And so we begin to pack for our journey back to Scotland. I hear it’s mild and please forgive my sudden guffaw! It never gets as low as ten degrees out here so ‘mild’ is more like a warm bath to you or me who know what it’s like to wear sox over sox and a fleece to bed.
As I sit here on the hospital balcony with the sun burning my feet I ask myself how I feel about going home. Roots is important, my dad’s gardener used to say and he is right, they is. There is a lot of the inside of a bubble about this trip with its surprising twists and turns, the light falling on this surface or that, turning water into rainbows; the bubble lifting on a sudden luff of warm air, its slow float across elephant grass, the sharp-thorned sickle bush, the back of a sleepy lion.
It was 3 weeks, then it was almost 7 weeks and every moment of it has made a memory, every person, a mark; the girls in the kitchen at Dumela, big strong black african diamonds, every one of them; the volunteers on the conservation project and the team of staff who lead, including Prospect the Pup; the taxi and ambulance drivers, the medics, therapists, nurses, auxiliaries and cafe angels; the manager and the staff at the lodge we went home to each evening to braai, to eat, to fall asleep, to do it all again. I honour every one of you and thank you right now, for you know not what you gave to us, this precious gift of human kindess and warmth.
I read Brain Pickings, an online paper, one that is all about books and words and wisdoms. I recommend it highly, and it always give me inspiration or puts into words the way I am, or have been, feeling and for which I have no words, or, more usually, way too many. Those who can concisely tell me exactly what is in my heart are rare birds indeed.
What I leave this massive and wonderful country with is faith (with a capital F) in my fellow humans. I had it before, but it could get knocked about a bit, bashed and chipped at the edges. What looked ugly at first became a thing of beauty. What looked like loss became a gain nobody could foresee. My arms were empty, now they are full, for we go back to paint a new canvas, write a new life and, although some things might be no longer possible, at least we did them, at least we took the risk and lived life wildly and crazily. Now, we might find a different way to get where we want to go. It’s called thinking out of the box and for me, for us, boxes are for keeping gifts safe. I don’t keep the box, but I do keep the gift.
In a particularly impassioned letter to his brother Theo from October 2, 1884, Van Gogh writes:
If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good – many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm – and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.
You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.
Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares – and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”
Today will be one of sorting and packing, of last minute this and last minute that, and a gathering of thoughts and memories to stow away in my heart. I will be mindful of each moment within it as we prepare to fly back to Scotland, the home of my mother’s people, strong women of dignity and strength, humour, wisdom and an eye for nonsense. I learned much from them both and, if nature and nurture have come together in me, distilling into a potent life force, then we are all in for a load of noisy fun, for many years to come.