Strength through weakness
Recently at Lebone, I was walking around the fields going from one place or another.
But this walk was unlike all others. There was a countless amount of white butterflies floating aimlessly around the field. I stopped to take in the moment, because their presence was truly remarkable.
It could have been an image in a movie. I was walking through the tall grass, hands stretched out, with butterflies flying all around me as the blades of grass ran through my fingers.
At that moment, I felt at peace with nature, myself, and God.
There was something about these newly transformed creatures floating around, moving with the wind as each gust would take them on a new journey, which made me stop and take it all in. It was one of those moments that a picture could never fully capture.
After standing in the tall grass for some time, I rushed to find Willem, my supervisor, and ask the what, where and why questions about this "butterfly effect."
Willem informed me that the white butterflies all around the property were actually once cut worms, little worms that quite literally cut vegetation when they are feeding.
This caught me by surprise, because these creatures that created such a beautiful, wonderful scene were the same animals that cut many of our seedlings in half and which I have grown to despise. But this got me thinking.
The cut worm butterfly could act as a metaphor for South Africa.
Like the cut worm that destroys plants, cuts stems in half and prevents progress, the government system of Apartheid acted quite similarly. And then, in 1994, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela becoming the nation’s first democratically elected president.
Like the metamorphic process from the cut worm to the white butterfly, the oppressive system of apartheid transformed into a beautifully orchestrated new democratic state.
Now, in an important stage in the nation’s young life, it can be easy for people and policies to seem to float aimlessly just like the white butterflies in the African wind. And this is understandable. It takes time for foundations to be built, relationships to be made and mended, and reconciliation to take place.
It has been fascinating to see this all take place during my year in South Africa. I have been all around this beautiful country, to the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, the plains of Kimberley, the rocky shores of Cape Town, and I have seen this new country taking form.
And as an observer, I have realized that I have found it easy to fall into the trap of someone looking at a situation and being judgmental at times.
How could someone feel that way? How could anyone say something like that? How could something ever get like this?
These are just some of the questions I may ask myself. But who am I to come to this country and make assumptions and judgments about its past, present and future?
The United States faces many uphill challenges with race, class and socioeconomic situations. How can I judge someone who doesn’t ride the public kombi taxis here if I rarely rode the public buses and taxis at home?
How can I judge people for only hanging out with people of their race if I didn’t exactly live a life of racial plurality at home?
And as I look at my life in South Africa and my life in America, there is something I have realized.
I am weak, much weaker than I thought.
My feet are weak compared to those who must walk greater lengths each day than I have ever imagined. There are so many who walk to and from work, to the grocery store, or to fetch life’s most important item, water.
My hands are weak compared to all the people whose livelihoods depend on strong, working hands. The weathering and history in the hands of those who work long hours in the fields, in shops, or at ports give me a new-found respect for their tireless work.
My heart is weak compared to the millions who have lost loved ones to HIV and AIDS, a disease that can be easily controlled if properly medicated and treated. There continues to be an unacceptable number of people dying each day from this disease, and this is something I never had to deal with at home in the States.
My skin is weak compared to those that have no choice but to sleep outside or in tin shelters in informal settlements. I never experience the extreme hot or cold that many of them do.
My view of the world is weak compared to those living in South Africa. At home, we always refer to the "real world’ as life in the capitalist rat race after college. But the "real world" is here. There are challenges and circumstances that many people at home never face.
And the funny thing is that as weak as I am at this point, I am immensely stronger than I was three months ago when I arrived.
My love of life, of Christ and of others has reached a new pinnacle.
I am infinitely grateful for the relationships I’ve made and the ones that have grown into fruitful experiences. As I continue to learn more about this wonderful place, and witness moments in nature and life that make me think of the wonders of South Africa, I slowly become stronger.
As it states in Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
There is still so much room for personal growth, and I will continue to relish the surreal moments of serenity and peaceful realization.
Originally posted Dec. 10, 2010, at Andrew in South Africa. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Andrew Steele’s blog Andrew in South Africa at Lutheran Blogs.