Unconditional kindness in a secular world.

I wanted to write this week’s blog about how I do not understand how a purely scientific evolutionary perspective (without reference to a higher moral authority / God) explains human rights or morality. I understand that according to many biologists there is no reason for altruism unless it aids your own tribe, but this is not my experience. I see kindness from people who do not believe in God or Karma, and these acts of kindness are done without any benefit to themselves or their community. So why would people do it?

Before I managed to write the blog however, my dad got sick. I should say sicker than usual. He is known at the lodge as Britney (as in Britney Spears, queen of the come-back), but every time he gets worse it hits me like a racket ball in the chest.

At the beginning of the week, I got quite a nasty cold. Oupa likes to kiss me,  and stupidly I kissed him every time he puckered up. I am not sure whether I made him ill or not, but here we are, Friday night and he has been to his doctor (whom he adores!), had his chest x-rayed and is on some serious meds. Ironically my family and I have planned a weekend away and I had to leave Oupa; but is it not amazing that the void I left was immediately filled with people who love me and who love Oupa, and can do this job a hundred times better than I can… and somehow, the blog I wanted to write is writing itself.

Ernest Hemmingway said something like  “It is easy to write, I just go sit in front of a typewriter and start to bleed.” How beautiful? Unlike Hemmingway I feel like pouring out my wonder and gratitude that in these harsh times in which we live, I am surrounded by the most incredible altruism.

I expect medical care to differ when it is a five year old who is ill, as opposed to an 85 year old. To be fair, Oupa has had a good innings and lived a beautiful life. But Oupa received as much care and urgency as if he had his whole life ahead of him.

There is a lovely expression in Afrikaans, and I struggle to express myself in English, but we say “Ons gaan laer trek om jou”. I know, in modern day SA, Voortrekker expressions are frowned upon, but I love these words. We are all literally going to surround you, take some bullets for you. You are going to be the centre of our world right now and we are fighting this together. We are exposing our own hearts to protect yours.

And this is what has happened again.

I loved how people just came out of the woodwork. We are lucky, as Oupa’s doctor is a bit of a genius but also genuinely cares for him. (I remember how he managed to secure one of the last oxygen concentrators in Sandton last year during the Delta-disaster and brought it himself to Oupa as we really did not want to admit him to hospital). He was able to get Oupa to go straight in to be x-rayed on today and got him on the right meds immediately. Oupa’s physio Riona, is coming in tomorrow, even though it is her day off. (I love the story, last year when Oupa was incredibly ill, I phoned my friend Amie Stewart –physio-extraordinaire– to arrange a physio for Oupa. This was a dark time in SA and physios were overworked and so exposed to the horror that was Delta that they hardly had any capacity to take a breath. But I had my demands. I told Amie to please send me a Christian, male, white, Afrikaans physio (I wanted Oupa to relate to him). So Amie, who has a fabulous sense of humour, sent me a Hindu, female, Indian, English physio, and boy did Oupa and Riona love each other. She is getting married later this year and it would not surprise me if she asked Oupa to walk her down the aisle, four-wheeler and all!) There is no reason Riona has to come out. Another physio could see him, but she knows him, and without anything to gain she has sacrificed her day off.

Storm, who is young and has many things to do on a Friday night, stayed late and made sure that Oupa was settled and that Ouma was calm. She is not just an employee, she is the daughter I always feared I would have. (When I was little, my biggest fear was that I would have an English baby! I thought babies came out the womb speaking a language). We are fully-booked and Ouma wanted to stay with my dad, so in record time a bed was made for her in his room and supper ordered. My staff, like quiet angels just arranged this as we value intimacy and know its healing power.

I suppose these kindnesses could be explained because of relationships and that we do make sacrificial allowances because we care deeply for each other, but then I see other acts of kindness every day at the lodge. Kindness that simply cannot be explained on a secular level.

Recently we had a fragile woman staying with us after a failed suicide attempt. She had very few visitors and would spend her days sitting on the patio colouring in or stroking the cat. The guilt and shame that surrounds you after such an attempt is a heavy weight to bear and mental health is incredibly misunderstood. I knew my staff would surround her with love and encouragement, but what I did not expect was when other guests’ visitors did the same. One visitor showed up with a brand new colouring book for her. This visitor was saying goodbye to a friend who had hours to live, but she still found time in her day to perform this generous act of kindness for a stranger that will never see her again or be able to repay her. Another visitor showed up with a beautiful cat soft-toy for her to take home when she is ready. This visitor was visiting her own mom; fragile and at the end-of-her life too, so where does this compassion for others come from? These were well thought-out acts of love saying. “I see you, I want to help you. You matter.”

Dr. Tim Keller says that kindness requires you to show up “as you” fully and completely. It is not the same as charity or generosity. It is not about giving “stuff”. It is how you are with the other person; how you share yourself with them. Liz Tichenor who lost her mom and then her newborn in the space of a few months while leading a church said what carried her through was that she knew her tragedy happened not only to her, but to her entire community. They all mourned with her. They all felt the loss deeply, they showed up to the funeral, sat with her, cooked meals and remember her people along with her.

Nora McInerny who has a fabulous podcast called “Terrible, thanks for asking”, says the kindest thing anyone did for her after her husband died was a neighbour who would get on to her roof every time there was a snow storm and blow the snow off for her as he knew she would not do it and it would cause huge damage. He did this consistently and she would never have known, if it was not for the sound of his footsteps on her roof. There was nothing in this for him really, no reward or recognition.


I have already mentioned my internal struggle with English twice in this blog, so forgive me for finding fault with the saying “Cleanliness is next to godliness”.  I think it should be “Kindness is next to godliness.”


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