My wedding band.

I can still feel it, where it was.  I want to fiddle with it absentmindedly, turning it around my finger with my thumb. I hold a mug or a glass and want to tap against it, a subliminal reminder that it is there.

I wore it with such pride, such love, for everything it represented. 

I woke at 02:47 that morning to the sound of armed men breaking into my home. 

The low, antagonistic, guttural tone, “the ring…give it to me.” The hostile eyes looking at me through a dark grey balaclava, the gun trained on my head. The place on my head where the barrel of the same gun had pushed my head into the mattress for an interminable time still throbbed. The terror that accompanied that act of aggression forcing me into submission.

I slipped the worn and battered, white gold symbol off the pinkie finger on my right hand, for the first time in many years. As I held it out I felt a great sense of loss and defeat. I was told to toss it on the bed.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time it was removed. I took it off after three long, hard years of fighting to save a marriage that had died five years before that day. A sad mismatch. Two people who shared many precious memories – but as many moments of hurt, disappointment and miscommunication.

The day I removed that ring remains one of the saddest days of my life. Everything I never wanted.

Two moments in time, seven years apart, both emotional troughs in the sea of life.

After my divorce, I had my wedding band resized to fit the furthest finger from my wedding finger. I had read a quote whilst grappling with the idea of divorce. “despite all thoughts to the contrary, our marriage is not a failure, we have three beautiful children to show for it.”

I wanted to remember all the good about our marriage. The love, the conscious decisions to have each of our girls.  I have always wanted our girls to know that they were borne out of love, that they were wanted, how precious they are…how hard it was to conceive. The two fetuses lost in-between our beautiful little souls. How badly we wanted them, and how important they are to us.

I wanted them to see a symbol, never removed, that represented them. No matter what followed; their parents who could not make a marriage work, but who both love them more than anything!

I have had to fight for every bit of access I have to them. Even though the divorce order stipulates that we are equal parents. They have been their mother’s collateral and her leverage. 

That ring was my struggle for my girls. A determined tenacity in me that divorce would not dictate the story of their lives, but merely a chapter. A fight for their right to a father who loves them beyond all else.

Bailey played with it often, turning it around my finger. Knowing that it was a direct link to my heart, and my love for her. Mackinnon noticed immediately on the one occasion I took if off because I was carrying heavy concrete wall panels that were scratching it.

They both knew exactly what it meant to me and to them. How significant it was to me.

It remains the one thing that I cannot possibly replace.

I have endured so much loss over the past decade. My wedding ring… the one thing I valued above all else… gone. Added to a very long list.

But then I consider that a symbol means a lot less than making sure that my girls always know how loved they are by their dad. Unconditionally and unreservedly, exactly as they are. That they know that they are perfect, and that most importantly…they don’t need to do nor be anything to be loved…

They are my everything.

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difference

I went to watch Blue Man Group this week and thought that it was absolutely bloody brilliant. An explosion of the senses. It was a smart, funny, and wildly entertaining show combining various genres of music and art.

A friend of mine went last night and walked out after only 20 minutes…

Paraphrased, ‘It was noise and banging and not funny at all.’

There was a conversation I had this week with another friend. ‘Does prayer work if the person you are praying for doesn’t believe what you do?’

My friends and I share many common interests and compatible perceptions. We can engage on different levels. Yet, we vastly disagree on certain things.

Has this created a wedge in our friendship? Has difference created an elephant? Something that we cannot ever talk about?

On the contrary. I’d rather engage with somebody who has differing views than those who all think the same way and like the same things. Yes, of course the commonality is fabulous and fun, and sharing is caring after all.

But my thinking will never be challenged if I remain within the confines of my tribe. I cannot broaden my view on various interests and topics. I will struggle to grow and evolve into the person I wish to become. The Richard in five years from now.

I am the first to admit that I can be sensitive at times when some of my ideologies are tested and challenged, defensive even. It isn’t something that I’m proud of.  I grew up needing to be right, the undesirable product of deep seated insecurities.

It made me critical, judgmental, and focused on the offensive. It made me dogmatic and stubborn.

For a number of years, I have been consciously working at changing that, expanding my interactions to include those who differ vastly from me on pretty much everything, and have been trying hard to listen more. It is a process.

Additionally, I have made many big mistakes over the past ten years that have exposed weaknesses within. Facing the ramifications of these mistakes has forced me to deal with the concept of being human, fallible, and downright flawed. A wonderful foundation upon which to explore and build a new sense of self…

One that accepts, celebrates, and marvels at differences.

Seek out those who are different to you, for they will become your teacher if only you will let them.

Proviso; if you ask to be challenged or convinced around an idea or concept, but remain dogmatic, it doesn’t count.

This is my worst quality, but one of my best too… 

​My worst quality and greatest fault…I am…intense. Positioned on my tattooed right forearm, next to ‘grateful’ and ‘fallible’…and the word my eight year old daughter chose and wrote for me – But more about that in another post. 

‘Intense’ is awful, it means that it’s easy to live in your head. 

It means that you over analyse, you’re hyper sensitive, and that you see things many others don’t.  It means you are often too self aware, too self critical, and too intuitively conscious of other people. It means that you feel deeply, experience fully, and are prone to anxiety. 

You’re incredibly hard on yourself. 

You think too deeply when others see things and situations at face value. It means that you often have unrealistic expectations of others. 

Intense means that you don’t laugh at yourself enough, because you’re too busy berating your own faults. 

It means that criticism from others is a very tough thing to internalize. 

BUT….intense is also one of my greatest attributes…paradoxically for many of the reasons stated above, and for other reasons too… it means that I can understand others, feel and relate to their emotions. 

It means that I am a deep thinker and question life, I’m creative, that I can write, and paint, and express. 

It means that I can understand and speak of deep and vulnerable things that others can relate to but that not everyone can speak about to their closest circle, let alone to strangers.

It means that I am both my own worst enemy and my own best friend all rolled up into one. 

It is something my friends admire and love about me, but at the same time frequently despair about me. 

Some days I hate the gift…some days I am extremely grateful for the gift.

It is part of my human condition. It is a quality I need to temper and control so that it doesn’t control me. I know that as I continue to develop my sense of self worth I will feel the negative impacts less, as much of the behaviour lies in deep personal insecurities. 

It’s a constant and very real struggle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

It is who I am. 

Stepping into a new awareness.

​It is part of the human condition that when we are deeply hurt by another person we intrinsically look inwards to find reason within ourselves. We try to take responsibility and in so doing somehow validate the other person’s actions and ease the pain of that betrayal. 

Based on who we are, we have expectations of the other person that they will treat us the way we treat them. 

But actually we can never take responsibility for somebody else’s hurtful and self motivated behaviour. It is hard to understand that other people are not like us. And that they might cognitively do things to cause pain.  
Most often that is their own pain and unhappiness coming out in actions. 

It is inexcusable and something we can never say that we deserved. But perhaps we allowed it to happen… 

Like many people I have experienced relationships that have become toxic. I have been hurt badly and have looked inward owning it all, thinking that I was somehow to blame. That if I could just change enough and become enough I could be loved in return. 

In a relationship within which you’re told that you are loved, whilst the person consciously withholds love, there is an automatic tendency to assume that you’re not good enough. It is a common pattern particularly in people with a low self esteem. It is a dangerous cycle and one that is difficult to escape.

I ended up depleted emotionally, mentally and spiritually… and was blamed for my own pain. 

I wasn’t a victim. I had a choice. That’s the most important realization… choice. 

I chose to stay where I was. I cannot blame anybody but myself for the hurt that ensued. I was to blame for that.  

It takes two. I had to consent to another person breaking parts of me.

I desperately craved for that person to see what she was doing, take responsibility and change towards me. And so I held onto that idea. My own self destructive behaviour.  

I’ve been working hard at the issues within myself that would allow me to give my power to somebody who hurts me continuously. 

Deep wounds stemming back to childhood.  

Of course I own responsibility for my part in the narrative.  Intellectually I knew it all along. What was lacking within. It was healing I needed. My own brokenness. 

Cancer forced me to confront so much with myself. My self worth, value, the indomitable spirit within and how it relates to my relationships with the people I allow within an intimate distance. 

Realising that time is precious, and that I deserve better. 

I have changed so much and grown. I still have hurts, and will for some time. But I have made huge ground over time and most importantly have identified the patterns I have to avoid. When you refuse to face the circumstances that present the lesson to you, you will continue to suffer the pattern. It was my own fault. 

The only thing that can change….is you. 

Growth hurts. A lot. 

Lessons taken from pain are the scars we carry that make up the rich tapestry of the human condition.  

Each of us is worthy to be loved exactly as we are…in all our fallibility, and strength, our weakness and our authenticity.  

Never ever settle for less. What you allow…will continue. 

Let 2017 be a year of change within you first and foremost.  Change starts with…you! 

On giving and receiving.

I love spoiling people, but don’t ask me what I would like for xmas…

I have a problem asking for help, but yet I’m so good at giving it…

Receiving is genuinely hard for me, even allowing somebody to make me a cup of coffee and bring it to me in bed is hard. That’s my job, and you’ll get your favourite beverage, in your favourite mug, made just the way you like it.  Every single morning.

I know the root of the problem, it exists in the ego. A deep insecurity, actually a fear, and somehow having to ask for help makes me feel insecure about myself. Giving empowers me and makes me feel fabulous inside.

My occupation allows me to pour myself out and give everything of me, a big reason I love what I do so much. I arrive home exhausted and depleted, but deeply happy.

On April the 15th this year I took an Uber to go for a lumbar puncture, and after discovering that my tumor was in fact a carcinoma, I was immediately admitted to hospital for a brain operation. I took an Uber home too, despite offers of help.

It was an extremely traumatic time for me.

The closest people to me were angry and horrified.  Deeply disappointed that I had robbed them of an opportunity to love me. That’s just one example of what I did at that time, determined that I wasn’t going to put anybody out.

In my defense, as a single person, one learns to be independent, but perhaps there is a limit.

My mother has always called me fiercely independent. Somehow, I have loved that term.

At times during the subsequent recovery, and the seven weeks and 35 sessions of radiation, close friends delivered things to my house by contacting my housekeeper on the days she was at home. It was the only way that they could give me what they wanted to.

I didn’t want to feel pathetic, a victim, needy, or worse…dependant.  I don’t believe that anybody fighting cancer does.

I went to every session and appointment alone, despite the many offers of help.

I was showered with love and support, care, concern and more food than I could possibly eat. I was sent supplements and health products from somebody I hardly know.

Eight months later, and I have learnt some good lessons. Due to a very recent armed robbery wherein I lost a massive number of my belongings, and having made a call in May, between household insurance or paying off medical debts, I chose the debt.

It was a good call at that time when the prognosis was negative. There was an urgency to settle affairs.

But it left me financially unable to replace clothes, shoes, and even some basic belongings necessary to go to work. I lost so much, and am still discovering things that are gone. In the photo above, every single item I had on me besides the waistcoat was stolen.

Without my knowledge a special friend rallied support from another friend and together they started a crowdfunding project. I was perplexed to discover this splashed all over social media, it was incredibly hard to read the kind words and the plea for help. To sit back and allow this to unfold.

And worse still….it was shared over and over again. In the face of colleagues, family, distant friends, and people I have never met.

My colleagues started initiatives of their own, even sharing my bank account details obtained from the HR department..

I have been the recipient of an outpouring of love and giving I could never have imagined possible. It has been quite staggering. I’ve had to deal with my ego, put my pride in my pocket, and handle the fear of facing the people who have reached out in so many remarkable ways.

“how can I now stand in front of these people and deliver, inspire and motivate. Teach, and impart knowledge?”

I asked myself that question over and over.  It seemed deeply uncomfortable to me.

But yet I have discovered that it isn’t at all.  In my vulnerability I realise I have merely become more human.

Many many of the beautiful people whom have reached out have said how fortunate they feel to be able to give something back to me.  How grateful they are to have been enriched by me at some point.

And then I realised how selfish I have been at times to prohibit people from experiencing the delightful feeling that giving brings. That feeling that I adore, the one that motivates me to do what I do.

I am so humbled, and so hugely grateful to each and every person who has given in any way to me over the past eight months. From the messages, the calls, the visits and the gifts…to the amazing help I have received.

Thank you for teaching me to receive, and thank you for all that you’ve given to me!

From Richard the receiver… xxx

The deadly pre-dawn attack

I woke in a sweat, not sure why. Peering blurrily through one eye I checked the time on my phone, 02:34. As I rolled over, hoping to quickly fall asleep again, I heard the intruder.

The high pitched whine could mean only one thing, I was under attack by the world’s most deadly predator.

I pulled the duvet up over my body until only my head remained exposed to the danger. Lying motionless on my side, my breathing slowed and I listened intently.  A bead of sweat ran from my armpit and over my chest as I waited for the impending assault – nervousness, or the heat of duvet in the muggy Joburg night, I wasn’t sure which.

I was well aware that the intruder that had dared to encroach the sanctity of my bedroom is responsible for over 725 000 human deaths every year, Bill Gates said so.  A massive 724 990 deaths more than the monstrous great white shark. They kill more people in four minutes than sharks kill in a year.

Had four minutes gone by?
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The whine grew louder as the creature flew stealthily closer and closer towards the side of my face. Diving in for an exploratory foray of my naked, juicy, blood filled flesh.

The noise from the female beast stopped. A dreadful silence. I felt a feather light touch on my cheek.

With lightning speed my hand whipped out from under the duvet, delivering a blinding slap to my face. I ignored the stinging pain and a twitching eye as I slid my hand over my cheek, desperately hoping to feel a tiny flattened body and an accompanying slimy trail of blood.

An end to the dramatic encounter.

But alas, I felt nothing.

By now I was wide awake, all my senses fully alert, a finely tuned 46 year old insect killer with a throbbing face. Blood coursing through my body, the blood she was after.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before the merciless predator regrouped for another violent attack.

But I wasn’t prepared for what I heard next. Craning my head away from the pillow to make quite sure, I clearly heard two whining sounds. The little monster had called for backup. Women always stick together.

Abandoning all thought of sleep I realised that I was going to have to take the attack to the enemy.

I switched on the bedside light, and reached for my thick, black rimmed glasses, I was prepared to fight one mosquito whilst half blind, but not two.

20161107_164955_1Standing on the bed I reached for my weapon; a polyester, hollow fiber blend pillow.

Gripping the pillow with both hands I stood poised for action in my watermelon sleep shorts.

By now I stood alone, deserted by my cowardly cats. The same cats who had engaged in a ‘sharp claw on aging skin’ contest for duvet supremacy earlier that night. They had won, as usual.

But now they had slunk off into a dark corner of the bedroom, meowing with fear or laughter, I’m not certain which.

As the tiny but deadly predators circled I watched, my eyes attuned to the slightest movement,waiting for one of them to land on a surface. Any surface would do. Except the bedside lamp. Previous battle disasters had taught me that.

Two whines became one. I searched the walls, the cornices, and finally saw nature’s most deadly animal self-confidently poised for attack, upside-down on the ceiling.

Without hesitation I swung the pillow with all the speed and force I could muster. Only to watch as the ensuing wind from my seemingly deadly blow brushed the cunning insect away.

Minutes passed. Silence. And then a more distant drone. Silence again.

The prick to my calf came without warning.mosquito

I whirled around, slapping simultaneously at my leg, one silky smooth, beautiful human movement. I was convinced I had been successful.  Practically celebrating.

As the blood oozed out of my leg at approximately one litre per 236 days, I searched the duvet frantically for a corpse.  I couldn’t find one.

Failure is not my middle name.

It was time to step up the intensity of my attack. I strode purposely down the dark passage to the kitchen, groping in the dark for the light switch.

As my toes felt beneath them a cold, soft object on the floor, I jumped sideways, letting out an inadvertent shout as my spine shuddered.

Curse the damn cats!

A dead, tail-less, lizard-gift lay on the tiles. Thoughtfully left there by either Bart or Bella for me to find as proof of their hunting prowess.  Suffering severe sense of humour failure, and growling through gritted teeth I marched back to the bedroom battle scene, armed with weapons of mass insect destruction to end my own hunt.

I was no longer to be trifled with.

I laid out my arsenal of vastly superior firepower on the bedside table.

Then I plugged the Raid insect repellent into the socket beside my bed. Sprayed every millimetre of my exposed skin with Peaceful Sleep, and standing on the bed again, I covered the room in a thick cloud of Doom.

No matter the wheezing chest, burning eyes, and prevailing stench, I felt deeply satisfied albeit slightly poisoned.

This was not my time. I was no longer under threat to become a statistic, number 725 001.

I had waged a bedroom war against the planet’s most deadly predator. Not one, but two…and had emerged victorious.

03:12 and all is well.

Well not for the 52.4 people that had died somewhere on the planet in those 38 minutes.

Death to mosquitoes.

All or nothing – a blessing or a curse?

I’m sure that you’ve met them, those single minded freaks who seem consumed by one passion or another. Hell-bent on being the world’s best at whatever it is that they do.

Slow down buddy, take a chill pill. You’ll burn out before you hit 40.

Can you relate? Know one? Or maybe, just maybe it’s you.d3910-11244616_841332609284410_860039340_n

Hi, my name is Richard and I’m an all or nothing guy. It’s been 45 years now.

There’s no in-between for me, it’s either full speed ahead, or no speed. There are times when I wish I had an in-between switch, an idle mode; it can be frustrating when the turbos aren’t all charged and the engine is not racing full throttle.  But then I remember that every person who achieved a significant milestone in this world did it because that one thing consumed them to the core.

We are taught at an early age to try our best at everything, and to improve on the things that we are poor at. Ultimately, that way of thinking produces people that are just average at everything. I’d far rather espouse the idea of focusing all our time and energy on the things that we’re already good at, thereby making us brilliant at them.

And yes, I do understand that we only know what we are good at once we have tried many things. But if you try, and it’s not for you, stop! Just don’t ever stop trying new things.

Passionate people have an ability to trust their intuition, to follow their internal GPS. They understand that logic isn’t always superior. They are growth oriented, and continually strive to become better. Everything happens at high speed. They are not afraid to take risks, and let’s face it, nothing comes without a risk.

So there is the blessing, and it truly is. Embrace your passions and become obsessed. Obsession is a powerful thing, and all too often seen as a negative trait. Yes, there is a negative component to the word, so be careful what you obsess about. There is a fine line between blissful ignorance and being positively realistic.

all-or-nothingThe wonderful thing about people who are naturally obsessive, is that the same passionate energy spills over into everything else, including their relationships. I know that it’s possible to be obsessive in relation to my two girls – to the point that I become reclusive as a single dad when I get time with them – and to be obsessive about my work and also my sport. All at once.

We do what excites us.
It’s about being in that moment, that at that very moment the only thing that matters in your world is that singular thing. I can stand up in front of a crowd of people with many other things on my mind, I could be sick, I could be taking strain in other areas of my life, but for that moment, the obsession consumes me, and the people in front of me get ALL of me. I don’t think about it, it just happens.  And the excitement boils over, it becomes contagious.

There is another side to the gift of passion though.

Knowing when to let go is extremely hard for those who give everything that they have to every situation. We are so used to making things work. Being tenacious and enduring discomfort are all part and parcel of the trait. We don’t know when to give up or when the obsession becomes detrimental, or when it has merely become time to move on.

We are all too aware that giving up might mean the difference between becoming extraordinary or just plain normal. What if Thomas Edison given up on his 999th try at the light bulb?  Although I’d like to believe that he knew that he was close enough at that point.

A great example of the healthy obsession. I’ll bet there were many people telling him to give up.

f3259b3ebd9f1e4d9ed01a471bdabe93We are courageous and determined and therefore we tend to see giving up or walking away as failure, when in truth there are times when our actual failure is the inability to stop or channel our energies elsewhere. It’s a fine line.

All or nothing people can sometimes become self-destructive too. I know that if I have an athletic goal that I’m working towards, and I am training full speed ahead, the world is rosy and life is good. The minute that I have a hiccup and am unable to train for a couple of days, I find it hard to pick up and finish the week. My week was a failure, full stop.

And so I end up doing nothing for that week.  We tend to be particularly self-critical. It is unfortunately self-defeatist, but all too real. We are idealists.

It is hard for us to understand that not everybody is internally wired the way that we are. Please don’t expect us to be patient.

Passionate people give all of themselves to the people who matter to them, and don’t cope well when they get less in return. We commit, boots and all, and would like your boots to be committed too.

Weighing up the pros and cons, I will take being passionate any day of the week … as if I really have a choice. J