Howard Feldman

The view from ward J

2017-06-07 07:59

My mother didn’t die on Mother’s Day. It was expected, given her sudden deterioration that she would. Instead she hovered between worlds, hardly with us, but not yet gone, day after day after day. And as she lingered, so our universe shrunk to the confines of the ward where we focused on her breathing, on her life and how we would cope with the void that would inevitably follow her passing.

Outside the hospital the world and indeed the country continued to seethe. Terrorists blew up children in Europe, and at home South African politicians continued their own suicide mission, ensuring that the next generations would suffer the consequences of their greed and arrogance. Emails were hacked, corruption exposed and the president laughed.

From the window of ward J, we watched and observed. But we hardly cared. Our Twitter feeds remained unchecked and even the insecure and increasingly hysterical reminders that we had pending notifications didn’t motivate us. Fourty-seven people might have been waiting to hear from me on LinkedIn but I was okay with that.

We were 8 weeks into a pancreatic cancer journey and the more we walked the road, the more absurd the world looked. And as she slipped further from us, the more more callous the country’s leadership appeared.

There is a Jewish tradition that for a week after the death of a close relative, the family “sits Shiva”. In essence, children, spouses and siblings of the deceased remain together for seven days in one home. Mirrors are covered to prevent a focus on vanity and the emphasis is on the spiritual, not the physical. Friends and family visit, reminisce and care for them. Meals are arranged, prayers are said and the mourners are nurtured.

But this period is very strictly limited to one week. After that, together as a unit and accompanied by friends, the mourners are forced to get up off their low benches and take the first very painful and tentative steps outside their home. In doing so they confront the world again. They might have to do so without their loved one, yet they have no choice but to engage once again in the world that continued to spin during their absence.

Perspective is often a dangerous thing. If we were to live each day as if it were our last, we would be immobilised and tortured. We would deny ourselves the small joys as much as we would the unnecessary pain.

And so as we check Twitter and read News24 and plough through Facebook we slowly forget just how appalling the Zumas and Guptas and the NEC are. We don’t scream that there is a smoking gun for all to see and that the ANC has not only let this generation down but also the next and the next. Because they have broken the trust of South Africans and stolen from the people of the country.

As much as we know that perspective is fleeting and that we are wired to “sweat the small stuff,” it is not possible to count the seconds between breaths of someone you love, wondering if it will be her last, and to remain unchanged.

South Africa has a tumor. We are all in ward J and the country’s loved ones have arranged vigil around her. The atmosphere is austere and oppressive and there is a feeling that it’s just a matter of time. But it doesn’t need to end this way. The cure remains with the NEC and the ANC itself. They alone are able to remove the systemic growth and to ensure that slowly we take the tentative steps towards a full recovery. 

- Howard Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

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