Tag Archives: loneliness

#276 ~ The Watcher at the Threshold

The Creature at the Door, The Bogeyman, The Presence, however it’s phrased these ominous beings have one thing in common – you can’t see them, but they can see you. We strive and strive to penetrate the darkness that Simon and Garfunkel seek to communicate with, yet it is far too elusive, far too…tricksy…and so we give up. We believe we are alone, no one can see us, no one knows us, no one is aware.

Life, I have come to realise is a performance. We speak to be recognised. As we dress ourselves in the morning, however (un)conscious our decisions are, they are decisions, seeking in their own either explicit or implicit way to elicit a response, an acknowledgement, in the least, a thought process.When that doesn’t happen, the sense of our own perceived insignificance can be overwhelming.

I write to be read. I write to be understood. Deep down in the pride filled holes of my heart I hope someone, somewhere cares about my work. I hope it either makes them laugh (where appropriate), or cry. Makes them think, wonder, be inspired, maybe even impressed. So we seek this affirmation, this recognition.

Social media dictates that we deserve not only to perform surgery on ourselves, but let our friends be trainee doctors and bear witness to us systematically removing our innards and splaying them on the stainless steel theatre tables of the World Wide Web. As we partake in this ritual, we are hoping for some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ to escape pursed lips. That fervent scribbling salutes our aural faculties as people write down our updates our posts in the memory bank of their minds. That, they might even venture to ask a question, to drop a comment.

Yet in my experience, often this isn’t the case. We perform to an Asian audience. That is to say, we perform to people who may not applaud at every twirl, but watch, critically until the final curtain call before rising from their seats in rapturous applause and screams. The dancer must keep dancing, even if it is to a silent cavern. If they stop mid twirl, then the comments will never fall, the applause will never be born as hands are kept by their sides, maybe in disappointment, or disinterestedness.

Today I realised, one never knows who their audience is. They may never comment, or like, but they may be methodically and systematically reading, watching, a lurking presence that sees you even when you don’t see them.

As they say in theatre, regardless of anything, the show must go on. The performance only ends at that final curtain call.

So dance.

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#235 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 2

If you sleep with a virgin you will be cured from Aids.

As you drive from Hilton into Sweetwaters a large billboard sign greets you. !Qaphela! It shouts in bold writing, Sugar Daddies Destroy Lives. It might initially cause you to grin. Sugar Daddies in the UK and presumably the States, hold connotations of Playboy Bunnies and Hugh Hefners who thoroughly believe age is no barrier to ‘play time.’ The ‘purchasing’ of women’s affections through gifts, money, expensive luxuries, though the implications are dangerous, the term appears harmless, humorous even.

In Sweetwaters, and many impoverished communities that are plagued by the AIDs stigma, it is believed that sleeping with a virgin can cure AIDS. Perhaps the purity of an untouched girl restores the impurity of an infected man. Whatever the reason, the connotation of a Sugar Daddy in Sweetwaters tends not to allude to fancy holidays off the East Coast of America, and leans instead towards teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS infection, an aborted education, and future of, if not squalor, then dire need and dependence. Sugar Daddies really do destroy lives.

Aware of this predicament and the growing pressure on young Zulu girls living in Sweetwaters, Ithemba Projects runs a program called Home Visiting. It’s a process by which the children who attend the weekly running club, the Saturday Jabulani Kids Club or any of the weekly life groups, are given the opportunity to form closer relationships with the charity. It’s a chance for the Ithemba team to see them and their families in their home environment. To show the kids they are willing and excited to form familial and community wide relationships.

I never knew that fragmented communities really existed outside of London. It sounds naive, but we all have that ‘African proverb’ in mind: It takes a village to raise a child. You drive down the misty roads of Sweetwaters and the apparitions always raise a hand in greeting, calling, Sawubona, Ninjani, as you drive by. Courtesy demands that you also wave to strangers, and respond, Yebo, Siyaphila; We greet you also, we are fine. Sitting on a London Underground Tube, you don’t even make eye contact with the person opposite, let alone the workers at the train station. ‘Community doesn’t exist in the West, it’s an Eastern thing’. That’s the subliminal message that laced my mind more or less these past years.

Yet, entering the home of a secondary school student, tucked away in the winding paths of Sweetwaters haphazard geography, I saw my mistake. Ithemba staff make unplanned visits to prevent families from spending money buying or preparing niceties. Hospitality is fundamental in Zulu culture; even when one cannot afford to give, honoring strangers is a requirement and a blessing the inhabitants of Sweetwaters yearn to perform.

Though the mother welcomed us kindly enough, she hid in a corner, face to the wall. We sat and greeted her, and then an eerie choking sound came. I couldn’t understand what she was saying and turned to my colleague to ask – Is she laughing or crying? The gurgling, heaving sound filled the poorly lit room. Perched on the edge of a sofa, I realized that laughing sound was turning into hollow sobs.

I am so embarrassed. I am so ashamed. I don’t deserve this.

It was like a mantra that fell from this lady’s lips, eliciting tears from her daughter’s eyes. Where moments before she had been excited to show us her home, now, her face contorted between grief and shame, she was crying. I cried. I was so ashamed of myself. Ashamed that my presence could make someone feel so unworthy.

As her crying dwindled, our translator and colleague was able to explain she was embarrassed because she didn’t feel she was important enough to be visited. She was of no consequence, why should we come to her home. No one ever came to visit her. Here, situated in a sprawling rural township where one house ends at the doorstep of another, here, in the heart of ‘African community’ was the same loneliness and isolation that plagues the terraced street I live on. Here was the same loneliness that glares at my face as train doors shut and Metro papers are raised.

I don’t deserve to be visited, to be seen, for someone to care about me.

Yet, just by sitting for ten minutes in a stranger’s home, telling her how worthy and important she is in her community, to her daughter, in the eyes of God, a shamed cry turn into a grateful smile. Surely I didn’t have to travel to another continent to show someone that meager display of love, of community. Surely I could’ve knocked on my next door neighbors door, waved as I walked past their home on the way to the train station. Surely anonymity should not be present within community.

 Prayer for Day 2: That my eyes would be open to the loneliness and isolation that characterizes my home city, my university, my lectures. That I would be unashamed to greet and acknowledge strangers and remind them how worthy they are, by virtue of being alive.


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#220 ~ The Strife of Never Letting Go

If your (potential) Mother in Law doesn’t like you – don’t even bother marrying him.

Those are the immortal words of advice my Mother doled out to her children from the ripe old age of ‘adequate aural comprehension. She explained that the bond between Mother and Son is so vital that when Ecclesiastes states ‘a cord of three stands is not easily broken’, one may question whether the third strand represents God in your marriage or your Mother in Law. If you get the braid right you will have a blissful marriage. Not only will said Mother-in-law respect, appreciate and trust you with the care of your children, but she will trust you with the care of her child. Yes, in that order. If the balance isn’t quite right and Mummy cord and Bride-to-be-cord are chafing against one another, then it spells catastrophe. Your toast will never be perfect, even if you both own the same toaster. You do not know how to feed your own baby even after all those pre and ante-natal classes and the fact that its your breasts that are overflowing with milk. The way in which you sweep your carpet…well, that just says it all.

Although there are a myriad of stock Mother-in-Law phrases, scenarios and experiences that have the magical ability to elicit a simultaneous grimace and smile, a conflation of sadness and humour, I have never truly considered how difficult it is for a Mother to let go. To look at the child she has raised, loved, disciplined and had hopes and visions for and to see them leave her. Because in truth, I don’t believe any potential Mother-in-law innately dislikes the woman their son brings home; yes there are those times which are often either passed off as complete disapproval or jealousy. Yet for me, I feel more certain that it stems from a lack of confidence or faith in the sons. I think each Mother-in-Law to be struggles to let go because they are questioning – will my son forget me? Will my son cease to care about me and my needs? Will I fade into insignificance now he doesn’t need me?

It’s a heart-braking thought. Yet when marriages disintegrate or spouses become friends and not lovers there can be a chasm of loneliness that is fed by the presence of children. There’s the fear that once your children have left you have to make your spouse like you again, you have to find out about them again, or even more terrifying – you have to begin finding out and liking the person you have become.

Is it that Mother’s don’t want their sons to have their own lives and move on? Possibly not, I know my mother was only far too happy for my brother to move out of home, and at every ample opportunity she does question why I and my sister aren’t in relationships. She wants us to grow, yet, I wonder whether she, along with many other Mothers, also wants the security that our growth and adventure into life does not signify her demise into insignificance and unimportance.

Sons, as Mother’s struggle to let go why don’t you strive to hold on.

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#133 ~ Belong

When you look out into the World, you desperately try and see your own reflection. Seeing it stare back at you, one you can define/associate with – it brings a gentle touch of comfort. It reminds you that loneliness has yet to swamp your being, that you belong to something.

That sense of belonging can stem from the music pumping through your earphones that makes someone sitting next to you smile: they like that tune as well. It’s when you put in a movie suggestion and get a round of fist pumps for a reply. Or when you tie a brightly coloured headscarf as a crown for your head, slip some Mozambican cow-horn hoops through your earlobes and walk with pride through a traditional English town: the few ethnic people break out into beaming smiles of recognition and affiliation.

These episodes work to affirm you, build in a sense of security, a grounding foundation of identity. Yet they are always challenged. You’re not really  a fan of Lauryn Hill because you haven’t heard her second album, don’t know how many children she has and didn’t realise that she’s the same person in Sister Act 2. You only want to watch The Avengers because it has some fit actors in it – stop pretending it’s because you actually grew up reading Marvel comics and watching Cartoon Network with the ‘mandem’. You aren’t really ‘African’ because you don’t know why there was a civil war in Liberia, don’t speak your native tongue and your skin hasn’t been  burnished by the sun.

It can be like a horse-kick in the chest. Being brutally excluded from your self defining group, that sense of affiliation, of belonging that is ripped to shreds like an unwanted bank statement: into tiny, infinitesimal pieces that can never be put back together again, let alone recognised for what they once were.

Sitting beside all the other pieces of rubbish that didn’t quite make the grade, that feeling of loneliness you tried to avoid comes over to say Hi. It wants to be your friend, but you shun it as well, turning that once proud back into a ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’ sign, curled over, broken, resigned.

Yet, I say, embrace it. Turn back around, stretch your face from a frown into a timid smile that will burst into a sunshine beam and say HI. HOW ARE YOU? WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MY FRIEND?

Because Loneliness is a lie the World tells you. It tells you it is wrong to be alone, to walk alone, to enjoy being alone. But that is because the World is afraid: it’s afraid that you will wake up and realise, your identity does not depend on other people. On other people defining you and saying you’re good enough, that you’ve made the grade and then welcoming you to take a place in their ‘prized group.’ The World doesn’t want to let you know that actually, how you view yourself and what you affiliate yourself to is your choice. There is no quota you have to fill before you claim to like an artist. It doesn’t matter if no one knows how you were soooo obsessed with Spiderman you broke your arm pretending to be him. It doesn’t matter if your skin hasn’t been burnt by the sun, the pigment that is there, your melanin count, is itself a testament of your origins.

But most importantly – your identity is rooted in the Creator of Creation. You were formed as a unique individual to stand alone as part of the body of humanity, as part of the wonder of Creation. You are who you are because you are who you are – and you, and you alone, are loved for that because of that. Yes, this potentially anastrophic construction may seem contrived, naive, only applicable on the shiny, pure surface of an LCD screen. But we feel that way because we have been conditioned to turn a truth into a lie, a friend into an unrecognisable foe, love and acceptance into things to be revoked.

Stand tall, be not afraid to be different, be not afraid to BE YOURSELF. Even if that means having to put up with people’s quasi-acceptance which is as durable as evaporating water, here today gone this second. Learn to look in your own mirror and say HELLO, and identify yourself, then BE. With that confidence, you will be surprised how attractive, inspiring, evocative it is to the world that tells you, you don’t fit in, you didn’t quite make the grade. As that confidence oozes from your very being, it liberates others to STOP CARING about what the WORLD HAS TO SAY, and enables you to START BEING who YOU are.

Take yourself out on a date. Seriously, go to Nandos (or if you don’t have a full stamp card some other place that will give you decent quality food at a decent price). Ask for a table for one. Repeat it when they smile jokingly. Sit down. Order your food, order your free tap water, consider the desert menu then check your wallet. As you say grace and begin to tuck in, have a conversation with yourself (this can be internalised or externalised, it’s your choice). Get to know yourself. Get to know the exquisite creation that is you. Pay your bill, smile, get up, and step back into the World liberated, illuminated, and shining the beautiful light that is a part of creation who has realised just that. That it is and belongs to Creation – and that is enough.

BE yourself

KNOW yourself

SEEK self improvement

To BECOME selfless

To become YOU

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#90 ~ Communication

When I was little my Father tried to teach us big words in simplified ways. The same way my mum broke down words like business into bus – i-ness or people into pe-o-ple to successfully pass spelling tests, so my Dad did, but for another reason. At the time I don’t think I realised, but in retrospect, the philosophical depth and insight he was sharing with us was a lot vaster than our nine-year-old minds could fully comprehend. To us it was just Dad going into one of his lectures just when we wanted to watch that specific Disney movie, or to finish the last pages of the enthralling fantasy or action book we begrudgingly held in our laps under the dinner table after being caught surreptitiously devouring a paragraph between mouthfuls.

One of the words and the way we learnt it really struck me today.

Communication: Come You and I into Action ( Come U and I into Action)

At the very essence of the word, which the concise OED defines as ‘1: the action of communicating 2: the means of sending or receiving information 3: the means of travelling or of transporting goods,’ my Dad, the Wise-One, has it spot on. Communication was and is the process of individuals or parties coming into action to share, receive, impart something.  It is an integral part of our lives, our very essence of being. As humans we are made to be in relationship with one another, and not just in the way we conceive relationship today, but in its simplest form (reverting back to the concise OED) ‘1: the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected. 2: the way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave towards each other.’ We are called intrinsically into a connection with one another, to co-exist. Relationship is fundamental to the way we behave, and part of the that is the act of communicating.

So what happens when we can’t? Currently the only person left in my accommodation, there gets to a point when the music that blares from your speakers can only do so much to fill the void of human bodies. It becomes like your favourite blanket that once seemed to be a canvass which blotted out the night sky, and now hangs stretched and deformed, arthritic cloth-hands barely reaching over your midriff. Underneath it all is the permeating silence, the visible sense of loneliness which only leaves you. ‘You’ can be an extremely claustrophobic being. Suffocating and invasive.

‘You’ begin to crave communication in a way that transcends seeing Facebook notifications. The desire to hear the timbre of someone’s voice, see the crinkle of an active mouth. When my twin and I (finally) parted ways after sharing the same room, friends and schools since we were born, a sigh of relief and the muted cry of freedom filled my heart. Yet that distance made me desire contact even more, just as the quiet kitchens and bathrooms make me want my room mates to return, with all their quirky late night cheese eating, solo wine drinking, stressful juice gulping antics.

To come into action with other people. To speak, to share, to impart to relate to other people. It is a precious gift, fully realised when it is no longer present.

So i write these words, hoping that as you read them, regard them, as your behaviour changes in response to them, you and I will come into some form of action, the action of imparting something, an idea, a feeling, an insight, a part of me into a part of you. Let’s get relational.

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