As I was sitting on the brick surround of our pool in McG, yanking the huge pool cover into place with a hook and pinioning it down to a series of links that required me to lean in and muscle the latches into place, it occurred to me that I was quite something.
My knuckles were bleeding from the ill-conceived pump housing cover (heavy enough to require a two-man lift) I had hefted it into place, on my own: employing a savvy mix of fulcrum and body weight. Plus a number of choice expletives. Adding the cover was the final step in a weekend long process which had begun with a rueful text from my concerned neighbour: “the water in your pool smells terrible. Sorry for the bad news” Rob is a Dutchman and not given to overstatement, so I knew we were in trouble.
Electricians came and went, return valves were inserted and replaced, chemicals were applied and reapplied. Accompanied by constant brushing, brushing, brushing – clearing the slick algae from the sides. And now the final hurdle – putting everything back as it was. I was almost done. To celebrate, the garden irrigation system sprang to life … spraying me with icy water. I had to laugh: “all this before 6.30am and in your nightie, nogal. You’ve come a long way, baby.” Job complete, I made myself a coffee and some toast, and modestly celebrated my achievements from the stoep (porch).
When I was training to be a counsellor, we learned to ask our clients to examine their successes and see what qualities they had harnessed to get there. We would get them to make a note of those strengths and then apply them the next time they felt stonewalled, stuck, unable to progress, about to give up. As I sipped I ran through the weekend’s list, most of which added up to sheer bloodymindedness – and was pleased to see that key was an unwillingness to give up. Or be bested. Of course it cuts both ways – and I have been bloodied in the past for being too determined, and beaten myself up about it.
But today I was pretty pleased at what I had achieved.
Last night, after I had put the Nans to bed, after we had a delicious dinner, after we had spent a great fun afternoon together, after I had done some good work, way after the pool cover replacement – I reflected that I would have made a pretty damn good farmer’s wife. Not as strange a thought as you would imagine – there is a great program here called “n Boer Soek ’n Vrou” (A Farmer Seeks a Wife), and I have been fascinated by what these men want in their partners. Apparently: pretty, practicality and a willingness to get their hands wet and dirty … with earth, blood or birthing fluids. For the produce guys – the ability to drive heavy machinery and sew up injuries with whatever comes to hand. It’s a low-budget show, no frills, and all the girls look like actual people. Makes a mockery of those “Real Housewives” debacles. I am fascinated by how the ‘boertjies” reveal themselves … they know they need a go getter career girl, but they are terrified that she might challenge them or leave. As for the everyman, so for the farmer.
But I digress: before I went to sleep I paged through the new issue of Red magazine and came across a piece by writer/philosopher Alain de Botton (AdB) in which he sets out what he calls: 10 Virtues of the Modern Age”. I am not a huge fan of the word Virtue (maybe it is the lapsed Catholic in me, but the implication is of godlike perfection and that grates) so I am going to call them “The 10 Ethics ” My read took me right back to 6.15am and I recognised what had kept me going in the cold and wet: 1, 2, 6, 7 and 10. So here they are: 10 Essential Ethics for the Modern Age. Required for covering a pool, required for navigating life.
- Resilience: Keep going even when things look dark. Accept that reversals are normal. Don’t frighten others with your fears. Remember you are tough.
- Patience: Things will go wrong, take longer than you expect, turn out differently. Be more realistic. Manage your expectations. Be calm.
- Sacrifice: AdB says: “We’re hard wired to seek our own advantage but we also have the miraculous ability t0 forgo our own satisfactions in the name of something or someone else.” Not to do so means we, our loved ones, the environment, animals and this planet is screwed.
- Empathy: “The ability to connect imaginatively with the sufferings and unique experiences of another person. The courage to become someone else and look at yourself with honesty.”
- Politeness: Manners, consideration, tolerance. Makes us more, never less.
- Humour: I realised half way through my efforts that I had no undies on beneath my shorty nightie, and imagined that someone was watching me on Google Earth … eeeeeuuuuuuw. Made me smile, gave me energy. AdB believes humour “is integral to wisdom, because it is a sign that we are able to put a benevolent finger on the gap between what we want to happen and what life can actually provide.” He adds: “It’s one of the best things we can do with our sadness.”
- Self Awareness: Know yourself, understand your moods, identify your troubles and do not seek to apportion blame. In other words: own your shit. Deal. Then move on.
- Forgiveness: “means a long memory of al the times we wouldn’t have got through life without someone cutting us some slack. It’s recognising that living with others isn’t possible without excusing errors.” Forgiving yourself is the other key part of this one. Cannot live without it.
- Hope: However things are right now … they’re a “pale shadow” of how they could be one day. “Pessimism isn’t necessary deep, nor optimism shallow.” Keep your chin parallel to the ground at all times and work towards the best possible outcome.
- Confidence: the game-changer, it’s thinking I can do this, I am doing this. I did this. “Confidence isn’t arrogance, it’s based on a constant awareness of how short life is and how little we ultimately lose from rising everything.”
(Original Article appears in December issue of Red. All quotes by Alain de Botton from that Article. Images of pool copyright campari&sofa, Don’t Believe Everything You Think found on Facebook, uncredited.)