One of my favorite books ever is Alan Paton's Cry The Beloved Country. I didn't read it the first time until my early thirties, but when I did, the story spoke to me and I knew I was a changed man forever. I guess, in many ways, Paton's story is a piece of soul-work. Every time I read it, it makes me feel good about the potential for human beings to live a good life and to work towards a better world. In the end, when uJarvis and Kumalo, a white man and a black man, find a way to internal peace within a complicated world of hardship, I am inspired to be a bigger man and human being.
I have been thinking a lot about Paton's book because of my own research, but yesterday it came to the forefront when I learned my brother-in-law's father, Fred, passed away. I began reflecting on the choices we make in life and how, sometimes, extremely influential people are those that we know for only brief moments of time. Yet, in these brief moments, enormous influences are made. Fred Isgar was one such inspiration. He taught me the importance of seeing Mike, as just Mike, Dylan, as just Dylan, and Nikki, as just Nikki.
Why would we want it any other way?
On my own, I've found myself reciting "Butch is just Butch," "Sue is just Sue," "Cynde is just Cynde," and "Casey is just Casey." Each time it's provided a karmic ease to a simple philosophy. I get Zen-like and I have Fred to thank for that...otherwise I might kill them.
I thought about Cry The Beloved Country, though, because I immediately wrote a friend in Africa to let him know that Fred had passed. Lu, who was just Lu, returned to Sudan (to either find a wife or herd cows ...I won't know until he returns in March). When I lived in Kentucky, Fred used to tell me how he worked with a Sudanese man. He told me how this man drove his car into a snow bank and the comedy of training him on furnaces. Fred even borrowed my copy of the P.O.V. film LOST BOYS OF SUDAN when I told him I was working with Sudanese refugees in Kentucky. As stories have it, when I returned to Syracuse and began working with refugees here, I met a Sudanese man who turned out to be the worker Fred always talked about. The Lu who was always just Lu. I made an arrangement for a reunion between the two of them and on the back porch while drinking soda, I will never forget their jokes, laughter and teasing of one another.
I will remember Fred for his warm fires in the winter, his philosophy on everyone else simply being who they are, and the friendship he had with Lueth. More importantly, I will always remember the immense love and respect that my brother-in-law, Mike, had for his father. As Mike and I have bonded over the years, his admiration for Fred was obvious. Mike told me several times that he didn't know what he would do without his father in his life (and on a couple of occasions, Mike even promised Fred that one day he would take him to a taxidermist and have him stuffed so that he would be around forever - note: I can only imagine the ways Cynde would rearrange her furniture to accommodate a stuffed Fred in her home). The point is, Mike's love for his father can only be matched in two other ways: how Mike loves my sister and how I saw that Fred loved his wife, his children and his grandchildren.
Fred was just Fred. That's the way he was meant to be.
My copy of Cry The Beloved Country is so used that it doesn't have a cover any more. In fact, I had to write the name of the book on the margin in pen. As I sit by my own wood-burning stove and begin to think about tomorrow, I pulled my copy off the shelf to reread the last stanza. I write this for Fred and his family (but admit that the African references are over my head, too...perhaps I write them for Lu).
Yes, it is the dawn that has come. The titihoya wakes from sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying. The sun tips with light the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness., but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.
It is a secret that Fred now knows. It is a secret we'll all learn one day because as Fred taught me, life is life.
Rest in peace and continue looking over your family. You are already missed.