Tag Archives: Winnie-the-Pooh

Grasping An Elephant’s Hand | Navigating Life’s Journey

This blog is dedicated to “Bum Bum,” “Teddy Beddy Bear,” “Fooey,” “Tusky or Tutty,” “Puuddy” and “Wuwoof”–my five children’s stuffed animals, whose inanimate lives like Winnie the Pooh and Pals, took on life and needed companionship in the imagination of my children’s lives.

Tusky and Puuddy

Tusky and Puuddy

Tusky & Moose

Tusky & Moose

 

Transitioning through life’s early developmental stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence is difficult enough without having to fearfully obsess or freak out about dying by random acts of violence, infectious diseases, or colossal acts of nature, such as tsunamis. Unfortunately, merely Google “children’s exposure to violence” or “death” and you’ll obtain more than 10M hits.

For two years I taught South African Department of Education life orientation teachers a curriculum developed by Community Information for Empowerment and Transparency (CIET), that corroborated the link between sexual violence and AIDS. As facilitator I often illustrated violence with reference to South Africa’s endemic “culture of violence.”

I illustrated it this way:

Imagine you’re driving to work at 8AM on X-Highway, when you turn on the radio and hear motorists excitedly calling in to John Robbie, local Radio 702’s Talk Show host, informing him and other commuters that an armed hijacking of a cash/coin truck is occurring as you speak. Twelve to 16 men wearing balaclavas and holding AK-47s are hacking into the overturned armored truck with axes to grab the money bags before fleeing in several getaway cars (I recall one November that 31 cash in-transit heists occurred in Gauteng Province alone).

A culture of violence is not the violent act itself, but rather, the day-to-day life reality and expectation that violent acts are commonplace, part of life’s “normal” existence in South Africa.

So, with respect to the cash heist, commuters who are not bottlenecked on the highway because of the armed robbery in progress, express little thought or mention for the safety of the security guards or other commuters, and instead, think, “So glad I’m not caught up in that traffic jam?” or “Whew! I should still make my 8:30AM meeting if I hurry.”

Adults everywhere struggle with this daily physiologically and emotionally tense white elephant–this walking on death’s black ice and knowing you’re going to fall yourself one day, but hoping against all hopes it’s not “your time” to break your neck, but merely get “a good” bruising.

Seldom do adults still possess or have reason to rely on stuffed childhood animals to mediate fearful and anxious tension. Many people have no-one to accompany them through difficult life passages. It’s notable that Seton Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, began an initiative in 2009 to help indigents.  It’s called No One Dies Alone or NODA.

Doctor Bongani Thembela didn’t know it at the time, but his recall of the last hours spent with an HIV/AIDS patient, effectively qualified him to be a NODA volunteer–“I could see he might die any minute. So I sat with him, held his hand. We sat there an hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, five hours. Eventually he died at 4:30 in the morning.”

Children being the little human sponges they are, absorb overt and latent fear from whomever and wherever it might originate, and yet, unlike adults, they are less capable of managing early-life stress and violence, which adversely affects their developing brains.

For an oddly engaging and informative glimpse into childhood trauma and development, read The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing.

The political cartoon satirist, David Zapiro made light of South African children’s daily fearful experiences in a drawing of a teacher asking her class what they wanted to be when they grew up, while immediately outside the classroom window stood two muggers, one armed with a large knife and the other with a pistol. One young girl raises her hand and shouts her response, “ALIVE!”

My children aren’t perfect but they’re as near perfect as I or my wife could have ever hoped for. We’re grateful for their polyester stuffed companions, who not only accompanied our children on their perilous developmental journeys, but who likely were all made or assembled in China, and who were loved literally to death and shreds by one American family.

 

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Filed under Africa, Culture and Africa, Death and Dying, Family, Life, Loss, Memories, Mental Health, Perspective, Relationships, Religion and Faith, Uncategorized, Violence

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Early 2008 my wife flew from Johannesburg to Durban, South Africa with our eldest daughter.  The purpose being to celebrate/commemorate her completion of high school.  They were gone four nights.

An hour prior to their scheduled return flight, and together with daughters E (then, 7) and L (4), I left our beautiful 100-year-old rental house with its Jacaranda tree in Kensington, for the 20 minute drive to OR Tambo International Airport.

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We were travelling east on Langermann Drive in our Chrysler minivan and nearing the intersection robot (street light) at Queens Street.

Our 4 daughters. Louisa in pink.  Erika far right.

Our 4 daughters. L in pink. E far right.

Since leaving home, L, who was seated in her car seat directly behind the driver’s seat, had been in a kid’s happiest of places – an imaginary world of make-believe events and conversations.

As I slowed to stop, it was as if the van’s slowing timed perfectly with her exhalation of breath, during which she exasperatingly, almost exhaustedly so – like Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh – uttered from her created world the following statement –

“I guess I still love Jesus!”

At the time my family attended a non-denominational church called Bedford Chapel.  I don’t have any idea if the preceding Sunday had induced or provoked this internal dialogue, but it did provide my soon-to-be colleagues at The Sinomlando Center for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, endless laughter and pleasure.

The reason being:  Once I shared this story with my colleagues, forever thereafter “I guess I still love Jesus!” became their daily barometric means of expressing how they felt physically, emotionally, et cetera.

We had just been awarded a major 3-year, multi-million dollar United States Agency for International Development President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief grant, which meant work responsibilities skyrocketed overnight.  We were endlessly over-working, over-extending ourselves, yet at the same time loving the shared challenge.

Few Sinomlando personnel had cars, so almost daily I would give a ride to Lois, Nokhaya or Cliford.  When I stopped to pick up the two ladies, in particular, as they were seating themselves and closing the van’s door, I would ask, “How are you this morning?”  They loved to turn, smile, and with a heavy sigh say –

“I guess I still love Jesus!”

Try it!  Like Green Eggs and Ham (and Sam), you might like it too.

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Filed under Life, Memories, Religion and Faith