2021 03 07 Alan Storey
Checking our God
Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.
An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.
Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.
Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:
Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…
Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.
This past week we witnessed more conflict on some of our campuses. This time students exchanged blows and police needed to separate white students from black students. The violent scenes were distressing.
My niece is in her first year at TUKS and she expressed her sense of anxiety and despair on our family WhatsApp group. My brother responded with what I thought was wise advice. This is what he wrote:
Tough and confusing times Jess. My advice for what it’s worth:
Notice that he did not dive in and give a “piece of his mind” about who was right and who was wrong. Instead he invited her to be fully present to the moment and to open herself to learn and grow from what was unfolding before her. Without denying the tough and troubling nature of the situation there is the comforting and hopeful belief that it is a privilege to be part of this moment.
I think these words are good advice for all of us at this time and not just my niece. But furthermore I believe that here we are given a healthy example of how we can assist people around us to grow by giving them a framework in which to process their own experience instead of simply telling them what to believe. This is education at its best and none of us are too young or old to promote and participate in such methods of learning.
Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained –
unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening – out!
And along a long street’s
Majestic emptiness under the moon:
one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed …
And not till he saw the angel had left him,
Alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel’s feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy.
~ Denise Levertov