Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vincent and Nelson

I took August 1st off and spent a pleasant day in my garden and then traveled with my good friends Kathy and Rob to North Battleford. We visited Rob's parents, and had a nice afternoon sitting by their beautiful pond watching Buddy the dog explore the perimeter and then eventually jump in to the water and swim across to where we were sitting. Rob's mother has a beautiful garden and I came away with a couple new ideas for my flower beds. 
I woke up early this morning and ran 5 miles (605 miles). It was cloudy when I first set off but as I ran the sun came out and the river came alive with runners and cyclists. The pictures are of the University Bridge. 
I listened to the song Vincent by Don McLean this afternoon as I was cleaning my house. When I hitch hiked the east Australian coast in the early 1980s with a good friend and a soccer ball, I had Don McLean's music on a tape that I listened to over and over again as we sat by the side of the road waiting for lifts to come by. We always managed to get a ride which we attributed to the soccer ball because we thought people would feel more comfortable picking up a couple kids with a ball.  The trip north to the Whitsunday Islands was wondrous fun including snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef a breath taking experience.
When we arrived back in Sydney weeks later we learnt that my friend's brother had been injured by a land mine in Angola resulting in the amputation of one of his legs. I don't know if Stephan ever got past the guilt he felt for being away when his brother's accident occurred. Of feeling guilty for escaping the oppression of annual conscription and active combat that injured or took the lives of so many young men that he knew.  It was an internal struggle that he fought both before and after his brother's accident. One I admit I did not fully understand at the time despite our many conversations.
Stephan eventually returned to South Africa to make up his army time and to try to reconcile the fierce love he had for his country with the silver thorn of the bloody rose of apartheid. "Now I understand what you tried to say to me..." those starry starry nights that we sat on the beach and talked until dawn.
A few years later I visited Stephan in South Africa and the army culture or whatever you call the distortion that marks a shared experience of war was present everywhere, senseless war, senseless loss. One of the most beautiful countries in the world was marked by structural racism as a ruling political ideology and horrific violence and greed as both motivators and goals. The years of apartheid, one of which I lived in South Africa felt hopeless, the violence was too much, the suffering too great.
A few days ago Mr. Nelson Mandela turned 91. My heart still warms and my eyes tear when I see images of this gentle stately man. I once stood on Table Mountain and looked across the water at Robin Island where Mr. Mandela was imprisoned. I remember thinking that he would never be free. No black person was free in South Africa at this time, and the fierce hold of apartheid gripped the country.
The day Nelson Mandela was released from prison I was back in Canada and like so many around the world cried tears of joy at the sight of him walking hand in hand with his wife Winnie away from the prison. Hope and resistance, forgiveness and faith. He was the future of South Africa, black and white. Only Mandela could build a new South Africa without blood shed. 
Looking at the world today, I admit that there is no other person I hold in such high esteem as Mr. Mandela. Seeing him celebrating his 91st birthday, surrounded by children, the world's future, his beautiful African smile and sparking eyes, a man that has lived through such unimaginable oppression and struggle, was a very special moment. Happy Birthday Mr. Mandela from one of your many many supporters! I wish you many more birthdays to come!!! The world needs you today more than ever.


  1. Wow, Caroline you've grown an old soul in your travels. Very interesting to read your blog. I wonder what can be done to help solve the racial issues we have right here in Saskatoon? From a fellow runner.

  2. Addressing racial issues is incredibly difficult in a context where one group denies that racism even occurs. In my work I see examples of racism everyday and what disturbs me most are the examples where people don't even realize they or our governing systems are being racist. White privilege is something we rarely talk about but it is the basis underlying a great deal of the racism that occurs in our city. We need formal approaches such as public education and zero tolerance policies but equally important is our individual advocacy roles to point out white privilege, question it when we encounter it and use those moments to seek mutual understanding and agreement.