Why I’m grateful for today

There are so many factors that shape who I am. And who I am constantly becoming. Life, my family, relationships, circumstances, choices, my faith, my personality, decisions, events. Today marks the anniversary of a pivotal event in my life.

November 12 also fell on a Friday in 1999. It was a normal working day in Cape Town for me. I was the PR manager for an NGO that trained unemployed people to start their own small businesses. My work took me all over the Peninsula to visit training centres and fledgling enterprises. Trainees learnt business skills to run spaza shops (small retail businesses from their homes), or skills such as sewing, leatherwork, knitting or butchery, to run a business from home. It was rewarding work, and I loved my job.

On this Friday 11 years ago, I had an appointment to go and meet up with a new entrepreneur in his home in Guguletu, to hear about his new business. I had been given directions to get there, although road names didn’t feature too strongly: “Turn left at the other school and go down and when you get to that station turn right.” I had a good idea where I needed to go, as I was familiar with the area, and I double-checked with the new entrepreneur’s trainer where I needed to go, and off I went.

I took the main route off the highway, Duinefontein Road, that heads through Manenburg and on towards Guguletu. Manenburg is notorious in the Western Cape for gang activity, and I always drove through the area with due vigilance and caution. As I headed towards Guguletu I couldn’t find any of the landmarks, and it was no longer clear to me where I needed to go. After going backwards and forwards a few times, and nearly running out of road, I chose not to venture into the unknown. I decided to go back to the office to get better directions and reschedule my meeting.

I drove back along Duinefontein Road. Cape Town had recently been hit by a freak tornado, Manenburg being the area most acutely affected by its brief appearance. Many houses had been destroyed, three people had been killed and a number had been left homeless. There were a few makeshift, tented camps where people lived until their homes were rebuilt. One such camp was on the grounds of a school that I drove past.

I looked at the brown tents and felt sad that people had lost their homes. I was also aware that there were hundreds of school children pouring out of the school and across the road. I wondered why they were finishing so early (it was mid-morning), I was concerned that many were crossing the road without checking what traffic was coming and going. It was in the middle of those thoughts that I heard a gunshot. And then a sound I can’t describe – perhaps a thwang – as a bullet hit my windscreen and I was showered with shavings of glass.

The bullet ricocheted off my windscreen without penetrating it. The trademark spiderweb left by the bullet on my windscreen was in line with my head. I thought, “I’ve been shot at. And God’s protected me. Perhaps I should go to the police station.”

I didn’t look to see where the shot had come from, I didn’t stop or slow down or speed up, I just carried on driving and thinking logically what I needed to do next. I knew the police station was just down the road and to the right. As I approached the intersection, I felt it would be unsafe to turn down that road. So I continued on to Guguletu to go to the police station there.

All the while, I felt calm and just kept thinking, “God’s protected me. And I need to report this.”

I turned down the road to go to Guguletu police station, and when I was about to park my car, it suddenly hit me, “I’VE BEEN SHOT AT AND I’M TERRIFIED AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO OR WHO TO SPEAK TO. AND I’M SO SCARED.” I began to shake and sob and my face and cheeks wobbled beyond control.

I turned my car around, and decided to drive back to my office. By now, my legs were shaking too and I don’t know how I managed to drive, or see through the tears.

I still felt the need to report this to the police, so I went to Mowbray police station, near my office. I cried all over the front desk, I could hardly get the words out, and the kind and patient officer took my statement and gave me a case number. I asked her if she wanted to see my car, and she said no. I felt sad for the state of Cape Town, and that more attention would have been paid to this in a more peaceful world.

I drove quietly back to my office, my colleagues and friends were astounded and open-mouthed and didn’t really know what to say. Then hugs and words of comfort abounded.

As an amusing aside, one of my colleagues told me to drink sugar water. “It’s good for the shock. My mother’s sister-in-law’s aunty’s nephew took sugar water after a cupboard fell on him, and he’s never had nightmares.”

I was able to chuckle at that, as I called my husband to tell him what had happened. I had stopped crying, but started again when I spoke to him. He came to me right away. And then I went and fetched my boys and went home. My boys were so shocked, but were just glad I was fine. Thank the Lord children don’t agonise over what if – I was there and I was fine. And that’s all that mattered.

It was a strange and scary and surreal experience telling people about what had happened, dealing with my own reaction but wanting to protect everyone else from feeling sad. Or anxious.

My husband, as a trained trauma counsellor, insisted on debriefing me that evening. We sat, cross-legged and facing each other on our bed, as he talked me through what had happened and asked me strategic questions about how I’d felt and what I’d thought. I know, without doubt, that that session was just exactly right. I’ve never had flashbacks, or nightmares, and I honestly haven’t relived that moment with anything but gratitude. My body had its own reaction six months later, when I experienced a series of panic attacks, but they were short-lived and I guess my body needed to vent.

Oh, and I didn’t ever do that interview. I just couldn’t.

In the weekend papers the next day, we read of an off-duty policewoman who was shot at – and injured – in her car in the vicinity of my event. It was attributed to a gang initiation ritual. Perhaps that was the purpose of the bullet that hit my car. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know if I was caught in cross-fire or if the bullet was meant for me. All I do know, and am forever grateful for, is that the bullet didn’t have my name on it.

Sunshine signing off, with gratitude for today.

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Tuesday – a good day for a miracle

I’m a believer. And I so believe in miracles. One happened in our lives over the past week. I know because I was there.

I know I have bored you all yawn-less with my job-hunting tales and lack of success. So this is not about that. Well, not really. My husband, or, as one of my blogging buddies referred to him yesterday – and I just loved it! – Mr Sunshine decided, for a number of reasons, to take an intermission from his doctorate studies and join me in the fun pursuit of finding paid work. He had a very small taste of rejection (I still out-no him by a mile) as he applied for counselling or assistant psychologist posts. He was either not shortlisted, or shortlisted and interviewed, without success.

Last week, we felt like we were running out of options. We belong to a wonderful church, to a special small group in our church, and we have fabulous family and friends all around the world who have been praying for us and for things to shift. Last Tuesday morning, we two prayed with an increasing edge of desperation. What more could we do? Leaving London didn’t feel right; we were doing all we could and what was the next step? You all know my experience of looking for work here. So we left it up to God. It felt desperate, but it also felt liberating.

That very morning, my husband got a phone call out of the blue, regarding a job he had applied for a while back and for which he hadn’t even been shortlisted.  The job entails an element of study and someone had dropped out, so they had a place they wanted to fill. They invited my husband for an interview for that spot. The job interview happened a week later (yesterday, also Tuesday). He came home mid-afternoon not too sure how the interview had gone, but reassured that he would hear the outcome either way by the end of the day.

We spent the rest of the afternoon pretty much in silence. Writing and reading and getting on with what we needed to do. We couldn’t speak. The minutes ticked by in rhythm with our anxious heart beats. My stomach was in a knot. Six o’clock came. The phone still hadn’t rung. Seven o’clock came, still no call. I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t take him on (they’d be crazy not to), but I also couldn’t imagine how good news would feel. I couldn’t bear the thought of another night of uncertainty.

At 7.15pm our phone rang. It was a call for my husband. They offered him the job. We high-fived, we screamed, we jumped and we cried. (The Royal we, of course.) We called our boys, we let everyone we could think of know the good news, and we thanked God for miraculous answered prayer.

So he starts next Monday. It is a counselling job, where he will spend three days a week as a counsellor in GP practices (doctors’ rooms) and two days a week at King’s College London, completing a Masters diploma in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which will feed his career and earning capacity whether he continues with his doctorate or not. After a career in advertising, he now has a permanent, full-time job. Studying and doing the work that he loves and is so fabulously gifted – and called – to do. And for all that he’s getting paid.

For me, I can’t remember how good it feels to have the heaviness of pressure off my shoulders. And I’m realising that this is a gift for me too. My time to pursue my dream of writing. My time to shine. This is my time to sunshine. Thank you, Lord.

I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me.
Love was out to get me
That’s the way it seemed.
Disappointment haunted all my dreams.

Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind.
I’m in love, I’m a believer!
I couldn’t leave her if I tried.

I thought love was more or less a givin’ thing,
Seems the more I gave the less I got.
What’s the use in tryin’?
All you get is pain.
When I needed sunshine I got rain.

Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind.
I’m in love, I’m a believer!
I couldn’t leave her if I tried.

I’m a believer: The Monkees

Sunshine signing off for today.