Constant arrived at my aunt’s door to pay his respects. He and my uncle had struck up a friendship across the garden wall. Constance is a student at Port Elizabeth University and as big a cricket fan as Gary. Nothing unusual in two fellas comparing notes on the weekend’s sport. What made me smile was that Constant was wearing a black blazer with a distinctive badge. One that I recognised because I had seen it on my father’s chest.
Across five decades and a sea change in government – these two men, one in his twenties, the other in his seventies – also had a school in common. A school whose motto is: “Reward is to the Brave”. By wearing that jacket, Constance was paying Gary the highest respect he could: from one Selborne College old boy to another. The next day he was at the funeral. Having altered travel plans home for a long weekend with his parents. He stood at the back of the small chapel. Upright, proud, dignified: representing his school at the passing of one of their own. His voice carried the hymns.
I am not one for organised religion. I grew up Catholic and haven’t attended mass in four decades. My complaint is not a repudiation of anyone’s faith. That is their business. I want no part of a belief system that excludes anyone. Nor one that tells the generally good that they are headed for a long death in hell, unless they behave. That threat is about control. And I am not interested in being controlled.
But religion is often the vehicle for faith and I understand the role of faith. I have seen the importance of it – especially in India and Africa: where so many have so little, and live their lives in quiet desperation. Faith provides hope and hope offers the possibility of a better life or afterlife. If not now, then next time round.
Faith also helps us to let go. The thought that all of this might stop suddenly: and be nothing more than a long beep and darkness, is more than we can bear. Its role in healing the people who are left behind is undeniable. Faith provides relief and, again, hope: “There is more, there is more…”
Gary’s service was simple, and short and led by a female priest. My uncle liked the Rev., she was his kind of girl – enjoys a glass of wine, a match and a laugh. On Friday she did him proud, as did his son, in a sweetly sad eulogy. We sang “Amazing Grace” and “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, I read a poem and we sent Gipps off in a way he would have appreciated.
After the funeral I spent the day with my mom. We had a drink with my Aunt Shirley and cousins Margaret and Neil. Then we drove towards Mount Pleasant and ate lunch at The Grass Roof. It was a public holiday (Human Rights Day – to mark the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960); the good people of Port Elizabeth were out and enjoying the sun. Our shared salad was delicious and we stocked up on home-made preserves and fresh honeycomb. Mom treated herself to a fudge ice-cream. We even dropped in at Zara for a look round. It was a lovely celebration of being alive and together and I know my godfather would have enjoyed our enjoyment.
I felt peaceful and easy as I flew back to Cape Town. Glad that I had been part of saying goodbye. That I had caught up with cousins and long-time family friends. That I had showed up, that I had been present.
When I got home I was greeted at the door by a thrilled little dog. Which reminded me of the cartoon above – sent by a great friend, because it reminded him of how much I love my dog. I don’t know how it works after the lights go out; but as I got into my bed that night, it occurred to me that right now, right here – I’m in heaven.