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Opinionista

On being broken and unfinished: We were built to break, also to heal and survive

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney and a writer exploring the interaction between race, gender, history and popular culture. She is the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’.

I want to check in with my fellow citizens and ask: Where do you carry your pain? Is it on your curved backs on the brink of collapse from the weight of a dark history, a gloomy present and an uncertain future?

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Last week as I drove through the city I saw a headline that simply read “Lord have mercy on South Africa”. After the loss of Jackson Mthembu, followed by the loss of his doctor in a helicopter crash, and the news of Covid-19 wiping out five members of one family, “Lord have mercy on South Africa” was all we had the wisdom and strength to say.

I want to check in with my fellow citizens and ask: Where do you carry your pain? Is it on your curved backs on the brink of collapse from the weight of a dark history, a gloomy present and an uncertain future? Is it in your calloused hands that know the ruggedness of life? Is it in your unbending knees that have had to keep you upright from day to night?

South Africa, where does it hurt? In our strained eyes that reluctantly open each morning? In our wounded spirit that has been apportioned more than its fair share of misfortune? In our congested hearts filled with obstructed arteries? Or in our shins where life insists on kicking us?

I carry my pain in my shoulders, which are constantly braced for bad news. When my country is not okay, I am not okay. This chapter will change our gait and we will never walk the same again.

Last week, a friend whose family had been battling Covid-19 learned that she had lost her job, also because of Covid-19. I didn’t have the words to comfort her, but the most beautiful poet, Amanda Gorman, found the words. She anointed her country with the balm of hope. She told her people that they were not broken – just unfinished.

I want to believe her. But I think we are broken.

We inherited our country broken. Our very foundation is fractured. But there is no shame in being broken if we are brave enough to stand in the truth of our brokenness. For our brokenness to serve us and not defeat us we have to admit to, confront and not avoid our despair. We need to make room for the despair. Let us not forsake honesty for hope because we could find out who we really are in the squeeze of this moment.

There is no shame in admitting that we are a broken people. The shame would be in not tending to our brokenness. No human body can survive this life unscathed and unbruised. And what would be the virtue of a body unacquainted with pain?

There is no shame in being broken because we can always work towards our healing. We have tried in the past to heal ourselves through truth and reconciliation. Our brokenness was laid bare as we told our truths, but we abandoned our work before we could mend and reconcile.

Our healing remains unfinished. Ask any doctor and they will tell us that for any medication to work we need to take it as advised and finish the course. Somewhere we stopped tending to our brokenness and now new wounds exacerbate old ones.

What I have learned is that our spirit as a country originates from our brokenness. There is no resilience without intimate acquaintance with pain.

Our country knows pain. It was from deep pain that a struggle for freedom was born. In our brokenness we can once again break through to each other. We were built to break, but we were also built to survive and to heal – but we weren’t built to do this alone. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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