Tag Archives: freedom

Beauty in motion

30 Aug

Last night, I watched the paralympic opening ceremony. If you fast-forward to 3hrs 11 minutes & 30 seconds – you will discover beauty in motion.

This dance (and the song Bird Gerhl – sung so hauntingly by 16-year old Birdy) is one of the most beautiful things I have seen for a very long time.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth spending a few minutes watching this.

And if you have – why not watch again? It is – after all – compellingly, extraordinarily beautiful.


One (hand)step at a time

20 Jun

I’ve been thinking recently about how life sometimes feels like one mountain-climb after another – one struggle followed by another, one battle then another.

This short video stopped me in my tracks. Gratitude replaced complaint. Gratitude and awe.


Dying to tell the truth

22 Feb

Syria. What a mess. The tragedy unfolding on our TV screens is becoming more bloody and horrific every day – each story more horrific than the last. I can hardly bear to watch the latest updates on the news. This is a country desecrated, human lives discarded. Hope is, it seems, being strategically and systematically eliminated.

Marie Colvin died in Syria today. A Western journalist, she worked for the Sunday Times and was completely committed to reporting from the front line of conflicts worldwide. She died so that we could know the truth, so that we could not plead ignorance, so that we could not ignore the horrors of war. She died telling the truth. Only yesterday, she witnessed the death of an two year old child injured in the shelling. Only yesterday, she was alive and telling us all a story. A story we desperately need to hear.

Marie Colvin was incredibly brave. In 2001, she lost an eye, having been hit by shrapnel in Sri Lanka. Yet she stood fast in her determination to tell the truth about brutal regimes, to inform the international community about wartime horror. She knew that someone had to shine light in the darkness, to tell the stories of ordinary lives destroyed by hatred, greed, and pride. Simply stated, in her own words, “our mission is to speak the truth to power”.

Yet what of the other lives lost today in Syria, the ones we will never hear about. The locals. The “unimportant” people. Those with ordinary lives. Lives disrupted forever by carnage and the abuse of power. Is one life ever worth more than another? As Marie herself said,

“For my part, the next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”

She knew, I think, that every life is infinitely precious. Is this something the rest of us often forget? Many of us find it far-too-easy to walk past the homeless alcoholic, passed out on the street. We have far less compassion for those we deem the “deserving poor” – the man who gambled away all his money and now has no food to eat, the pregnant teenager in an abusive relationship, the street kid who steals to survive. We seem them as “different” and end up having a sense-of-empathy failure.

We judge, before we know the whole story. We fail to really hear the stories of those different from us, those whose lives are blighted by poverty, pain and bad choices. We see the mistakes, yet fail to understand the brokenness that fuels such choices. We write people off before we have shown them the dignity each human being deserves. We write them off and fail to listen.

Each of us has a story to tell. The West delights in the mundanity of the lives of “celebrities”, stories of the rich, powerful and successful. Yet our shared humanity requires us to truly listen to those whose voices are obscured too. Such a belief led Marie Colvin to incredibly dangerous places, so that she could listen and tell us what she had heard. She died telling the truth. What an extraordinary, brave woman.

Non-coping strategies

1 Feb

Well, it’s almost the end of January, only a few more hours until we start afresh with a new month. I am not at all sad to be moving on – I tend to struggle in January with the darkness, the cold and the short hours of sunlight. I find January a bit depressing and, if I’m going to be honest, it often finds me a bit depressed too. Sometimes it seems that no amount of good news can shift the (January) blues.

This morning, I was thinking about how so many of us only survive the harder times due to some well-tuned coping strategies. We work hard, we play hard, we eat more, drink more, eat less, drink less, we cut ourselves off from others, we attach ourselves to others, we spend more, buy more, dream more, stay in bed longer, sleep too much, struggle to sleep at all. As a race, human beings have become adept at avoiding the real issues – using these and other ways of coping with the stress, sadness and solitude. We’ve become so sophisticated at it, that many of us no longer recognise what we are doing – we deem it “normal” and carry on with our busy lives.

What are we hiding from? What is the “pain behind the problem”? What are we so afraid of? Why am I (and I can’t be the only one!) so afraid of exposing the “real me”? So intent on hiding it and covering up my fears through food/fake smiles/frivolity? It seems as though we live in a world intent on keeping the “real me” (or the true self) in the corner; somehow we think the world requires us to be busy/stressed/multi-tasking/thin/beautiful/clear-skinned/self-disciplined and able to let our hair down and party hard when needed. What are we all hiding from?

Sometimes I think that those least able to hide their pain have something to teach the rest of us. Those who have been through the gutter and managed to climb out the other side. Those who have developed “non-coping strategies”, giving them a much healthier, more balanced perspective on life. Those who have recognised their own weakness, flaws and messiness – and realised they cannot overcome them on their own.

An (ex-)alcoholic, an (ex-)addict who has found support and strength through AA or NA has thrown out his or her “coping strategy” and found a “non-coping strategy” instead – where relationships and community are vital, where a sponsor is available 24/7, where reliance on a “higher power” is critical to making it through the next day. Where days are lived not in a blur of busyness, but mindfully, thoughtfully – literally one day at a time. Where the power of temptation – and the addict’s weakness in the face of such temptation – is not seen as minimal and overlooked, but rather recognised as the behemoth it really is – and avoided at all costs. Where pain must be confronted, rather than drunk away. Where bad days lead to reflection and asking for help, rather than another drink, another bet, another (three) slices of cake. Where identity is always constructed around “the great weakness” so that the addict remains humble and contrite, rather than giving in to pride and self-sufficiency.

I would like to be less private and “independent” during my own bad days, my own darker moments. Rather than hiding away, turning to chocolate or other escape routes, I would like to call up a friend and ask for their support. I would like to constantly remember my own fallibility and need for strengthening from a higher power. I would like to face the pain head on, rather than smother it in comfort food/drink/busyness/deadlines. I would like to develop a non-coping strategy that actually works! Throwing away – onto a massive burning pyre – every single friggin’ “coping strategy” that has let me down, time and again, and so predictably, over the years.

Maybe a few of us could get together and discard our unwanted coping strategies on a huge bonfire all together – recognising the truth that we all need each other anyway. Maybe we could build a new community – not defined by success/outer beauty/achievements/serenity, but instead constructed around the human need for true love, empathy and acceptance. Surely it’s got to be better than what we’ve got right now?

Reject Apathy: Surfers Not Street Kids

4 Jan

Here is an article for www.RejectApathy.com I wrote about Umthombo’s work with street children in Durban: Surfers Not Street Kids

Failure to let the people speak

24 Nov

On Tuesday this week, South African MPs approved the “Secrecy Bill”, which will allow state secrets to be safeguarded in the interests of national security. Or, in other words, in the interests of those with power. This is terrible news for a country still trying to recover from the horrors of apartheid censorship. There is no protection within this soon-to-be law for people who want to disclose classified information, believing that such disclosure is more important than any harm caused.In everyday language, as far as I can tell, this law is there to protect those with power, to prevent reporting on corruption or other misdemeanours committed by MPs. It keeps the powerful in power, taking away the freedom of speech from the powerless masses. It is a strange echo of the 1% protests in the Western world – but this time the focus is not money per se, but power itself. The 1% with the power hold onto power, the 99% lose any power they once had.

It was whilst living in South Africa that I became passionate about politics. Living in this newly emerging democracy in the late 1990s, I became fascinated by individual men and women who had been at the forefront of the opposition to apartheid and who were now trying to shape and govern this fledgling-free-nation. I admired the personal sacrifices so many had made, not only the great Nelson Mandela but many of his comrades too. I visited Robben Island and was moved to tears but the suffering experienced in the fight for equality. I was horrified by ongoing racism, inequality and injustice. Yet somehow there was hope in the air, hope that equality and freedom would only increase in the coming years.

And now – this. A draconian law more reminiscent of apartheid than democracy.

Not only have the ANC passed this bill, they are threatening to “discipline” any of their MPs who voted against this law. They are also threatening to punish those who took part in a silent protest whilst Parliament debated the bill on Tuesday. Freedom? Freedom to speak/protest/hold a different opinion? What is going on in this beautiful country so close to my heart?

It is worth spending four minutes watching this slideshow about Tuesday’s events.

Nandos once again came up with a brilliant response…

… I also love the power of this image

Tonight, I can only hope, and pray, that freedom will once again become important in SA – freedom for everyone to speak truth in public without fear


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