Today I am 60 years-old and the more I see and hear of human behaviour in the world around me the more grateful I am that I was brought up in a manner which has allowed me to look beyond the surface to focus on what is beautiful and uplifting.
I find it hard to understand some of the ugly things I see, hear and read about. And the more I see the greater my impulse to shun the kind of world in which we live.
At times it seems like the world described by 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch in his Garden of Earthly Delights or The Millennium, as his triptych is also known.
The former hippies among us will recall it as the painting that was reproduced as a cover by 60’s rock group, Deep Purple for their 1969 studio album. It depicts several Biblical scenes and was intended to illustrate the history of mankind according to medieval Christian doctrine. You can imagine the scenes of pain, suffering and debauchery used to represent the Hades into which sinners were predicted to plunge.
So here’s where I get to say thank you to those people, and there are many, starting with mother who loved me, and an aunt and uncle who took me hiking in the Drakensburg over school holidays, who taught me to have a wider view.
In six decades I have had my fair share of death, heartbreak, black holes and loneliness. But I have also experienced breathtaking beauty and been brought to tears by acts of love and generosity.
Roman General Marcus Aurelius argued that people who seek retreats in the country, by the sea and near the mountains, do so from ignorance. “Because we have the power to retire within ourselves whenever we wish,” he wrote, “For nowhere can a person retire more full of peace and free from care than into one’s own soul.”
And that may well be so: but in my opinion, nowhere is the soul more enriched than away from what is described in the poem Desiderata as the “noise and haste” and things which are “vexations to the spirit”.
My gratitude therefore is to those people who have guided me to consistently seek out that which is life enhancing and beautiful and to stop, breathe and feel a sense of wonder when I experience it.
Years ago I was hiking in the Knysna area. The trail descended steeply down to the sea, required some beach walking and some coastal boulder hopping before climbing steeply, back to the point of departure. On the way down, to my amusement my friend Greig suddenly leaped into the air like a jackrabbit to avoid steeping on a snake. Much later on a beach, boiling hot water for tea to the hiss of a gas stove, we laughed and joked abut the incident, drank our tea then lay back in the sand to soak in the peace and quiet and doze. Lulled by the rhythmic rush of the sea.
Hours later, soaked with perspiration, breathing hard from the exertion of the climb out, I finally emerged out of the dune forest and into the sunlight on a cliff overlooking the sea. O a perfect day, it was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Blue skies, clouds, birds on the wing, light shimmering at the edge of the world. Not to mention the euphoric feeling of relief which comes after a hard hike when you shrug off your backpack and take a load off your aching feet.
I turned to Greig as he emerged from at the forest. “Look”, I said, with a sweep of my arm, “It does not get any better than this”.