That’s what I called Bernard. “The Big Man.” I liked to tell Andrea, “Can’t hang out with ya, hun. Gotta go into town with the Big Man.” It was due to the fact that when I first time I ever laid eyes on him I was surprised how large he looked. It was evening time, September 29, 2008. After being picked up at the airport I arrived in the darkness of night to the farm and strode through the front door of the main building. I had been invited to the farm by Bernard. I had only contacted him via email and chats on the Internet. On a whim, I decided to take him up on his offer. In an email to me he said, “You won’t want to leave.” I didn’t even know what the man looked like. It was strange that I was even on another continent placing my safety into the hands of a stranger.
Bald and stout, Bernard meets me inside the door. We embrace and then he takes me into the kitchen where he suggests that I would like some coffee. We exchange the polite, customary pleasantries. Bernard pulls out a cigarette and says, to no one in particular, “How long will Darryl continue to wait?” Bernard often asked questions that tended to freeze you in your tracks. I had a wonderful time there at the farm. I extended my stay. By the time I left, which was months later than the 4 weeks I originally planned, the Big Man was not only my firm friend, he had also become an unbelievable example of unshakable integrity. He was right. I didn’t want to leave, but I felt it was time for me to go. And the night before I left he said, “When things get tough, don’t forget to breathe.”
Well, what do you know. Things got really tough when I returned Stateside. Three days after staying with my best friends I was kicked me out onto the street in the dead of winter. I was afraid my truck would be impounded because my insurance lapsed. I spent the night in sub-freezing weather wondering how I would get through this ordeal, wondering what I had done to “deserve this.” I kept breathing. I survived. I was offered a place to stay until I could get back on my feet. I just had to move to North Carolina. Luckily, I had just enough cash to make the journey. But that episode did not fare too well, either, and I found myself back in Bernard’s living room once again. When he saw my haggard face (I’d been through a lot), he just grinned and offered me a cigarette.
The last time I saw Bernard was when dropped me off at the King Shaka airport, August 4, 2010. Esteni was also there and we all embraced warmly as he said to me, “You will be back here in 5 years to stay.” And he smiled. It sounded like one of his ironclad promises. I turned and headed into the airport, fully expecting to see him again. But I heard the news today. Such a reunion is now impossible. Bernard’s gone. I heard this morning that it was a fatal heart attack.
I feel strangely quiet inside writing this, but it has been an awfully long day. Maybe I’m still in a bit of shock, maybe I’m just being calm. Maybe it will hit me later. I’m sure there are many hugs and tears to go around. But life goes on. The Desteni Group lives on, and this Group will not wimp out or fragment or disappear. Sorry, haters, but the shit just got real.
Over the years, there has been many blogs that I have written that were pretty hard to write. While this isn’t one of those instances, I must confess that there’s an existential void Bernard left that is destined to be filled with our focus, determination, fearless purpose and integrity of the Desteni Group. Meeting, knowing and living among so many Destonians makes this day a lot easier to walk through. To everyone on the farm; Esteni, Sunette, Andrea, Cerise, Leslie-John and all the others – I love you all. And I am grateful to have lived, worked, sweated and wondered on the land that existed under Bernard’s feet.
(From the Diary. There are so many stories about hanging out with Bernard that I could relate, and I may write about them later, but If there is one event from my time spent with the Big Man that encapsulates how my life was forever transformed, this would be as good as any).
October 7, 2008
LJ asked if I could help with the planting. I booted up and put on my Indiana Jones hat and made my way to the patch where the guys had plowed the day before. I’m given instructions by Fidelis on where and how to plant the seeds into one of the two plots that had been plowed. Okay, so this will be cool. I’m planting seeds into the dark earth. Watermelon, corn, squash, tomato. Rain had been falling over the past few days (it’s the raining season here in South Africa). But today was a good, warm day. The flying ants were out and the entire valley was buzzing with millions of the things. We planted into the afternoon and took a break to re-hydrate. Gian and Jesper jumped into the pool while I was playing with the dogs, and I said to myself, “Yeah. Good idea.” The water was cold, but felt okay after a while.
Leslie-John called us back to the field and we planted more seeds into the earth.
After we were done, I returned to the house and sat in the lounge to cool off. I was feeling very frustrated for some unknown reason. Very frustrated. Slowly I came to see that I was frustrated with myself. I was so happy being in such a place where support and understandings were coming left and right. But it felt I wasn’t moving fast enough. What was it? I was still shaking. It had been with me all day. Bernard pointed it out first thing in the morning. “Shaking,” he said. All day out in the field planting seeds, I felt it. A miasm that was showing me that I am slowly dying. Here I am in this beautiful, life-affirming place where I am being supported, fed, housed, given understandings that I never had before. And each tremor reveals that I’m slowly dying. Nothing’s changed. I am still the same loser that I have been my entire life that nobody cares about. I’m still the same old ridiculous fool, everybody’s favorite punching bag. To come this far in my life where I could finally see myself being of some use to myself and the world only to be one the losing end of the stick once again, this was just too much to bear.
I am useless.
I felt I was ready to walk. I was tired of doubting and wanting and waiting. I saw that nothing in this world was of any use and I was ready to be counted on.
Was this some kind of joke? Is this where self-honesty has led me? With cosmic egg on my face? How did I allow myself to be used and allow myself to waste my life – to have it turned to shit? To accept living in the teeth of a nightmare?
Because I allowed it. The blackness of that moment of realization was heartbreaking.
Bernard pointed to one eye and said to me, “Darryl. See.”
And I saw.
I saw that nothing will ever change for me because I still carried who I am that has existed from the past. I still claimed this self-image that I had painted on the canvas of my life. And that painting was finished. It would last for eternity.
And then I saw something else. I saw that I do not have to carry that painting any longer. I could release it and paint another self and walk as that!
One that was effective, self-directive. One that stood one and equal with the entirety of existence and did not doubt or waste his life in senseless, useless time loops. One who trusted himself. One who would never ever, ever quit. A self that would stand the test of time.
Could it be that simple?
Could it be that instead of waiting for change to be thrust upon you, or given to you from somewhere outside yourself, you could change yourself in one moment? In one breath? Just by releasing the past? Just by literally seeing yourself integrate all that is, equal and one? Just by seeing that what passes for ‘life’ in this existence has no honor and here, it stops. I took a breath.
I noticed that the shaking stopped. Tears filled my eyes. Bernard, with cigarette in his hand, asked, “Do you get it?”
Yes, I got it.
I could walk.