Friday, 20 June 2014

A glimpse at a journey past and ahead

"The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore" (Psalm 121:8)

Home again. A warm hearth, crisp clear air, wide open skies and the three dearly familiar ridges on the horison. I caught a glimpse of our two dog children at crazy play on an icy cold deck. Breaths steaming, having rompin-rollin fun with no holding back. Frost melting and steam rising from patches where rays of a lazy winter sun touched. Back from a busy brush with the big city, I could not be happier to be here, regardless of the freeze.

As I have no specific message this week, I thought I could share some of my thoughts and our experiences of the previous week spent in Capetown. I grew up in a city suburb, so don't get me wrong. I do not look down my nose at people that choose to live there. Neither do I think that we have the ideal life here. It is just sometimes good to see things in perspective, to appreciate what you have, rather than long for what you don't. The elusive "good life" that often just stays within reach of your finger tips, never quite close enough to grab with both hands and hold onto.

Road trips with little ones are always challenging, but still a worthwhile experience. It gives them (and us) a proper perspective of time and distance as well as a unique opportunity to observe the varying landscapes and moods of different parts of the country.

Leaving the rough dirt roads of our mountain village behind in the dark heightened the excitement and made the trip seem shorter somehow. And then there is the "padkos"... It brought back rich memories of my childhood holidays. My mother would prepare large batches of healthy snacks and eats (including smelly boiled eggs...) for the road. This was before the advent of "ultra stations", dotted like overgrown warts beside the highways. We would set out in the small hours of the morning, brimming with sweet expectations and the prospect of carefree days ahead. Tartan check flasks of coffee would mark the daybreak and stops along the road were like brief family picnics, waving at other holiday makers as they whizzed past - windows rolled down and hair streaming in the wind. These pictures are imprinted in my memory, like favourite reels of old movies. And how good it felt to carry on this tradition, adding our own unique ways and flavours to savour as memories in years to come.

Family times are precious - even in the midst of peak hour rush, or in a shopping mall maze, amongst the din and drone of voices and devices, everything in constant motion. Even then, the proximity of those you care for, can cause it all to be diminished, become meaningless and distant.

We shared train coaches with the locals on the Metro-rail to Simonstown and back. I was surprised to find it an affordable, fun and relaxed way of travelling. The locals were friendly and there was amicable interaction amongst everyone. (With the exception of one over-confident, cocky young man who insisted on smoking, playing his "peace-loving" reggae music at top volume and being confrontational when a gutsy young lady drew his attention to the offence and to his selfishness...)

We could pull down the rather grimy windows and take in the beauty of the coastline, watch daily life speed by like "fast-forwarded", brief glimpses of people commuting, at work, play or just at leisure. Simonstown was sunny and inviting; and a stroll along the main road a great way to get a feel for the place in a short time. Even a high wind could not deter a family determined to play on the beach. We dashed for our train with just seconds to spare and collapsed on the benches with relieved giggles and sighs.

We took in the local circus in Observatory with brothers and cousins side by side in a dusty tent, the run-down premises and sad sound-system outshone by the fresh energy of the performers. I was drawn into the wonder of flying acrobats and daring routines, each one living out his or her childhood fantasies. Dangling off a huge swing at a dazzling height, diving through hoops of fire, rolling, tumbling, standing tower-high on each other's shoulders, the energy raw and at times even a bit reckless. And the best thing about this circus - no animals. Our four year old could not be held back and made two centre stage appearances - both on invitation at least... There he was, in a tug-of-war with a clown and as part of a unrehearsed revolving pyramid, dangling a few metres off the ground, undaunted and happy as can be! Born to perform I tell you.

I marveled at the sweetness of times spent when three generations connect across the gaps in years, differences in opinion and understanding, lifestyles and occupations. When eyes and hearts speak where no words can penetrate and a sense of belonging finds its way through it all. We underestimate the ability that children have to ground people, soften them, and often how healing is wrought through their innocent ways. With hearts that have not "learnt" to judge or analyse.

What I did find disturbing is that family entertainment is often very expensive, unaffordable for many. Family restaurants serve mediocre meals at exorbitant prices, for parents to be afforded the luxury of sitting back, while their offspring romp around in a play area. This in itself is harmless, but the play areas have become dominated by computer play stations where little ones sit shoulder to shoulder with drawn faces and grim determination, each sucked into a false reality of one dimensional interaction. When faced with a choice between plastic "jungle gyms" and a blinking screen, most are drawn to the latter option. A lot of the games are aggressive, competitive; and playing just for the sense of playing is replaced by something that this old fashioned mother does not believe shapes a child in a very positive way.

We were fortunate to find a few real, inexpensive and even cost free ways of filling the hours between family visits; and I am confident that there are many more, should one take the trouble to seek them out. During a walk in a dew-dappled park, curious squirrels darted between and up the tree-trunks with little ones in pursuit. Ducks waddled in and out of a wide clean pond. Willows with sweeping branches in gentle motion added to a restful picture in the middle of a fast paced city.

Our time in the shadow of Table mountain was rich and varied. Through it all, I remained constantly aware, even when we were whizzing from one place to the next; that our Lord journeyed with us. He made the heart connections, reached across bridges and differences and showed us glimpses into broken hearts and hungry spirits. A billboard on our homeward journey summed it up well: "Jesus is coming, repent, time is running out".

The highlight of the return trip was a dash into Isle de Pain (Island of Bread) in Knysna. My husband returned with a radiant face, a huge paper bag clutched like a treasure to his chest. It contained a 2kg sourdough Country loaf, a crispy fresh baguette and cracklingly scrumptious bread sticks, which were devoured in record time.

So if your taste is for fast luxury travel, or a slower less plush journey, malls or leafy parks, take-outs and restaurants or fish and chips on the beach and sarmies by the road-side - look up, connect and make it a memory that will last, a moment that will count for Eternity.