here she’s babbling on and on about ants and winter and famine, and all he did was to make a joke.
“Vetfaan, do you know why some people stick it out with each other, even though they have massive differences? It’s the determination to succeed, despite the cold outside. Preparation and determination, my friend, are the glues that holds Love together. When you think you’ve given your all, only a few people will discover a deeper level of understanding. Some people – the lucky ones – will find that running on empty is the lightest way to progress the fastest. And to do that, you’ve got to let go of stuff holding you back, like ego or pride. Ants don’t go about in designer clothes – the wear nothing that will encumber them. Travel light, travel fast, fill the pantry. Action is more important than enjoying the moment…like keeping a chair especially for someone, even if there are no other takers. And…of course, a good sense of humour goes a long way to stop taking oneself so seriously.”
Vetfaan shakes his head. “Okay, Gertruida, whatever it is bugging you, I’m glad you found an answer. Now get a beer and lets talk about something important, for a change; like the drought, or the coming winter.”
“That, my friend, is what has been bothering me all morning. You won’t believe how much you can learn from ants…and empty bar stools.” She smiles happily: relationships are so complicated, yet it’ll survive anything – even death – if the fleet-footed little ants of Love stocked up the pantry properly beforehand. And no, she won’t even try to explain this to Vetfaan… Especially not the bit about keeping the chair next to your’s for a special somebody, when there is nobody else around.