Retribution: Giving Life Where It Was Taken.

October 13, 2011

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Was it the rain? Had I dreamt something disturbing? Was it the full moon? Was it just “one of those days”? It took a few minutes, and some coffee, before I realized today is Clinton‘s birthday. He would have turned 18, had his life not been taken in May of this year. I miss him so, so much.

I’ve done a lot of wrestling within my heart, mind, and soul about Clinton’s death. I’ve tortured myself with the “what ifs” and the “if onlys”. I’ve wished for a time machine to go back and change things. None of that helps, but I guess it’s part of grieving. The untimely death of a young person is never easy, especially when that person’s life is taken by another angry, confused young person. God knows I saw my fair share of those in my ten years of living in Cape Town. It never becomes easier to see.

It’s convenient to direct our anger towards the young, emotional girl who stabbed Clinton in an act of rage, especially knowing that she is currently serving no time for the murder. I think it’s human nature to crave vengeance, to want retribution. We want people to feel what we feel, lose like we have lost. In my most emotional moments, when it comes to those who I care the most about, I might succumb to the quick fix of thinking I desire retaliation, but my logic usually comes to my rescue and tells me otherwise. I realize (at least in this situation) the problem is systemic, and even the young girl who took Clinton’s life is a victim herself.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not letting her off the hook. I never believe killing is justified, ever! I definitely believe people should be held accountable for their actions, and taking someone else’s life is a colossal deal. But knowing the complexity surrounding the youth growing up in the communities of Cape Town, it is important for me to remember where to direct my anger. The lack of support structures, the drug and alcohol use, the prevalence of abuse and violence, the mistreatment of women and children, gangsterism, unemployment, poverty, lack of social services, a failing education system…all of these things, and more, creating a big, bad, ugly monster called “the system”, holding our children hostage, and raising them.

It is therefore immature of me to be angry at a young girl who grew up in an environment, governed by this corrupt “system”, where violence is the answer to many problems. It is human to seek retaliation, but not fair. The warped part of me, telling me that, “Clinton would want me to want vengeance,” is a voice that comes out of ten years of living within that very system, and a depraved part of myself. At times, even Clinton himself succumbed to pressures of the system he found himself in, but for the most part he was a loving, tender, caring, kind-hearted, wonderful young man, who brought life, love and laughter to those given the pleasure of knowing him.

So, when I meditate on his life and death, and what it might mean to truly honor him today, I can’t help but think the most productive form of retribution is not to allow emotion to take control, and wish ill-harm on anyone else. Misdirected anger or sadness won’t bring back lost lives, and will only contribute to more. The most life-bringing memorial we can have for Clinton, and others like him whose lives have been taken, is to direct our vengeance towards the corrupt system that surrounded them; use the emotion we feel, whether it be heartbreak or anger, as fuel for positive action in battling the system itself, seeking change. Positive retribution is not taking another life, or wishing harm to the one who took it, but rather giving life where it was taken.

Though I’m thousands of miles from Cape Town, and feel even further, I choose to honor Clinton on his birthday today, with positive, hopeful, life-giving thoughts and wishes to the millions of children living in the cracks of the corrupt system of Cape Town, and similar communities throughout the world. We cannot bring back those already lost, but we can put our effort and energy into protecting the young people who are currently living within the system. We can give life where it was taken, offer hope and restoration where there is devastation. I think Clinton would want that.


Love and Live Life. Wish not Death.

August 12, 2010

It really pains me to see how we humans often take life for granted. This ungratefulness manifests itself in many different ways; too many to count really. But to name a few, we do it through over-complaining about our trials, by being victims of circumstances rather than creators of new ones, by wishing death upon ourselves and others, or by using religion to rationalize reasons to not worry about this life so much because of more emphasis on the next life. I have recently been convicted of such attitudes towards life.

Honestly, I never used to struggle with being positive and loving each and every second of life; it seemed to just kind of come naturally. The past three years however have taken me down a path into the darkest season of my life and somewhere along the way, in that darkness, I forgot how to savor every moment life gives me. Maybe the ungratefulness grew out of necessity, using my mind, heart and will, in their entirety, in every minute merely trying to “survive”, leaving me incapable of much more than just “getting by”, much less joy. Or maybe I merely forgot how to truly live, and rather just settled for watching life pass by.

But, as I have recently written, I am relearning how to live life in its fullest, and I am speaking, if not shouting or singing, to my heart to live, love and be free. Last weekend was an amazing reminder of gratefulness for me. A group of kids from a family I am close to came over for the weekend. We watched dvd’s, cooked meals, climbed Lions Head Mountain, baked muffins together, jumped on the couch, and laughed a lot. They savored every second of the weekend, whether it was doing something others might consider mundane like taking a bath (they averaged two a day because at home they don’t have a bathtub or running hot water), or something as epic as climbing a mountain for the first time. They were excellent teachers in not taking any of life’s moments for granted. I learned volumes from them. I think we all can.

This morning on Facebook I saw two statuses, from two different individuals, that sit on either side of the gratefulness/ungratefulness spectrum. The one was from a friend of mine (I will call Jane) who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and the other was from a healthy young man (I will call John). When Jane was first diagnosed we were not even sure how long she would make it, or if she would. It did not look good. But she fought, with all of her heart and might. She refused to accept death and has prolonged her life through positivity, love, and a healthy degree of stubbornness. Her status this morning boasted of the difference between the versions of “her” on the paper of the doctor’s reports and who she actually is and the things she is actually doing; striking contrast! Glorious!

John’s status, on the other hand, was wishing death upon himself. Sure, he has been through some difficult stuff in life, but nothing that could not be overcome. And he is now a strong, healthy, intelligent young man, with the world at his fingertips and the potential for a rich life on his horizon. But John basically cursed the day he was born, wishing he would have died on the same day he came into this world. Tragic! Here we see one person whose life has been threatened, fighting so hard to live, and another who does not see the amazing gift of life given to him, fighting so hard to die. Life is always a gift, and always significant.

I don’t think it should matter so much what we believe in how this world was formed, who runs it all, or how we got here. The fact that we are here is the significant part. And no matter what you believe about where you will go after this life, we cannot spend this entire life wishing it away, taking it for granted. Whether a person believes in eternal life, reincarnation or nothing at all, we can all agree that this is the one opportunity to live in this world, in this way, as the people we are in this life. And we owe it to ourselves not to settle for less, to not be victims of perceived negative circumstances, and not to be unappreciative of the amazing gift of life we have been given. Life is meant to be lived, and lived in the fullest.

Shame on those who wish it away and do not hold it dear. Shame on me for falling into that mindset. But as I said, I am relearning what it means to truly live. I’m trying to get back to savoring each and every moment. I don’t want to just “make it” from this day to the next! I want to make beautiful memories each and every day. And whether through pain or joy, I never again want to take life for granted. I want to use my life circumstances, whether positive or negative, to mould me into the best version of myself. I want to remember that each and every breath I take is a gift, but not a guarantee. God thank you for this life, and help me remember to LIVE.

Day 316: 5 October – Monday Morning Nostalgia

October 5, 2009

I woke up this morning feeling sad. It took me a while to figure out why, and I still don’t know the fullness, but I realised Eric was on my mind. I probably had a dream about him that I do not remember. Eric was one of the first kids I met living on the streets of the Claremont area when I first moved to Cape Town back in 2000. We had become close. He was also the first kid, of now many, that I knew who passed away, in 2001.

He was such a lively kid; full of joy, life, fun, continuous laughter. It is always sad to lose someone who is dear to you, but what made Eric’s loss even harder was the fact that his death was a “freak accident” in a drop-in centre that was new at the time, and in self preservation the leaders of the shelter kept Eric’s death on a very low level.

Adrian, Me & Eric

Adrian, Me & Eric

Adrian, Me & Eric

Adrian, Me & Eric

Adrian, Me & Eric

Adrian, Me & Eric

I miss Eric, and others like him who have died tragic deaths here on the streets of Cape Town. Even when I look into the eyes of the living, the older guys that were the younger guys when i first moved here, I feel the same sense of loss that I feel when I think about Eric. Because though they may be living, the lively children I once knew are very far gone, and their eyes tell the story of having seen too much, too fast, for way too long.

And above and beyond Eric, others who have passed away, and the guys that have grown up too fast, I think this morning I woke up mourning the death of parts of myself. I look back on my early years here and see such a different person. I have changed a lot; for the good and bad, and I am pretty in touch with both sides. But on a nostalgic-driven monday morning like today, I wish I could travel back in time, just for a visit, and say “what’s up” to Eric, all the others I have lost, the kids that are now “all grown up”, and my ten-years-younger self.

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