A hawk, a house fire and a drive by shooting

Author: AM Scott

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
George Orwell

Crazy times are upon us globally. Our calendar days are marked by unusual incidents, mind numbing statistics, shock, and massive disruption to every aspect of our man-made sense of order. The stories are topped by dystopian portraits of living and being. This is 2020. Could any author put such a plot together? Will any playwright attempt such a script and have it pass as believable? Lives are shattered, turned upside down, disrupted and deeply hurt. No one is easily able to offer counsel free of personal projection. Everyone, absolutely everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, is traumatised and under threat. Many face multiple threats and multiple traumas. Emotions are overwhelming and expressed as anger or detachment.

In my world, three happenings in recent weeks have come to represent my thoughts around the nature of the threat – a hawk, a house fire and a drive by shooting.

A hawk
In a suburban garden in Johannesburg, on a sunny afternoon mid lock-down, a hawk lighted on the sturdy branch of a large tree. The odd Burchell’s Coucal, a few Louries or Starlings frequent this patch. No raptors, typically. Curiosity and awe at the size of this hunter quickly snapped to fear – for the dog – an aging, little wired-haired Daschund! The feathered beauty was a beast, a real and present danger despite its magnificence. It was an unexpected threat, but could be managed because I knew about birds of prey and I saw the potential threat. As quick as circulating a meme on Twitter, all neighbours with small children were alerted and the pooch tucked inside the safety of the house.

The threat was external and seen.

A house fire
On a miserable, gusty winter evening in lockdown, with any semblance of normal dinner routines intruded upon by extended ZOOM meetings, the local neighbourhood group was clearly active, again. Irritated, I turned the phone over. I was “done” with notifications and perpetual digital intrusion. Eighty four muted notifications later, I gave the chat a quick glance. My neighbours had a fire in their house. They saw the fire. There was a problem, a threat. They called for help and good neighbours responded. In this instance, I made a choice ‘not to see’. Literally, to not notice the notices. That decision meant that I was no help at all to my neighbours and even placed my own house at risk.

The threat lay within.

A drive by shooting
Determined not to fail the community again, the group WhatsApp notifications were turned back on. In the same suburban house, this time in the late afternoon whilst plumbers chipped away at brick work, the chat went ‘active’ again. One, two, ten, fifteen notifications. Five houses up. On the corner. A shot. A drive by shooting. Victim, a young man. Two dogs. Camera footage. Help on the way. An airlift. He’s 25 years old, a candidate attorney. Stole his phone. He handed it over. Shot anyway. No medical aid. The family must find R1 000 000 for the private facility deposit or he must be transferred. Crowd funding app? CMJAH is a COVID facility. He’s critical. Surgery. He’s holding on. He remains critical. Pray. The threat rang on and on, and on and on and on. Each ping sounded the alarm – a threat to safety in the neighbourhood; a threat to families and friends; a threat to freedom. The local community was blindsided by a real and present threat to life.

The threat came from nowhere.

We all face threats from without, within and nowhere. COVID-19 is a threat. A real and present danger. The threat turned up in Wuhan, Italy, New York, London and Mexico City. Our neighbours sent warning. We knew about it. We saw it. We responded and continue to respond. The threat is external.

In a storm of unveiling and laying ourselves bare, other threats have manifested louder than COVID-19 even. Resounding calls for action against gender based violence, racism, crime against children, poverty, political crime, moral and corporate corruption, murder and inequality. If we mute the notifications, turn our faces from the stories and avoid the brutal, affronting reports, we are no use to anyone. If we ‘switch off’ and remain self-absorbed in our busyness or business, we are party to the pain and place ourselves at risk of irrelevance. The threat is within.

Experts left and right, naysayers and futurists paint a grim picture of the next few years. We know much and we know nothing. We will be blindsided. “Disruption”, “Black Swan”, cataclysmic events and personal tragedy might still come from nowhere. Simon Sinek, in a webinar with the South African Jewish Report recently, countered popular opinion by saying these crazy times are not unprecedented. The world has faced horrors and challenges before. Economies do collapse and new opportunities will present themselves. “Reset” is a recurring pattern.

If threat is inevitable, and it comes from within, without and nowhere, why carry on? Because we must. Because we know and we see and we can. Because the sum of the greater good outweighs the bad. Because to be human, to live and love and laugh, is our choice and our privilege. Because our purpose, our faith, is greater than our present circumstance. South Africans can testify that grit, resilience and fortitude as human beings can overcome hardship and adversity. A ‘spirit of being’ triumphs but we must harness that spirit together.