These are just my thoughts, I make no attempt to order them. This is a repository. Rather than a craft.
Dec 3 2009.
Mortality is keenly on my mind. We live as if it death is a far and distant thing. But it is everywhere. Close to us. Our shadow.
This evening I walked past a motorbike accident. The police and medics kneeling over the felled and quiet rider.
The idiocy – some of it well meaning – of the passers by struck me. One man had parked his car by the side of the road so that it blocked the passage of traffic, yet he had taken to standing by the police car, and making the gestures of a traffic policeman in order to usher the traffic along.
A policeman got out of his vehicle and, rather than praising the gentlemen in the manner he might have been expecting, asked him in a scolding tone to move his car out of the way. The man continued his helpful gestures even as he listened to the policeman admonish him.
A small group of people stood on a traffic island by the injured party – one of them, a balding man with white beard, made half hearted traffic policeman gestures too, I think shyness kept the gusto of his gestures down. I saw one driver slow down and crane his neck to try to get a clear scope of the horror.
I walked fairly briskly past, I did not crane and I did not peer. I was satisfied to see that a motionless motorbike rider was being tended to by the police and a medic or two, there was nothing useful I could do, two people were already guiding the traffic along, and anyway I had just come from my Grandmother’s house, and though I was thinking about how foolish it was that I felt I had to hide my tears from people passing me by, how foolish it is to be ashamed of love, even so, I did not want people to see me, people I did not know, with tears in my eyes.
She is ill. How serious remains to be seen, a specialist’s scrutiny approaches. We know, from the symptoms that it could be terrible. She is scared. I go and see her and help her with practical things. When she leaves the room where we sit together, to get a letter or paper or something, I well up – stinging tears, but I know she finds comfort in me, and so I stifle them, recall the calm and strength of love, and find light and amusing things to say and talk to her about the things that she wants to talk about. If she saw that I was terribly upset, it would upset her.
I owe her my strength. I want to allay her fear, to give her comfort. And I know that I have always been able to make her smile. When I was a little boy she used to sing a song ‘you are my sunshine’, to me, and this was a comfort to me in difficult and confusing times. And I was to some extent a lightness to a terribly hard life that she had endured. But to me, how can I qualify what she is? She is the person who showed me what love is. True, kind, love.
So she writes to me to tell me now, by email, on the computer I got her, that she loves me, and that I am a lovely person. She says my visit has exhilirated her enough to log on to the computer and check her emails.
I write back to tell her that I love her very much, and that if I am a decent person, it is largely because of the love she has given me throughout my life.
Last Friday night she was very ill, breathless, frightened. I went to her and we got a doctor to come over. In the time while we waited we talked about a meeting she had with Lord Joffe, a friend of hers from South Africa. They met on the way up some stairs to a meeting of the fatalistic lobbying society for assisted death that she has long been a fan and active member of.
They both had been friends of Bram Fischer, the South African Lawyer who was arrested by the authorities, detained, humiliated, later to die of Cancer.
My Gran loves to talk of Bram, she admired him deeply. The authorities would not let her visit him, even when he was dying. They were cruel. They hated him most because he was one of them, a white Afrikaner – from a ‘good’ family. His treachery was absolute in their eyes. They kept him in isolation and from hospital as long as they could.
She spoke of how she had been too tired to ascend the steps to the meeting all in one go, and how Lord Joffe had stopped and sat with her on the steps. He was speaking at the meeting.
She told how when he gave his speech to the assembled crowd he said how glad he was to be speaking there, and how glad he was to have met an old friend on the way in, Margaret. He called out to her in the crowd and she waved back to him.
The Doctor came and I stayed in the other room, letting my tears brim and pass in silence, unseen.
My Grandmother is a good woman. And goodness is a rare and wonderful quality. Not to my Gran. She sees good in everyone.
Until recently she belonged to an ANC support group for the old guard, they would meet up and talk. Some of the more set in their ways would insist on discussing revolution.
The young ANC, the young blacks of the new South Africa have formed a new group – to which this ancient vanguard is able to join, but which is clearly distinct from them. They call themselves ‘the special branch’, which my Gran finds amusing – ‘they are too young to remember’. She and her comrades lived in bitter fear of the special branch – the people who would send letter bombs; Assassinate; torture.
Her old support group will remain only as a creche service to look after the children of the young new ANC. I am not too clear on the details. What is clear is that the young ANC, like all the young, wants to distance itself from the old. Finds the talk of revolution embarrassing, outdated. Sees a different world.
Of course, the different world they see came about because of the sacrifices of the old, I think they do respect that, but they are hungry to make the world their own.
My Gran sent the new ‘special branch’ some money to buy Champagne, with a letter wishing them well and sending her fondest regards. They bought Champagne and read her letter out, and they toasted her, she tells me. She is made happy by this. She was never much good at meetings, she never had much to say, she says.
She held her tongue in prison. She left South Africa rather than testify against her friend, Joe Qgabi. Though in time he was assassinated by ‘the special branch’ of apartheid South Africa.
My Gran is an old woman, who has lived and fought with great sadness for much of her life. Terrible things have been. I see her now before the shadow. She is the kind hearted woman who took me to the zoo, who encouraged and listened to me when I was a hurt little boy, she is the woman who, without affectation, gives to those who need. She is what love means to me.
[Update 2012: She is still going strong, in hospital again currently, but doing well. ‘Old age is not for sissies’, she tells me]