Four months ago I was asked to do what I felt was almost impossible: giving my family my blessing to emigrate to New Zealand, leaving me behind in South Africa. On the day of their departure I share this with them, but also offer it a little wider…as it is part of my journey of healing and acceptance – and may resonate with or give comfort to others.
Gracious. After knowing that I’ve wanted to pen these words for the past weeks it feels a little scary that I’m finally here. Writing them. If the mere salutation resulted in a small quiver of my lips and heart, some of the rest may prove a little more difficult. But that’s ok.
A few months ago I found myself on an unwanted journey. It was if a train passed by the station where my carriage was happily residing, and without my knowledge nor permission, my carriage was attached to the end. I found myself being taken on a journey that I was not prepared for, with a destination I never thought I’d have to take. As the months have run by I’ve begun to understand and acknowledge the destination of the train, and with today comes the point where my carriage is delinked. And I bravely wave goodbye.
I initially had some some key objections to your decision to emigrate. The first was that I was grappling with the concept – are we called or pushed. I feel like you (dad) have adequately answered that in your recent sermon (posted here), and feel I subsequently feel a measure of peace around that.
Secondly, I felt a sense of betrayal towards South Africa: that you were running away or demonstrating defeat. In Riaan Malan’s astoundingly honest and very sobering 1990 offering, My Traitors Heart, he tells the story of a foreign couple who move to a rural part of South Africa, desirous of making a difference, and work with the local community specifically with agricultural projects. After some time the husband is murdered, and his wife laments with these astoundingly profound words:
I felt utterly betrayed by loving. All the things I had ever been told about love just weren’t true. It was all full of false promises. I understood that love was a safety and a protection, and that if you loved you would be rewarded by someone loving you back, or at least not wanting to damage you. But it wasn’t true, any of it. I knew that if I stayed, this was how it was going to be: It would never get any better; it would stay the same or get worse. I thought, If you’re really going to live in Africa, you have to be able to look at it and say, this is the way of love, down this road: Look at it hard. This is where it is going to lead you.
I think you will know what I mean if I tell you love is worth nothing until it has been tested by its own defeat. I felt I was being asked to try to love enough not to be afraid of the consequences. I realized that love, even if it ends in defeat, gives you a kind of honor; but without love, you have no honor at all. I think that is what I had misunderstood all my life. Love is to enable you to transcend defeat.
As you leave, you leave having loved this country thoroughly. That is undeniable, and there is much honour in that. I understand that now.
My third objection was more selfish, and that was that understandably, I felt a sense of abandonment. This is a complex and emotionally-charged aspect of the situation, and cannot – not should not – be simply explained away with logical acuity. Yes I shall push into commmunity, and am tremendously blessed to have such wondrous friends and family in Cape Town. They will not replace the space you leave, and I will continue to grieve and feel that loss. Sometimes we’re granted foreknowledge of an impending loss and can emotionally prepare for it. Whilst this has somewhat been the case with your move to NZ, grief does not follow any simple rules. Grief is cyclical and unpredictable as to when its trajectory again brings it into our proximity. And so I will grieve at this loss for South Africa, but also for me. I am being left behind. But not out of mind, and not completely alone. I do and will weep – a testimony of my care and our treasured closeness.
Lest me not forget…
Whilst traveling last year I realized that there were a few things that would be remiss of me not to mention and bear in mind as I consider your move. Firstly I’ve had to remind myself that I have had the immense privilege of travelling the world for the past 15 years, and for the vast majority of that time have lived away from home. The experiences, widening world view and opportunites I’ve been afforded as a result have been wondrous. You have offered me a safe support base whilst I’ve jetted around, and now – perhaps – it’s your turn to do the adventuring!
Secondly, whilst trying to make sense of your decision (particularly reflecting on the element of locale and safety) I’ve also had to realise that despite my choice to live in the most violent two cities in South Africa – Johannesburg and Cape Town – I have lived in more affluent areas. This has meant not only higher security, but possibly less exposure to some of the crime, decay and related challenging socio-geographical issues. I therefore have something of a bias when thinking of South Africa: and need to acknowledge that. I think there are some deeper indications worth noting.
Johannesburg does not typify the rest of the country in terms of its societal advancement. Interracial relations are much more amicable – and evident, leading to a much greater sense of hope for the country. Cape Town has its own peculiarities in not really feeling like a truly South African town. Once you land at the airport, all you have to do is close your eyes for 5 minutes whilst driving through Langa and Gugulethu, and you’ve arrived in Europe. Perhaps that’s a little reductionist, but I think the hyperbole serves the point.
Lastly, I have not experienced the kind of traumatic experiences that you have and therefore my response is different. Whilst we may be called to live in difficult places and difficult times, I do not think we’re expected to live with the levels of fear and anxiety that you have found at home in your hearts. I cannot speak into a situation that I have not experienced, and instead defer to trusting your judgement and discernment.
Abhraham Vergesse’s words have helped me keep my head above water: ‘Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted’. I thought that I was losing home. But I haven’t. Home still exists, is just a little further away and slightly colder.
You asked for my blessing before going. I am finally at the point where I can give it. Freely. And so,
Family. Go well because you go with God, who goes before you. Go well because you have loved well here and will continue to love well in your new home. Go well because you are brave, adventurous, and hard working. Go well because your courageous action is extending the boundaries of home. Go well because you go with my blessing, that of your friends, and of the God who is able to do more that we can ever ask or imagine.