Thursday, November 17, 2011


“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.  Alice Walker

The Valley Road we live on is the gateway to the North of Johannesburg.  On a clear day you can see the skyline of Johannesburg Central, with its Vodacom Tower and the Carlton building. In another direction you can see Sandton, the banking district of Joburg, the place where the money from diamond, oil and precious metal mining is filtered through and establishes Africa on the world market. 

It is the green hills of Northriding that has been our home for the last four and a half years.  Nestled in between two main streets and near malls and shopping centers, Northriding is a haven for horses and people who own them.   Our cottage is in horse property central – in a subdivision called Northriding Equestrian Estates. 

Before you start seeing me as an elegant equestrienne sitting upright on an English saddle, think again.  We are the blessed friends of a couple who own a sprawling property where the husband raises geese and champion pigeons - happily installed in remote coops on the property.   We are literally surrounded by sprawling properties and dirt roads.  Electric fences are meant to keep intruders out and iron gates are how we access our property. 

The white geese aren't so nice....

Each day I take our dogs for a walk, and drink in the beautiful scenery. 

November is the time when all of the jacaranda trees are in bloom, and will soon be bare of their magnificent purple flowers.  The time of year coincides with the year-end exams, since South African schools run from January to December (with lots of breaks).  Just  a stone ’s throws north of us,  in Pretoria, the enormous number of Jacaranda trees planted as street trees and in parks and gardens carry a certain magic. At the University of Pretoria there is an unwritten superstition that if a flower from the Jacaranda tree drops on your head, you will pass all your exams.   My friend, Portia has a saying: “If you wait until the jacaranda bloom is falling off the tree to study, it’s too late.”  I agree with her. 

It all sounds so beautiful, doesn’t it?

It’s easy to miss...and I often grow callous, seeing the blessing of all of the beauty as ordinary and commonplace in my life.  I have gone from appointment to appointment and not seen one single tree, on some days. 

It was such a day last Monday when I was driving in to the subdivision and was stopped by a strange sight.  The trees that line the iron-gated Valley Road were all in full bloom, like ballerinas welcoming me into a tranquil world of beauty. 
I stopped and looked. 

I remembered Alice Walker and her book, The Color Purple.  It is full of such memorable quotes, but mostly the one I listed above.  In its pages, , Celie, the narrator, is a poor, uneducated, fourteen year-old black girl living in rural Georgia (she reminds me of a township girl). Celie starts writing letters to God, seeking understanding of all of the miseries of life- her life.  She doesn’t understand why she is not loved or appreciated until much later – during a visit from her husband’s mistress, who tells her a secret: she is loved.  God, the mistress explains, has created purple – the color of both joy and misery, like life. 

I thought of being beautiful.  I once was, and now I am losing my bloom, as they say.  I thought of misery and poverty and not being known...of Celie’s cries of the everyone in us.  I thought of life and its simple beauties and how much I am loved and cherished.  I thought of misery and heartache and rape and first-hand and second-hand experience with all of these things... and I thanked God. 

For the misery, the pain, the joy, the love and the hardship and laughter and happiness and friendships and family and heartbreak of missing all of these things... I am truly thankful. 

And I drove in....