Sometimes you just need to talk to a four-year-old and an 84-year-old to understand life again. (Kristen Butler)
I have been in a tug of war to write this article. It is easy to write when you have worked through your feelings, or when time has passed and healing has taken place. At this moment I feel a little raw at the edges. I haven’t had the time to sit down and analyse my thoughts in my journal, but the title of this article has prompted me to write about my son.
My son is emigrating at the end of July.
I knew that this day was coming, but I would be lying if I said that I was prepared.
We packed up his belongings last week; he donated most of his stuff and carefully selected a few items that he would be taking with him. When he spoke about leaving, I had a swivel-door mentality. I knew he was going, but I also comforted myself with the idea that he would be back. It suddenly dawned on me that he might not come back; he had, after all, decided against storing his belongings, and opted rather to give his things away. I realised that this was the end of a chapter; the end of a book. Volume One of his life had completed.
Gerhard never really fitted any mould. He didn’t sleep as a baby, he always questioned the status quo, and he negotiated his way out of many constraints. I taught him to read when he was four, just to keep him occupied. He read through the children’s section of the public library before he was six; we then found a way around the rules and regulations and he used my library cards to read books from the adult section. He never went anywhere without two or three books tucked into a bag.
School was complicated. He always took extra subjects and played his intricate war strategy games when he got home. He was determined to win each and every chess game that he played and I will never forget his elation the day he finally beat his father.
He started working when he was in grade six. He earned money but his main goal was to build up a CV. When the compensation was low, he would argue that the experience would benefit him in the long run and he would take the job.
He was in grade eight when he presented me with a life strategy. He mapped out his plans for his future and when we spoke about what he had mind, his diagram made sense. I enjoyed the way he adjusted his strategy as the years went by. When he started his journey at the University of Pretoria, he was still tweaking his path to line up with what he had in mind.
My heart broke with him when major events disrupted his carefully planned vision but I took great delight in seeing him work around problems – the creative ways in which he made sense of disaster.
As he progressed and completed his degree in law, he worked in different environments to express his love for politics, mediation, analysis, conflict, and security studies. He came to realise that he might not find his niche to live out his passions here in South Africa, he might have to leave.
To me that seemed like a long way away, maybe someday…
Maybe someday he would leave to find his sweet spot. Now, that maybe someday is a reality. He is going.
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. (Havelock Ellis)
His journey was not easy.
His initial clear strategy was corroded by life, reality, and circumstances. He was questioned by teachers, judged by peers, and rejected by social groups because he continued to veer off the beaten path. I’ve had the privilege of observing him since the beginning of his life, and because I have witnessed his struggles in making the best decisions, I fully understand his choices. He had my support despite the uncertainty of the outcomes of his endeavours.
But people criticised his choices. Society felt uncomfortable outside the mould.
I wish I knew why we so firmly believe that we should know it all. Who decided that we should have our lives mapped out before the age of twenty? I cannot believe that we have to make the most important decisions of our lives when our brains are still developing.
To crown it all, why are we so shaken by the age of thirty when something unexpected happens and we have to change our plans?
And then, to complicate matters even further, there is this fictitious Guidebook to Life – the perceived ultimate way to live. It is very vague, but we all buy into it. When we look at our education, our careers, our houses and cars, we continuously measure those things against others.
Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us. (Nicole Reed)
Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be. (Samuel Johnson)
There is something very exciting about the unknown path. I love being a spectator in Gerhard’s life. I am his biggest supporter.
If I can encourage my son to be brave; to be honest; to be open; to be gentle and kind; to be trusting, he will be empowered to be vigilant at the steering wheel of his life. If things don’t go according to plan, I trust him to be wise enough to steer in another direction.
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.(Winston Churchill)
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. (Albert Einstein)
I won’t be around to cheer him on, but I know that he is connected to God. I know that he won’t be able to navigate life’s waters without prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I am grateful that he didn’t get his validation from society; he only looked to God for that.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19 NIV)
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8 NIV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way. Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the Lord and refuse to do wrong. (Proverbs 3:5-7 GNT)
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)
I will return to these pages to share my experiences with this new adventure that has come our way. I know that I will miss him dearly, and that I will have to navigate life in a new way.
As a mother I am experiencing conflicting emotions. I am immensely proud of him and grateful that this opportunity is knocking on his door, but at the same time I feel a deep sense of loss.
Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life. (Anne Roiphe)
I am grateful to know that he had the opportunity to overcome many challenges early in his life. He had to be open to alternative options and he constantly had to adjust his expectations. I saw him playing with his sword (nothing more than a stick), and how he overcame the armies that were attacking him when he was a little boy. I know that he faces his real-life challenges in the same way…
We came across his initial life strategy when he was cleaning out his papers. We both stopped for a while and smiled.
It was a sacred moment.
We said nothing, but I know we both felt it – the weight of dreams, hopes, and aspirations.
Then he took out his cellphone, took a photograph, and crumbled the paper before he threw it away.
We spoke about it later that evening. There is a big difference between a planned life and a meaningful life. Whenever you have a choice, let the plans go… choose meaning.