Today is not a day for trivial tattle over a couple of pounds not shed, or a muscle not exercised. Today is a day to remember.
Today kicked off with incredibly sad news, and news that always makes the distance between where we live, and where we come from seem like an eternity. I would love to write here about a dear friend, a wonderful man and all the other wondrous adjectives I can think of, but I wish to write about a man who was like a father to my son.
For those not in the know, I left my only child back in South Africa for five years in order to find my feet in Ireland. During that time my mother gratefully looked after him, and took care of him . But it was the Schmidt’s who took him in and gave him a place at their table, as if he was simply a lost son. In their house he had brothers and a sister, and a mother and father by proxy.
It is Willem who I want to tell you about. I never really knew the man well, and as with all things small town – probably not a thing to admit readily – but such is a small town mentality that we always feel we are entitled to everyone’s every step. Sometimes I think that closeness can be stifling – but in the case of Willem, in all his larger than life presence, I think people felt that if he spread his long arms, and outstretched his paddle hands, that they were part of the humility and kindness that he could exude with a single gesture, or a common touch.
There is going to be a lot of talk about the sadness and the tragedy that goes with his passing. I wish to say that all of that is warranted – oh yes, and knowing my wonderful hometown, a lot of gossip as well (all will deny that – of course).
For those not from a beautiful Karoo town in South Africa – Willem was also a doctor. One that still did house calls, showed great compassion and talked to you about ailments as an equal, and never underestimating your intelligence or your curiosity. A man who showed as much sympathy for your snotty nose or a bad bout of manflu, as he would in tragedy such as cancer, HIV and even death.
He was also one of the greatest influences on my son. He took him under his mighty presence as if he was his own. He loved and encouraged him, chided him and guided him when I was not there. With the rest of his family they gave him the stability that I could not afford, and most importantly – he was proud of him.
Our wellbeing is all we have – look after yourselves. As for Willem? I will be eternally thankful to you in spirit.
May the gentlest giant now rest in peace, because the legend lives on.