It is 04H00am and David and I are standing beside a bridge on an empty road. Winter. Kloof. Cold. The end of my willy remains in paralysis. David is yet to update me on the state of his.
We are on guard. Yes, given recent events, the community has rallied wonderfully to show support and gumption in the face of societal collapse. Among the weapons deployed by the Kloof Watch is an exceptional zeal for organization, multiple manly-men armed with everything from automatic weaponry to baseball bats, and now, out of desperation, two middle-class okes who look like they know the love of biscuits and chicken.
We are nobody’ first choice as a barrier of safety. Hell, were I to rank myself on the ability to stave off a mass insurrection in my neighborhood; I would rank myself third behind Generation Z and the sinewy contents of a butcher’s dustbin. David and I are not what you would call rugged. In fact, we are the opposite of rugged – fluffy. We both look like we can deliver a punch – probably tropical flavour with little umbrellas.
(I am so sorry).
But here we are. Standing on the side of the road making sure that nobody comes for our wives and children. Well, at least David has a wife. I have a skink that suns itself on my couch from time to time. Occasionally, it lets me choose what’s on the telly. In this corner of Kloof, the stakes have never been lower. The plan – should we come under attack – was to report it as we dove into the car. The hope was that we would be given enough time to get the heater working properly before attempting to flee.
But that is beside the point. We are doing our little bit. No matter how inordinate the overall task may be, the fact remains that it gets done by doing the little bits. Which had me thinking…
A lot of what is going on in the world today – the macro view of things (if you will) – appears to be this giant tangled mess of humanity. The collapse of our lives never seem more than a stone’s throw away, and it is hard to ignore the incredible glut of informed-fear that pours into us from devices and friends alike. South Africans will one day muse, if they know what is good for them, about why this whole thing happened. Some will bite the short fatty end of reason and blame race or something else spectacularly stupid. Others will continue to eat along the bone, trying to find nuance and meaning – the shades of grey that gave rise to a display of humanity at its most polluted.
I may in time write more deeply on that point, but what I do believe I have an answer for – in my tiny corner of the world – is how to move beyond this mess. I don’t profess to understanding the universe, but in this one small instance I am willing to forgive my arrogance with the knowledge that experience has taught me one concrete truth: we fix things, by doing it a little at a time.
It’s a greeting-card philosophy. I am happy to be criticized for printing such kitsch. But it’s a philosophy we appear to ignore in the face of more comfortable excuses.
I have spoken recently about fear and its sinister-gut-grip within, but its progenitor remains, without a shadow of a doubt, the sense of powerlessness that comes with modern life. Moments – big and small – remind us that we are not in control. Hitch this universal truth to the modern ego of self-importance, and we are bound to collapse under the weight of our own fear.
Yet fighting it is easy: wrestle control over those things that you can. If there is one way to escape fear, it is feeling empowered by your own sense of accomplishment. Do the little things, leave none of them to chance. Every small bit of admin to every correctly placed spoon is a step towards harmony in your own mind. These acts, these futile (read that dripping with sarcasm) acts of productivity, are the most important things to do when the world seems to be falling apart. I cannot change the minds of all those looters. I wont be able to course-correct the politics of a country either. But do you know what I can do? I can get up, make my bed and stand on a roadside. I can go to work and be kind. When the time comes I will vote and buy groceries and tip the coffee person more than is necessary. I can adjust the tiller of my own little ship in the storm of uncertainty to know that come what may, I am still in control of my boat. It may falter and even sink, but hell if I didn’t do what I could. As my mother said, “They can come to burn down my house but at least it will be clean.”
You want to know the secret to surviving the modern world: do what you can when you are needed to.
As David and I stood on the side of the road, talking about anything and nothing, we had become two blokes doing what we could. Sure, the big picture probably didn’t notice us, but in our worlds, we had done something to insure pride in the face of powerlessness. I think it was during our first guard shift that the penny may have dropped the world wasn’t going to end, at least not yet.
Later that afternoon the skink came out to sun itself. The couch it basked on was clean, and if it looked to its right, it would have noticed the dishes had been packed away.