Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brave the Fear

"It's really not so bad once you get up there, you know."

Caleb strained his neck to see the top of the towering structure. Just looking at it made his head spin.

"I don't think I ca-"
"Then don't think! I've done that for you." laughed his older brother, slapping his back. "This is just one of those things, bud, that you can't think about... until it's too late."

Caleb's head whipped around. "Too late for what?!"

"Ermm, to... uhhh..." Calvin struggled.

"To realize how much fun you're having." supplied their dad, stepping in and shooting his eldest boy a look that said "Just keep your mouth shut."

"It's OK, Caleb." offered his mother, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Take your time and do it when you feel ready. There's always next year."

The little boy looked down at the ground, then back up at the giant structure. Massive neon letters blared red, green and blue all at once. And it always seemed to go the same way for him. Walk up, look down, walk down - rinse and repeat. Why do people feel the need to do something so dangerous? Strapping yourself into a rickety metal body and then shoot high and low through loops and falls... it just didn't seem sensible. Hell, didn't seem sane. Looking around, names like 'The Obliterator' and 'Killing Machine' didn't make it seem any more appealing.

A dad carrying his little boy on his shoulders waltzed through the entrance; the tiny youngster laughing the whole way through. That kid couldn't have been older than seven or eight! Damnit!


"I can't." he said, keeping his eyes on the ground.

Before Dad could stop him, Calvin crouched down and looked his little brother in the eye. "Look. It's ok to be afraid."

Caleb looked up. "You're not afraid."

The older teenager grinned. "Everyone's afraid, bud. But the only way to deal with it is face it."

"I'm not as brave as you are."

Calvin laughed and put his hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "You think so? Why?"

Keeping his eyes on his feet, he mumbled "Because you have more courage than I do."

A slight pause, as his older brother ran his hand through his hair. "What is courage, Caleb?"

"Not being afraid." he answered, eyes still on the ground.

"No." Calvin replied, shaking his head. "Courage is choosing to face the fear. Choosing to overcome it. It's the feeling. Being brave is just sticking with that feeling, going through with it - the actual act of facing fear wherever it might be."

Caleb lifted his head to look his brother in the eye.

Calvin continued: "Whether it's slaying a fire-breathing dragon..." He nodded his head at the entrance. "... or bunging it out on a roller coaster."

Caleb thought for a moment. "How do you know?"

Grinning, the teenager looked up at their dad. "'Cause a very wise man told me that when I was your age."

Two parents beamed down at their kids, and Caleb followed his brother's inspired look.

"Now." started Calvin, taking a breath and getting to his feet. "Whadyeh say?" He held out his hand. "Let's put 'scary' to the test."

Caleb smiled shyly, shoved his fists in his pockets and walked ahead of his brother. "Put that hand away, everyone'll think you're some scaredy-cat."

Calvin shot his eyes to the sky, but jogged after his brother and through the coaster's brightly-lit entrance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


The colours faded,
Their luster gone.
No darkness nor light,
The twilight's eager dawn.

Our heart's hollow,
Our mind astray.
Senses clouded,
As the heavy fog's Grey.

We seek, search, forage,
For something hidden and lost,
Yearn to feel its comfort hold,
No matter what the cost.

But it's no item, no useless trinket,
That belies our aching mind.
Like a summer breeze t'will come,
To its will; resigned.

No power, nor say,
To forego its seamless right.
Veiled; your soul it seeps,
For all the endless night.

Question your heart, your longing lust
And all you that hold dear.
So then you see, what you want
Is really not so clear.

That thing worth finding,
S'not to be found at all.
Til we cease the search,
And heed it's timely call.


Crossed Paths

What-might-have-once-been a white mercedes touring van - caked with dirt, sand, and mud - pulls up to the Departures drop-off at Johannesburg International. It's already dark despite the sun having only just dropped below the horizon. The dodgy van's idling engine rumbles as the blaring sound of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody filters through its windows, turning the heads of bustling travellers that pass through the terminal's sliding doors. To match the van, a group of just-as-soiled backpackers file out from the rear while a mismatched pair - one tall and lanky, the other short and portly - squeeze out of the front seats and set about unloading the rickety-trailer in tow behind the van. The tired group stretch their limbs and yawn as they go about gathering their respective duffel-bags and backpacks. Their teamwork, like a well-oiled-machine, makes quick work of the heavy load and before long, the trailer's cargo stands neatly stacked on the terminal's cold pavement. The group then turn to face each other, at first unsure of how to say goodbye, but that quickly changes as they sidestep bags and trolleys to exchange hearty handshakes and heartfelt hugs. Emails and telephone numbers are quickly scribbled down and swapped, as the two mismatched guides stand to one side and look on. Their fists shoved into their pockets, they try to keep straight faces and blink away the tears that well up at the corner of their eyes. But they don't go unnoticed and the rest of the group quickly turns on them, smothering them with bear hugs and ardent thanks. The same are returned, amid lively laughing and thorough promises of returns and calls. But the planes and trains aren't patient, and the group remembers that their time is up. The night is wearing on, and after a few last handshakes, kind words and spirited waving, the group go their separate ways, some homeward bound and others on to other exotic places. And despite their different languages, home countries, beliefs, ideals, religions, ages and careers - they all shared an unforgettable time together.


It's an odd thing, really. It's one of those things we don't actively think about or even consider - at least, I didn't, until it was my turn to say goodbye. After 10 days and thousands of kilometers spent singing, laughing and sleeping in the back of that dodgy old van, I'd actually gotten to know that small group of people rather well. But as I fell asleep that night, I realized 10 days really isn't that much time at all. And yet, we each pass millions of people throughout our lives, each one slipping out of our conscious mind as quickly and silently as they came in. It goes on as we joke about prices at the gas pump, argue at the traffic lights, bump trolleys at the supermarket, or talk ourselves through leaping off the Victoria Falls (anybody?).


The fact is, we meet these people through the most unlikely, uncommon, unbelievable and unforeseeable ways, and yet we hardly ever consider how distinct and unique these lives are that we so briefly touch. But a group of 16 people make a 10 day journey across southern Africa, from Johannesburg to the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, back through Botswana's Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, covering thousands of barely-paved kilometers and hundreds of personal stories - and end with tearful goodbyes. How? Such an unlikely group come together from across the globe - from England, Ireland, Holland, Canada and South Africa - to discover the beauty of Africa, but share so much more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Shades of Grey

Everything's still a little hazy, nothing like Hollywood's stuntsmen had taught me. Oh sure, the adrenaline's still pumping and my vision's sharpened - but my knuckles hurt like a bitch. I massage them bitterly, lifting my right hand to my mouth and sucking at the open wounds. It stings, but somehow feels better. The bitter metallic taste makes me gag a little.

We're standing in the corner of the alley, near the dumpster, and though I can remember the pungent reek of rotten eggs and off-milk from before - I can't smell it anymore. Matt and Frank are shuffling from foot to foot in the cold. With these temperatures, we had expected it to snow by now, but I guess Mother Nature's getting old and behind with the times. Three cops are standing in the opposite corner, talking to the pub owner; Ian. He's a small man, but he's got a big heart, often donating much of the pub's revenue to charity. Swell guy, he doesn't run it for the money. All of a sudden, one of the cops breaks off from his comrades and strides over. Jesus, I think, the guy probably has "anabolic" tattooed on his arm. He stops, puts his gigantic hands on his hips and looks down at us.

"Well, gentlemen?"


We pause for a second, looking at each other, unsure of how to proceed. The cop sighs and reaching for his back pocket, pulls out a pen and pad. He flips a few pages back and recites:

"One Mr. Taggert," he says confidently, looking back to us, "is currently in hospital with a concussion. Unfortunately, in his state, he could not answer many of our questions. The most important being, 'who hit him.'" He tucks the notebook back in its place and crosses the massive pythons across his chest. "Now, boys. I trust I don't need to explain the seriousness of the situation?"

We shake our heads unanimously.

"Good." He nods in approval. "Now, I'll still be needing an answer to that question."

Matt blinks a few times, totally flipping out in his mind. He's never been confronted by a cop before, and this arrogant dick isn't making it any easier for him. I guess that's his job though, I think to myself. I don't need to look at Frank to see the sweat breaking out on his forehead. Even in this cold. He's got a damn hot temper, but he's a solid friend. Always at your back, fiercely loyal and damn honest. I can see his breathing grow shallower as his asthma kicks in. Go figure, a fighter with asthma. Breathing problems aside however, Franky's biggest problem is his record. I shudder to think of how many times he's been involved in 'public disturbances' - almost always standing up for the proverbial 'little guy', in fights he has no business interrupting. But he does it anyway, any day, come rain or shine. He can't take another legal-hit.

Frank may be sweating, but he sure as hell doesn't flinch. I hear him suck in a deep breath, but I take advantage of how long it takes him to get started.

"Officer, It wa-" he starts

"-me." I finish.

So cliche. Everyone looks to me. Matt looks up from his frozen feet. Frank's eyes shoot to me, completely taken aback. Even the cop raises his eyebrows. Yeah, alright, I don't make the most convincing fighter - I'm a 5'10'', lanky computer-engineer that can't hold liquor to save his life. But it's not as if I couldn't hit anyone? My poor, split-knuckles sting more than ever. I should probably see a doctor, I think to myself.
In all honesty, I had started the fight - trying to take a leaf out of Franky's book and help the poor girl that Taggert had his hands all over. Ended up using his jaw to break my fist. If my friend hadn't come to my rescue, I'd probably be the one in the ER.

Franky's still flabbergasted, but I can see the gratitude in his eyes. The cop looks to me, obviously not the brightest, and asks: "Name?". I give it, "Richard McLeod". No flinching. Just like Franky.


This world isn't painted black and white, absolutists can spout and spew all they want. Yes, there is good and evil, vitue and sin (not in the biblical, staunch sense of the word),  but everything is made up of a combination of the two. And unfortunately, balance isn't something that comes to humanity naturally, so there tends to be more of one than the other at any one time. It gets a little trickier when you think about morality. It makes me wonder whether obvious evils like lying and killing are really so obvious... so pitch black. Richard lied - but he didn't do it selfishly. Does that justify his sin?

Yeah, sins like these are inherently evil, but I say again - this world isn't painted black and white. You'll have unfair run-ins with such moral paradoxes throughout life and the real answer won't be so obvious. I guess my point is: to fight the shades of grey, you need to choose the right combination of both.