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Pain, Uncertainty, and Growth.

Walking down the main street of the small town of Graskop with my son Corban, wet from the all-familiar light mist that often covers the town, I am instantly transported back in time. It was like I was twelve again, on my way to the library. In one hand, I was grasping the books I had to return and in the other, the last bit of money I owned to pay the late fees, again. Even now I can feel Mrs. Pieterse waiting for me behind the counter with the stern look of a drill sergeant. I was convinced she was just eager to take my money, again. It is not that I wanted to hand my books in late, it is just that a young boy had more important things to do; like fishing the old creek behind the horse stables, trying to catch platannas (an aquatic frog), or hiking the old Jock of the Bushveld trail in search of adventure in the rainforests.  I dreaded returning the books late and paying the seemingly silly fine – especially for a book that only I had checked out that year. But I also knew that the longer I waited, the worse the feeling and fine became.

It is with that same feeling I am writing again after all these months. It is not that I didn’t want to write, or that I didn’t start. It is just that I couldn’t find the words. No, that is not it. The truth is: I couldn’t find the emotional energy to put all the events of the year 2022 into meaningful words. Even now I pause. Staring at the page, feeling the memories that bring discomfort swell up in me. This time, I’m going to lean into that discomfort and share my thoughts in the best way I know how – through authentic reflection. 

Some parts might be a tough read, so feel free to skip or just tune in another time.  I plan to write an update on the trip to South Africa with my son Corban soon.

If I didn’t know it before, last year’s events instilled it deep into my soul that we face and must accept, three inevitable truths in life – pain, uncertainty, and continuous growth.

Pain

This is hard to write. Harder still to feel.  My hands pause on my keyboard, not wanting to proceed with the thought. And that is how I know I should continue. I write about it here only because I think it will help me move upward and forward, and perhaps it might just be of some value to you too. (Warning, it refers to suicide.)

Life, in its vast complexity and unfathomable depth, has a way of exposing us to pain in its most raw and unanticipated forms. Last year, a close friend of mine chose to blow out their own candle. A decision that unfurled a wave of profound pain through the fabric of my existence. This wasn’t just about the loss, the absence, or the void that was left behind, but rather, it was about an intricate web of pain that was suddenly, and forcefully, brought to the forefront. It was the pain of unasked questions and unanswered why’s, the pain of shared memories echoing in the hollow of loss, the pain of imagining the suffering they must have endured in silence.

This pain wasn’t simply a destructive force; it was transformative in its own disquieting way. It made me view life through a different lens, one that magnified the silent, often invisible, pain carried by each one of us. It urged me to lean into the pain, not to be consumed by it, but to understand its depths, to seek its meaning, to navigate its labyrinth. It is through acknowledging and embracing this pain that I’ve learned more about my own strength, resilience, and capacity for empathy. Pain, as raw and overwhelming as it might be, has a strange way of chiselling us into kinder, more compassionate beings. My friend’s chosen departure taught me that every life is a battle with unseen struggles, and every heart carries its unique imprint of pain. As we acknowledge this shared human predicament, may we strive to be the sources of solace, understanding, and love that we all need in our moments of silent suffering. And may we have the courage to yell out through the silence when the silence overwhelms us.

Please reach out and/or use this resource if you or someone you know are struggling with these thoughts.

Uncertainty

Life is a series of unknowns, but it is in navigating the unknown that we find our true strength and resilience”. CB

If I had to sum up the whole of 2022 in one word, it would probably be “uncertainty”. While that probably holds true through any year – after all, the future is always unknown – I think you and I both felt the true grip, and force, of uncertainty as the bombs started to drop on Ukraine, when we saw record-high commodity and food prices, or when the interest rate rose at one of the fastest paces in history. We certainly felt it as we saw the bond and stock market turn negative and remained there. During events like these, we often feel like the sand is shifting under our feet, or worse yet, that the world is breaking out in chaos around, under and within us, feeling as if it will never recover or get back to ‘normal’.

As a family, we experienced some additional uncertainty as my father-in-law (Ben), who lives with us and whom I have known since I was fourteen, was diagnosed with colon cancer not long after his eighty-eighth birthday.  While it is easy to say that he has lived a long and happy life, what I have come to appreciate is that regardless of our age, we want to continue to live a long, healthy, and happy life.  We thought we would lose him for sure after surgery left him with a perforated bowl just days later. The frail man that lay before me was in many ways not the same intimidating man I was so scared of when I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. His resilience and fight through this process, however, was more than just admirable – it is inspiring.

Many of you experienced similar, and worse, situations, on top of the normal and other ongoing uncertainties. Your strength and resilience often gave me pause and courage to face the uncertainties in my life.   

Another source that gave me renewed perspective was one of my favourite authors on this subject, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor. In his influential book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he emphasized the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life, even – no, especially – in the face of suffering and uncertainty. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” I recommend reading that quote from him again. It is such a powerful statement.

My struggle is often with wanting to feel, or wanting to believe I am in control – and I suspect I’m not alone in this. The challenge for us then is to accept that the world will forever be uncertain and in many ways out of our control. So, within this reality, we have the opportunity to, and must, adapt and grow personally.

Oh, Ben is well on his way to recovery, and we look forward to celebrating his eighty-ninth birthday with him and my mother-in-law in the coming months.

Continuous  Growth.

You and I have felt this throughout our lives, and it will never cease to be true. Be it in our profession, sport, resilience, emotional health, physical health, family life or our marriage and relationships – without continuous growth things simply stagnate. No, they go backwards, until they wither away.

I have long believed that growth is like rowing upstream. It is hard work, requires continuous effort and if you stop you will slow at first, and then start to drift backwards with the current. While this is a good view to have in my opinion, and it has served me well in the past, I have now adopted a more nuanced view on growth. While this view might be second nature to some, for me it’s new and, at times, uncomfortable.

I was tired after this past year, to the bone tired. I could not think of growing in the ways I always have. It frustrated me to no end as I have always had a high capacity and desire for growth – to feel a forward momentum. I now realize that it is okay to feel like I need rest. In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s necessary. Because growth isn’t just about expanding, strengthening, or rising higher. Sometimes, the most profound growth happens quietly, within the fertile soil of rest, reflection, and contemplation.

In our pursuit of growth, it’s easy to forget that even as we row upstream, even as we strive to meet life’s challenges head-on, our spirits also need moments of stillness, moments when we allow ourselves to float gently on the water, soak in the surrounding beauty, and simply be. It’s in these moments of ‘non-doing’, of surrendering rather than striving, that we recharge, refuel, and rejuvenate. We give ourselves the gift of space – space to breathe, space to heal, space to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we want to go next.

The past year has been exhausting, an uphill climb. But in recognizing this exhaustion, and in giving myself permission to rest, I discovered a new dimension of growth. I learned that growth isn’t always about pushing forward; sometimes, it’s about knowing when to pause, when to let go, and when to allow the currents to carry us for a while. And it’s in this balance – between striving and surrendering, between growing and resting – that we find our most sustainable, most authentic path forward.

So, as we navigate the ebb and flow of life, and find ways to accept and navigate pain and uncertainty, may we remember that it’s okay to rest. It’s okay to drift with the currents sometimes. For it’s in these moments that we gather the strength to row again, create deeper reservoirs to draw from, a stronger foundation to stand on, deeper roots to grow from, and more meaningful relationships to rely on.

With my new tools and experiences in hand, I am ready to embrace the challenges that await us upstream, are you?  

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