Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds. Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? These redemption songs. – With apologies to Bob Marley.
“My father died before I was born.” Often I would introduce myself with this as an opening. In my mind I thought it would explain everything else. My insecurity, my insensitivity, my inferiority, my alcoholism, my ass-hole-ness. Truthfully, it explained nothing. Just like almost anyone I had ever met, my life was tarnished and bent by some pain or other. Outside forces, society, circumstances, an uncaring and avarice world worked to diminish me, worked to crush all of us. Foolishly I thought I was a special case. I grew up in a fractured home overseen by a tyrannical grandfather, and that was my excuse.
I struggled through high school without any paternal guiding hand. In the end my results fell far short of any university’s entry requirements. My grandfather was satisfied, I could find a stable job in the bank and work my way up. Just as he did decades ago as an accountant in the South African Railways. “Why do you need a degree?” He would argue, “You can do just as well without one.” It didn’t help my self-worth nor my overreaching, sometimes unrealistic ambition. I felt I deserved better. All my school friends were going on to greater things at tertiary level, why couldn’t I? Thus I entered the working world, with a chip on my shoulder fuelled by a combustible and illogical sense of self-loathing.
And so this angry young man was conscripted into the army, like we all were at that time. It was a place that served to crush my soul. The South African Defence Force had illegally invaded Angola and we were sent in our thousands to face SWAPO insurgents backed by Cubans and Russians. And then there was THAT incident on the Border – details can be found here. I survived but like many before me, the unseen battle scars ran deep. On my return I felt a profound sense of guilt for living, for surviving while others were in their graves.
It was hardly surprising, then, that I started drinking. Heavily. I was not entirely alone, many of my work colleagues shared frustrations and hurt in one way or another. A Rhodesian who had lost his property along with his self-esteem, and became a self-imposed refugee when the country changed its name to Zimbabwe. A controlling wimp of a man who limited his wife’s food intake lest she should become fat. My drinking buddies were a motley lot, all nursing serious hidden injuries. We all had our reasons for getting pissed.
And then, fatefully, on one Christmas outrage fuelled by self-righteous indignation and a more than generous lunchtime libation could not have written a more catastrophic script. My brother-in-law and I were the actors in a tragedy that would leave one of us dead and the other irreparably wounded in body and mind and spirit. I know now that a near death experience brings with it seismic change and personal growth – details can be found here. Whatever happened, from that day onwards I would not be the same person. Healing was one thing, but ah – redemption – now there’s a story to tell.