A letter from exile

Dear John Martin

Years have passed since these events took place and I hope to bestow a form of thankfulness towards you. I was quite young around the whole Y2K sensation, I think you found some form of pleasure from the whole world is worried about the clocks not turning to zero. In this letter, I am writing about the lessons I learnt from my encounters with you. I hope in return you will see the victories that I have achieved in spite of your presence in my life. My hope is that this letter containing details about my personal exile will free others from this kind of exile, social exile.

Tring the bell chimes for fourth period, we rush out of class and for everyone around me the open air is a welcome reprieve from a day cooped up in a classroom. It is LO period which back then was “Lighaams Opevoeding”, my past history with this subject has made me despise these periods and what it contained. During these periods I found your voice constantly screaming at my inadequacies.

This fateful morning my fellow classmates and I embark across our rugby field to the adjacent track field. This trip to me always seemed like the only adventure one can find whilst at school, upon arrival, our teacher announces that we are playing baseball, my classmates perspire with excitement, I, however, tremble with determination. I am determined to make a success of this activity which usually leaves me trotting with failure. We approach the field and we are split into two teams; the match starts and one by one my fellow classmates go up to the podium and start batting or hitting or whatever you call it.

My 8-year-old self had the wisdom to shy away from the pitching, so I approach the cone or more correctly first base. The pitcher winds up and throws the ball. I focus. I swing the bat. “Strike one”. You take a step closer. My focused channelled. The pitcher winds up. I swing. “Strike Two”. A step closer. I drop my hands in disbelief. The pitcher winds up. I swing. “Strike Three, you’re out”.

I hear the chattering of laughter around me. Haha haha haha I could hear you snickering at me. I was never the sporty type and these moments was never a time for me to enhance my physical ability, rather it was a time for me to provide comedic relief to my classmates.

At this point I wonder why me, why can’t I be like the rest of the people around me. Why can’t I be like the sporty athletic boys, the boys who seem to have it all together? In this thought lies one of the first lessons you taught, the lesson that I am unique and my contribution to society is unique. In this instance you came into my life through the mocking laughter of my peers, the laughter I had to endure every single day of my life. That laughter taught me that I am different, at first I thought it was a curse today I know that it is a blessing a privilege to be able to see the world differently and to shape the world with my views. I know I am important and that I can change the world! The second lesson I learnt from this incident is that no one has it together. To 8 year old me it seemed that I was the only one falling apart with inadequacies now I know that everyone has something they are ashamed of the difference between people striving for happiness and those who possess contentment is this, content people are the people who realise that shame is the stepping stone between dreaming of fulfilment and living in it.

I am now 11 years old I step onto the stage and as usual you are seated in the front row ready for the pain and anguish that is locked up in this event. A few weeks earlier a rather exuberant teacher announced in the last few minutes of weekly assembly “We will be hosting a singing competition, to sign up come see me”. A few days later I arrive at her classroom with my entry fee and my song selection. In the heart of full disclosure, I feel that I should add 11-year-old me did not know what a backtrack was neither did I know what microphone control or stage presence meant so I was wildly unprepared for what lied ahead of me.

Never the less the day arrived. I sat on stage awaiting my turn, staring you square in the face. They call my name…I am void of all emotion. Yes, void of all emotion. I step up to the microphone. My song starts. I am through the first verse. No incidents. First chorus. What are the words again? Shit! I hear laughter. I said that out loud. More laughter. What should I do?! I continue singing. There is silence. Complete silence.

After my song, my mother arrives whom I completely neglected to inform that I had entered the contest. I go home and go about my life as usual. The next day I found out I finished sixth in the competition. I see no relevance in the result since I did not win. Later in life when I look back at this moment I realise my true success. You see at the age of 11 I had not performed on a stage in front of a crowd of people, I had never even held a mic or been considered any performer. Yet, I silenced a laughing crowd with just my voice, I silenced you John with just my voice.

Looking back on this day I learnt two things, firstly, within each person, there is a powerful voice. These voices are either free or locked up, you prefer them being locked up. However, once they are freed these voices become your nightmares. These voices speak out against everything you oppose they speak out against social injustices, fear, torture. The second lesson I learnt was that to beat you we did not need to know what to say we just needed to stand up and say something. We win the battle when we stand up and say something, I realised that when I decided to push through the embarrassment and complete my song.

John, you take different forms each form more paralysing than the next. People have many different names for you. You are locked up in fear, anxiety and depression…to mention just a few. When we as humans succumb to you that is when you have truly won. When we decide to pick ourselves up, find our strengths and accept our weaknesses we win. You are everywhere and you plague people of every race and generation. Rustenburg is where I encountered you first. I still encounter you ever so often. I believe however the effect you have on me is diminishing. I hope this letter finds you without company. I doubt this, however, but one can always wish.

Yours truly,

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