I had heard of Bobby Woods’s death on Table Mountain, but it wasn’t close to me, just a newspaper article about a climber I had met once, long ago. Until I spoke to Adam.
I was shocked to learn that Adam was with Bobby on the mountain when he died. Suddenly the remoteness of a small, badly reported newspaper piece was hammered home to me and transformed from an event I had taken note of, to one that was heartfelt. In seeking more information about the accident I got onto a blog, which was the outpouring of the South African climbing community’s response to loosing Bobby. In reading through the many posts I began to meet something of the man, the climber, the father, who was gone. There I saw a man who was comfortable in his wildness and totally committed to the adventure of life and possibility. And the memory of my meeting him came back in greater detail. We had gone to see him for advice before setting out to climb Mount Kenya, at a time when it was still relatively unknown to South Africans. My memory is of an inspiring, exuberant and wild energy that emanated from Bobby, matching his hair and his smile.
The few, simple lines posted by his wife on the blog made me cry. Bobby was clearly a powerful force of positivity in this world, who had touched many.
Perhaps part of the reason why reading about him affected me so deeply was that I sensed both a recognition and a lack within myself, something which may be close to the source of the frustration that I feel, perhaps an unfulfilled desire to enter into the adventure of possibility and to shine brightly. I was reminded of a recent comment that Sandra had made to a contrast of images I had written about. The one of gliding effortlessly and in balance on a Hobie cat where everything was flow and the other of frustration and stuckness in my working life where nothing seemed to flow. “What a waste of a good man, of a good life”, she had said.
And so I wondered, if it were I who had died, what would be said about me. I am sure others would find something good to say. But what was telling for me, was what I honestly felt able to say about myself: “Yes he did some things well, but he largely squandered the potential of life, in his stuckness.”
The next day the local newspaper carried three stories of death. There were haunting images of a base jumper, photographed by his companion, at take-off, just seconds before he died, in the spectacular Duiwelskloof beyond Stellenbosch, where we loved to walk. There was the story of a family man in his fifties who died by falling from a ladder in his garden, onto his pruning shears. And there was the story of a fist year student whose promising trajectory into a better life was cut brutally short in a rolling car.
One of my themes of thought over the Easter period was prompted by a question from Paul: ”What in me needs death and resurrection?”
Two days after the newspaper stories I got the news that Paul’s sister, Mandy had died. A thirty nine year old mother who, on a normal Saturday night at home, had probably kissed her family good night and gone to bed, never to see them again. In the week that followed I shared something of a friend’s and his family’s raw pain, on the telephone, at the funeral service, and then, sitting out in the veld, beyond his garden in Jonkershoek, under the beautiful Olinia tree whose leaves smell of almonds when you crush them.
Paul ended the voicing of his grief here with an answer to his Easter question. But this was a stark answer that carried a deep emptiness for him. His sister had died, and her heart, through transplant, had resurrected life for another. But I suspect that in life’s unfolding, such questions are answered in many different ways at different levels. And in listening I had heard other possibilities that went beyond the heart’s function as a beating pump.
I had written my own answer to Paul’s question and it had to do with an important theme that had come up for me before Easter. This was the theme of belief, of how getting anywhere requires, before anything, belief. And so I had written that it is belief in myself that needs resurrection. And as a second answer to what needs resurrection I had written, “my relationship with work and my profession.” And then I had posed a question: “But what death must they first undergo?”
I end this Easter period with the conviction that I must, on no account, waste the precious life that is mine. And yet the doubts persist within me. Will I be able to roll away the boulder from the tomb of my belief?
Sometimes insights drop into my consciousness, as simple, complete, self assured statements, seemingly from nowhere. One of the latest is this: Only what we really love has value. And in thinking about it, I suppose then, it is in loving that we create what is of value in this world.
In my moods of more radical idealism, and in hope for a better world, I am tempted to shout this one out loudly from the rooftops: “Only what we really love has value. Get rid of all else! Get rid of all else!”