13 April 2020
If there is one thing of which we can be certain, then it is that there is great uncertainty ahead. As I write this we are in lockdown. We have been required to “stay at home” since the 26th of March. I have left the house only twice in the last 18 days. When I have left, I have kept the outing short. I wear my trusted “buff” as a facemask and spray sanitiser on my hands when I enter and when I leave a shop.
A lot has happened at Pebblespring farm since the previous chapter. I came to live full time in “Kok’s Cottage” in April 2017. My marriage of 23 years came to an end with a very messy divorce that dragged out for over two years. My daughter Mandisa came to stay with me at the farm, two weeks on and two weeks off. I am in a new relationship with the beautiful, profound and perplexing Poppina. Together we have, under very difficult circumstances, made Pebblespring Farm a home. We have been joined by two lovely Great Danes: Tank and Nakia and two (mostly irritating) cats: Hamilton and Eliza. (Yes they were both named by Mandisa, a musicals nut!)
But today, as I write this, we are not at Pebblespring Farm. We are living through the lockdown at my office premises in the leafy suburb of Walmer. I am very fortunate to have a little flatlet on the site that has actually proved to be very comfortable. My thinking is that by making this rushed move, I am most likely to keep my office going through the lockdown. Being an Architect (as opposed perhaps to a waiter or a pilot) is useful I suppose in this time, because I can continue to prepare designs and documentation without having to come into physical contact with anyone. There are only seven of us in our team, so it really is a very small operation and a lot easier to keep going than the massive architectural offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg with maybe 200 or 300 employees or those of US, UK, China and Japan that employ thousands. By being here at the office, I can much more comfortably hold on to the reins at what has become “mission control”. Each of our team members is linked to the office server via VPN and each one, except of course Tafadzwa the general assistant, has moved their workstations with them to what has now become their home offices. I am very happy to say that the last 18 days have been a great success. The output in terms of quantity and quality has been good. We meet every morning at 9am with Zoom and review our progress and plan the work ahead. During the day we share our progress on the office Whatsapp group that we set up some time ago. I would perhaps post a diagram of what I have been designing on the drawing board, my colleague Chris or Siya may post for my comment of for Graham’s comment the latest version of a drawing that has been prepared on Revit (the very powerful design software we use). In this way we continue – “business as usual” I suppose. Except of course it is not business as usual. I have been in business for my own account now for 25 years. What I have seen in this time is that when there is trouble in the economy the first thing to be put on hold is any future construction project developers may have had in mind. A construction project can almost always be delayed so that they can “wait and see”. We can always live a little longer on the same old house. We can always wait a little longer before we build the next hotel in our group We can always squeeze in a little tighter into the existing office space until the crisis passes. So, right now, I am facing a great uncertainty. While I am reasonably certain that I will not die from the Corona virus, I do not have any certainty at all that my business and my means of supporting my loved ones will still be here in a year’s time.
That’s really what I want speak about today. I want to speak about uncertainty and how it is that we can come to make peace with it or even embrace it. I find it difficult because as I write these words, I am still trying to figure out for myself my own way forward. What I do know is that there is only one way to begin to make friends with uncertainty and that is to accept that it exists. Perhaps like the great Buddha tried to teach us: that it can only hurt us if we do not accept it. It seems to me though that in this time, what government and leaders are trying their best to do is to give certainty to the people. To give a guess as to when the “curve” will “peak”. People everywhere want the certainty to know if they will be getting their salaries or if they will be able to return to work or when they will be able to buy booze and cigarettes again. The horrible truth is that no-one can be certain of any of these things. What we are reasonably certain of is that about 115000 people have died of this disease so far. What we are told is that 25 of these are South African deaths. What we can be even more certain of is that we are in lockdown and will be until the end of April and that alone will devastate the economy in ways, in all likelihood, not seen in my lifetime.
Perhaps though what this crisis has brought more clearly into focus than ever before is that the certainty we thought we had was an illusion all along. There has never been certainty. There have only been those that have tried to calm the herd creating for them the illusion that there was certainty. It is very sad, but unfortunately true, that of all the people that I have ever me in my life, I am able to categorize either has having a “herd mentality” or a “herder mentality”. Others, like Fredrick Nietzsche have been perhaps only slightly more blunt when saying we either have the minds of “masters” or of “slaves”. I would guess, like everything else, the truth, as inconvenient as is, is probably a little more nuanced. In the same way maybe that each of us at times display more of our feminine spiritual energy and other times more of our masculine spiritual energy, we lean in some days toward “slave thinking” and in other days toward “master thinking”. Now though, is the time for us to discipline our minds and to discipline our thinking to the thinking of the “master”. To train ourselves to think noble thoughts. The noble soul does not seek certainty because it knows that certainty is an illusion. It knows that just because events have been seemingly predictable looking back, that does not in anyway help to predict the future. No, the noble soul knows that it must embrace the uncertainty, not only today in this crisis, but at all times. It must accept that we are present in a living universe and must be ready to make changes in its life in order to respond to this reality.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know when I will come again to live at Pebblespring Farm. I don’t know if I will come to build my dream house with a deck that looks over the spring. I don’t know if I will come to graze my heard of Nguni Cattle through a beautiful pasture and shaded food forest. I don’t know if I will be able to make the decisions in this time that will see Pebblespring Farm grow in biodiversity and being passed down through the generations of caring and deep-thinking custodians that will follow behind me. I don’t know, because I am not certain. But because of the noble soul inside that is battling and fighting off the slave-minded demons, I will learn to embrace this uncertainty and with practice and discipline come to love it. Yes, to love my fate including all that is uncertain about it.