Now is defined by the past

2010-03-27 12:06

I’ve often heard we should live for the present. Leave the past in the past because it can’t be changed, and focus on the present. I suspect I’m not wired that way because I spend a lot of time travelling between then and now. I am who I am today because of experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met and things I’ve done.

I recently came face to face with this reality when I visited my old school in Lesotho to have a chat with a friend who was two years behind me but is now a teacher there. When I started, Machabeng High School had been in existence for just six years with not more than 150 students. Everyone knew everyone.

It was a special time and place and when we celebrated our 10th anniversary we had more than 30 different nationalities and every race on the planet represented. Our teachers came from all over, and for students the teachers were more of a concern than race or nationality.

Surrounded by a country in turmoil, little of the struggle against apartheid penetrated our world. There were the raids when the SADF attacked exiles, but other than that we were young and sheltered.

Walking through the school again was a surreal experience, because while the facilities have increased and the name has changed to Machabeng College, I still see the school the way it was on my last day of class. In those final days we went out into the world, never expecting to see each other again – until the birth of Facebook.

There are groups for the school where we submerge ourselves in the warm embrace of memory of what was a significant period in our individual and collective lives. We look for classmates, browse pictures and reminisce, but have yet to establish a solid relationship with our school.

As I watched young students go about their day, all I could think was “do they even know?” We created the school’s traditions. We watched the school build more classes. We watched teachers come and go until it was our turn. And yet, for all the warm, fuzzy memories we have, we left and never looked back.

This is one of those instances when it is important to look back. To recognise the significance of the past and let that guide you in the present. We journey through this life engaging, experiencing and moving on, often forgetting it is through the actions of others that we were able to reach where we are.

For too long, we alumni of my old high school have talked about having a reunion. What is even more important is what we can do for the space that helped us become the people we are. We are professionals, artisans, opinion leaders, influencers with a reach that spans the planet. We have access to resources. We have ability. And some have money.

Imagine if each one of us, including you, made a commitment to give something to their old school. It could be R50 a month. It could be your time. Imagine how big an impact it would have if you and your old classmates all contributed. It could have a real effect on the lives of students and help give them the experience you had, or the positive experience you didn’t have.

We all need people to look up to. Who better for a child than someone from their neighbourhood? Someone who walked the corridors and sat at the desk they are sitting at now, read the books they are reading, and succeeded.

I challenge you, while challenging myself, to recognise that to truly have a positive impact on our society does not need millions; just willingness and an open heart and mind.

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