Life as Self-Image

There is something about Africa, my ancestral homeland, that I find both exciting and repelling. That vital continent breaks my heart, especially the vulnerability of its children, but also because of its exquisite beauty and an undimmed primordial memory.     

Like all the continents (and their peoples) Africa is made up of light and shadow, is full of contrasts and contradictions, attractions and repulsions. The Oscar Pistorius debacle lit the threads of memory of a period in my life in Africa that I describe as a Significant Emotional Experience – otherwise known as a ‘SEE’ – or ‘SEEN’ as the Ras Tafari would say.

Pistorius reminds me of an angry young Afrikaner I encountered in a Johannesburg car park in the late 1990s, followed by a different and quite opposite response from a courteous and gentle African male, each representing the two sides of my own masculine aspect of self - light and shadow, repulsing and attracting.

One morning on my way to work, I stopped off at a shopping mall to pick up a pre-ordered cake for an office party; I was also late for my first meeting.  As the gods would have it, a parking space was just there as I drove in. I jumped out of the car ready to sprint to the cake shop, only to find my way barred by this angry young Afrikaner demanding to know what the hell did I think I was doing? Did I not see that someone had been waiting for that space he asked, gesticulating in the direction of a car parked across the way from where we were standing.

No, I said, slightly ignoring the angry young man (huge mistake). Instead I walked up to the young woman sitting in the driving seat of the car and apologised that I had not seen her. I explained that I was simply picking up a birthday cake, pointing to the shop clearly visible a few yards away, and would literally be 3-4 minutes. She was pleasant enough, smiled and said she was fine with that; and indicated that she did not know the young man and had no idea what his problem was.

But I recognised the young man, at least my Orphan did; he was incensed by what he perceived as an injustice. I should have taken more notice, in the moment, of what was really going on for that young man. The tone of his voice and his whole manner oozed ‘Mr Angry’. His rage was palpable and I had triggered a pending explosion. From his point of view, approximately 3 years ago, this situation would simply not have occurred. I would have known my place, never mind driving a car into a mall where bleks used to be the servants in their various roles, not citizens. In that moment Mr Angry was being the white knight on behalf of his female compatriot sitting in the car, who had been pushed aside in the New South Africa.

True to my word, I was back in 5 minutes; the young woman and her car had gone, but all four tyres on my car were as flat as a pancake and a match stick had been jammed into each air pressure vent. Angry is as angry does, and the damsel had been avenged. Thank god the avenger did not have a knife or a gun.

There was a petrol station just across the way, and one of the attendants hurriedly came to my aid. Within a few minutes my tyres were pumped and ready to go. My accent told my Good Samaritan I was not a native of his land, and he was keen to know the why and wherefore of my stay in South Africa. This young man was not only kind and friendly, but also apologetic and solicitous about my experience and refused to take any payment.

With philosophic mind, I can see in my car park rage experience, the angry Afrikaner and the kind, helpful African as both aspects of me, shadow and light, repulsing and attracting.  We can meet our many selves every day – whether through a partner, children and other family members, friends and adversaries, or total strangers. They are all our teachers.

We are made in the image of Life, which in turn mirrors how, who and what we are. We may not like it, life may seem unfair and we may perceive ourselves as victim, but those we consider ‘other’ or even ‘enemy’ are merely a reflection.

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