“Life,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “is a choice. Nothing more, nothing less.” She sits back with a superior smile, having imparted one of her great truths.
Of course, a statement like this can lead to a protracted discussion on whether everything that happens are due to individual decisions – or it may be the final say in the matter. On this new years eve, her statement is met with a stony silence.
Vetfaan isn’t in the mood for philosophy. He wants to see out the old year with a bang. Literally.
“Ja, Gertruida. Okay. So you’re clever. But let’s talk about how we’re going to announce the new year. We can’t just sit here and drink. And…we still have that stick of dynamite.”
Everybody knows about the dynamite Kleinpiet used to blast holes for the toilets on his farm. That was a long time ago, but Vetfaan probably saved a lot of lives when he insisted that the remaining stick of dynamite be handed to him for safekeeping. Kleinpiet had, after all, proven beyond doubt that he was not the world’s most experienced explosive expert.
“You. Are. Out. Of. Your. Mind.” Gertruida cannot believe what she’s just heard. “Old dynamite leaks nitroglycerine, and that is so unstable, it may explode at any time. No, Vetfaan, you should tell Sersant Dreyer to arrange for some experts to dispose of it.”
“It won’t explode without a detonator, Gertruida. I was thinking of just attaching a fuse…”
“Stop it! Don’t even talk about it any more. I won’t be part of such madness!”
Boggel doesn’t participate in the discussion. He’s on his cushion below the counter where Vrede snuggled up next to him. The two of them share a piece of biltong while the rest of Rolbos talk about decisions, explosions and other unimportant things.
It’s been a hard year for Boggel. The episode with Lucinda drained him; and the hope that he and Mary Mitchell would hook up once again evaporated into the thin air of reality. Oh, the townsfolk looked after him well and supported him through the troubled times, but on this, the last day of 2013, Boggel feels alone, isolated and even…abandoned. He simply cannot work up the enthusiasm to join the revelry in Boggel’s Place.
“You know, Vrede, Life may be about choices and Gertruida may be right – as usual. But what about the choices other people make? Lucinda chose Giovanni – and that left me stranded. It wasn’t my choice, was it?” Vrede watches as Boggel slices off another piece of biltong. “It’s like this bit of meat, Vrede. I can choose to give it to you, or not. You don’t get to make that decision, but my choice has a direct influence of your happiness.”
Vrede lets out a soft groan, wagging his tail slowly. His eyes are pleading. When Boggel feeds him the titbit, the tail picks up speed.
“You’re just like that piece of dynamite, Vetfaan.” Gertruida still can’t believe Vetfaan is so stupid. “The older you get, the more unstable you are. Anyway, have you discussed this with Fanny? What did she say?”
“No.” Vetfaan blushes slightly. “I know what she would have said…”
“Exactly! Now, as soon as she returns from the farm, the three of us will have a nice little talk about disposing that stick. You can’t have it stashed away on the farm. The twins will start walking all over the show one of these good days, and who knows what’ll happen if they find the dynamite? Come on, Vetfaan, don’t be so irresponsible!”
“Okay, the two of you!” Servaas is in a rare good mood and doesn’t want to listen to an argument all evening. “Call it quits. Vetfaan was joking…or at least I hope he was. And you’re right – as usual – Gertruida. End of discussion. Anyway, where’s Boggel? I need a refill.”
But Boggel isn’t serving anybody tonight. The talk about unstable dynamite made him think how dangerous some choices are – for the individual as well as for those around him – or her. It is true, he realises, that all choices have consequences. Some are predictable, some are not; but the very essence of a choice is that one has to prefer one option over other possibilities. Something seems more attractive than the rest, that’s why it gets preference.
That, he thinks, is where the danger of explosion lurks. How many choices does one make in a year’s time. Hundreds? Thousands? More…? And each one has a ripple effect on those around you. Then again: nobody can claim a 100% positive record when it comes to choices. No matter how hard you try or how good the intentions are – there will be bad decisions and the inevitable fall-out of remorse. The road to hell is paved with bad decisions taken in good faith…
“Hey, Boggel! Come on, man! We’re running dry up here!” Vetfaan thumps a fist on the counter. “I have to buy Gertruida a drink, otherwise she’ll never stop telling me how stupid I am.”
Boggel finally relents and serves another round.
“You’re worse than Servaas tonight, Boggel. What’s bugging you?”
“Choices, Vetfaan, choices. Look at you now: you chose to have an idea. Gertruida chose to shoot it down. You chose to listen to her.” Boggel gets on his crate and leans his elbows on the counter. “It is an endless circle – one choice follows another in a never-ending chain of events. Every action, every thought, every word spoken or written down – they’re all choices. Some contain the danger of unstable dynamite without us even realising it. Some are of immense benefit to all. That’s what’s bugging me.”
“You’re right, Boggel. But reality is that we cannot escape the fact that we have to make choices. We cannot survive without them. In short: we live because we make choices. We choose who we love. We choose a way of life. We also choose to allow certain opinions to influence us – and then we choose how we react to that.”
Boggel is quiet for a long time, choosing to digest this before he speaks.
“Wouldn’t it be great,” he eventually says, “if people realised how important it is to choose with kindness? I mean – if everything we do and think and say is governed by the choice of kindness?”
“Ag, Boggel, wake up. We live in a small town where we are sensitive to the needs of others. You think that happens everywhere? It doesn’t. Look at politicians, governments, the media – where’s the kindness? Where’s the good news? Society has killed kindness in the choice to pursue money and power and scandal.”
“That may be true, Vetfaan. But I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in 2014. My choice is to stop taking all those negatives so seriously. In fact, I’ll stop taking myself so seriously. I’m choosing to close the door on those things that doesn’t contribute to my well-being. I choose to love those that accept me for what I am. And for the rest…I’ll be kind enough to cut them loose to find somebody else to influence.”
You might find the talk in Boggel’s Place somber for a day like this. In bigger places like Pofadder and Prieska you’ll find people doing silly things, drinking and telling bawdy jokes while the clock ticks its way to the new year. And maybe that is one way of looking back at 2013 and being thankful to have survived another year. Some people choose to say goodbye to the old year like that.
But in Rolbos, the talk in the bar is about 2014. No, they’re not making new resolutions everybody knows won’t happen – they’re talking about how to go about their choices in the new year.
Boggel’s choice focuses on Kindness. He says that is the solution to everything: embrace those you love. Or you walk away from those who aren’t worth it in that fashion – you won’t feel alone, either.
Maybe that’s the only sensible choice we have…
‘How much pain has cracked your soul?
How much love would make you whole?’