It is not to everyone that a new year delivers possibility. Amidst the revellers and the makers of hope-filled resolutions there are those to whom the prospect of beginning again – resetting if you like – the game of life, is a daunting prospect. And once the anaesthetic effect of the holidays has worn off they are left – as in the seminal movie “Groundhog Day” – beginning the whole thing all over again. “Once more, from the top” as they say in the theatre business.
Some may be facing the prospect of another year of physical illness or pain; others might be considering their age and failing strength. For many the start of 2015 might be overwhelming as they contemplate how they will manage life – an entire year – without a loved one. For some this darkness is financial; can I live another year barely making it to the end of each month or maxed out on debt? Others will wonder how they can continue in a job they hate. And many South Africans will be feeling despondence at the possibility of another year of corruption, immorality, and ineptitude on behalf of our leaders. For me personally I feel a sense of trepidation at the thought of another year doing battle with depression, the ongoing management of my physical well-being and resolving how to be a good father when at times I don’t have the energy.
You may be confronting some of these darkness’s – or any number of others – right now. You may be fortunate enough to be far from this point. But as sure as night follows day 2015 will bring darkness as well as light to all of us and for South Africans this is not simply metaphorical. How will we see our way through the dark times?
The great irony is that most of us have back-up plans for when physical darkness strikes. The recent round of load-shedding has seen a dramatic rise in the sale of generators, solar-powered geysers, emergency lights and candles. These are all installed, charged and/or placed in easily accessible places just waiting for that moment when Eskom will once again throw us into darkness. We do this for physical darkness but very seldom do we ready ourselves for the inevitable occurrence of metaphorical darkness in our lives.
This readying to which I am referring is not a neurotic thing; it is not about sitting around catastrophizing what might happen and manically trying to pre-empt and negate bad things – “stocking up with Bully Beef” as I call it. It is also not fatalistic.
That said I am not convinced of the proverbial “3 point plan to dealing with life’s challenges”. These are a dime a dozen which should tell us all we need to know about whether or not they actually work.
But for me there are a couple of things we can do to navigate or prepare for dark times.
We can consciously set ourselves free of the need to control everything, solve every problem, have every question answered and every pain relieved. This freedom – to live gently and peacefully within life’s myriad discomforts and uncertainties – helps to create personal resilience. It is about understanding that the darkness is not in opposition to the light; it operates in harmony with it to create the colour of life. This shift in perspective may help us to stop pushing against the darkness and begin harmonizing with it.
The other necessary perspective shift – and this is really an extension of the above point – is to embrace darkness. This is not something that I say lightly as pain – physical, mental, emotional or spiritual is seldom if ever welcome. But – as is the case with muscular development – without it we cannot grow.
Does this imply that we should put on fake smiles, hide the pain from the world and chant mantras like “no pain no gain”? By no means. It simply suggests that whilst we are experiencing darkness – whatever that might be – we can navigate our way through it by having the courage to ask; “what is this dark time teaching me?”
This mind-set can also apply to how we deal with our country’s problems and shift us away from blame and negativity towards optimism and solutions; perhaps load-shedding might encourage us to enjoy quality time with our family; perhaps corrupt leadership might inspire us to assume personal responsibility for conducting our lives in a moral fashion; perhaps the crises we face in terms of our nation’s youth might encourage us to become involved with kids as a tutor, mentor or friend.
As we begin the journey into 2015 perhaps the darkness’s we all at times experience can become a new light in our – and others – lives.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.