Put your oars in the boat


Even though it is raining here in the Cape as I sit and write, the blossoms outside say the new season is here. There is a cheerfulness in the air and people just feel more optimistic because as Leo Tolstoy said, Spring is a time for plans and projects.

On Spring Day I don’t make any plans or think about any projects. It’s my mother’s death anniversary and for the ninth year in a row I think back to that day when I got the terrible call and rushed to my parents’ house. I couldn’t say goodbye because she left quietly and without prior warning just before sunrise. (After all these years, I still wish I had just five minutes to hold her and say thank you.) This year, this run-up to spring is even more charged because the winds of change have suddenly come at my roots. The tide came in.

The thing about change is that there is often no advance notice, no warning that we have to steel ourselves. We scramble clumsily to navigate the high tide and kick frantically to stay afloat. In the process, the foaming water marls us so that we are sucked in and the horizon slowly disappears from our field of vision.

The American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, said the tide is coming in; the tide moves out. So when we are swept away in a sea current, we must try to remember that we are not going to be pulled underwater, only temporarily away from the beach.

With my mother on my mind and the sadness over the “goodbye” that never happened, I think about a farewell that takes place less than 60 kilometers from me. A family greeting a husband and father and two Corgi puppies keeping watch by the bed. My longtime friend Pieter is getting ready for his last Great Dive.

His battle against cancer was a spirited one but even Pieter with his will power, wisdom and dignity (and deep sea diving experience) could not get out of this current.

Pieter was one of the exceptional guests in my radio series, success stories, on RSG and in that melodious voice he said, among other things:

Talk about cancer then you own it

Make peace with everything and everyone

Give a good friend wise advice

“With a twinkle in the eye”keep one enemy for fighting spirit

Choose your words

Keep your sense of humor

I now understand that I can experience healing even if I am not healthy

All your life you row upstream. Now put your oars in the boat and float.

And that brings me back to goodbyes and the necessity of saying goodbye, even if you’re just driving to the store. Don’t leave anything unsaid. Pride or time so often keep us from showing the people (and animals) in our lives the necessary gratitude and love. Resent is an enemy that does not let go easily. Give the flowers now, not when the casket sinks into the earth or the ashes are scattered.

Over the years, I have had numerous conversations – friendly and in a work context – with Pieter. In one of his many capacities he was a communications guru and his extraordinary ability to express himself on behalf of the City of Cape Town earned him the title of “Master of the Soundbyte” concerned. But he is so much more than just a talented, capable man. Pieter is a “man” and among other things was there at the time with gentle advice and action when my mother passed away.

I doubt if we will see each other again, but we had our last Big Conversation, about a month ago, at home with him and his beautiful family. Pieter and I sat in the cozy living room with the winter sun shining in. We looked each other in the eye and said thank you for years of wonderful collaboration and that we could share bits of each other’s lives. I took him a king protea that I picked myself, little knowing that this majestic flower is a symbol of strength, bravery and resilience. Just like Peter.

Years ago I lived in France for two years and made a precious friend. “Manou” was a daily institution in my life with my French lessons over strong cups of coffee. When it came time to return to South Africa, we couldn’t say “goodbye” – it was just too difficult. Instead, we simply said to each other, as we had done daily for almost two years: “See you tomorrow”.

My good friend, Pieter: “See you tomorrow…”.

Now put your oars in the boat and float.

*Pieter Cronje died on Saturday 2 September.

  • Lizma is an award-winning radio journalist and presenter and founding member of the Cape radio station, Smile 90.4FM. She has a master’s degree in journalism.