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Who will be allowed on the beach this summer?Any body? Or just some bodies?

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

A few years ago, I did one of my favourite things- a hike along the shores of one of South Africa’s marine parks. There are five overnight stops, set on average 12km away from one another. The only thing you have to do every day, is get to the next hut. One of the special things about trails like these is that you are virtually guaranteed not to cross paths with another soul all day, except for the people in your own small group. There will be others a few kilometers in front of you, and some behind you, but looking around, you would never know it.


One truly gets a sense of being completely alone with only birds, butterflies, dolphins, starfish, anemone and other colourful creatures for company. No TV, no phones, no billboards, no shops, no cars- just the earth, naked as it was given to us. The route follows the shoreline, up and down along some cliffs. Every few kilometers you get to an untouched rock-pool or white beach where you can get into the water for a refreshing dip.

Coming out of one of these wonderful rock pools one day, a hot sweaty co-hiker said to me “If I had a figure like yours, I would also go for a swim” Her words really made me think.

Had we been on a crowded Camps Bay beach in December where the body-beautiful are known to parade, I would have understood. I have strong objections to the wrong-mindedness in our culture that denies biological diversity and drives ordinary people to have appearance anxiety. I know of the unspoken rule that gives permission to some to bare their flesh and denies others the freedom. I would have understood.

The thing is, we were in the middle of nowhere, not in a place with a crazy, unattainable standard. There was no judgmental crowd. Dolphins would not have abandoned play to watch. The birds would not have clucked comments to one another. The dassies on the rocks would have lifted no eyebrow.

The thing that made her unable to partake in the simple pleasure of a swim in the pool provided so generously by nature came from inside. She carried it with her in her own head.

Shackled elephants

I am not an elephant expert, and the story I’m about to relate may be mythical, but it illustrates the point I want to make nonetheless.

The elephant is the most powerful land animal on the planet. An African elephant can weigh up to 6400kg. Human beings, a fraction of that size, have found a way to tame them. A baby elephant will get a cord around its leg, tied firmly with a strong rope and a sturdy stake driven deep into the ground. Initially, it will struggle to break free, but struggle as it will, it cannot escape. Eventually it tires and gives up fighting, accepting its impotence. As the elephant grows, it becomes stronger. The rope becomes thinner and the stake smaller. Yet every time it meets resistance from the end of the rope, it stops. It thinks it can go no further. Eventually the elephant reaches full size. Enormous, and powerful it can be easily restrained by only a thin rope and a tiny stake. It has given up trying to break free. It has been trained to believe that it cannot.

Shackled Humans

Humans know about these chains too. In one of Nina Simone’s famous songs, she sings “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, I wish I could break all the chains holding me” I wish I wish I wish I wish.

What if we are also like the elephants, held captive by nothing more than our own thoughts? What if we could walk right out of these shackles if we simply started to believe that we could?

The only way to know if we can, is by trying. Examine and challenge your own thoughts. When you stop yourself from doing something you would like to do, ask why. Who said you can’t?

There are limits to what we humans can do. Real limits. We can’t fly, for instance, and we can’t walk through blazing fire or drink poison or play with lions in the wild. But, we can eat things that make our breath smell bad. We can dance when we feel like it, even if we do it badly. We can jump on trampolines, even when we are no longer children. We can accept ourselves the way we are.

We can swim, no matter our size or shape, and we CAN challenge the voices that say we can’t. The ones inside our own heads, and the ones outside.

Life is too short to waste any time worrying about what people will think.


Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter. I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells And run my stick along the public railings And make up for the sobriety of my youth. I shall go out in my slippers in the rain And pick flowers in other people's gardens And learn to spit.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. Jenny Joseph (an abbreviated version)


Sound Bite

Dance like nobody’s watching Love like you’ve never been hurt Sing like nobody’s listening Live like it’s heaven on earth Mark Twain
It’s all for nothing if we don’t have freedom William Wallace
He took the shackles off my feet so I can dance Mary Mary

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