A battered wreck of a car follows me into the deserted parking at the secluded beach I sometimes visit.
I sit with my engine running, watching the four silhouettes in the car which has parked a little way behind me. They don’t move. I don’t move.
Seconds tick by. I reach for my hijack panic button, unease seeping out of every pore. Friends have warned me about this beach; a man was stabbed here – he died. Right here.
Two more cars pull in and drive to the end of the parkway. They turn, manoeuvring through broken bottles and late night beach party debris and stop between the suspect car and me.
Witnesses. Panic fades. Nothing can happen to me now, right? Too many people around.
Car doors open and eight people climb out the three cars, and start putting on their church outfits.
It’s a church gathering – a beach baptism is about to take place.
These people aren’t vicious hijackers, they’re ordinary folk, just like me. And just like me, they’re here for spiritual reasons. For them, church, worship and a baptism; for me, meditation, serenity and a silent prayer of gratitude for my overcoming drug addiction.
Leaving my car, I scale a rocky outcrop above the crashing waves, drawing in deep breaths of ocean air.
I am profoundly sad that the South Africa I grew up in has conditioned me to react like I did, to react to other people in fear, because we are not the same race. I am sad, and ashamed.
I have let our collective mainstream past and the present onslaught of news stories highlighting murder and racial clashes overwhelm my humanity.
Today, instead of my usual offering of gratitude, I stand here and beg for forgiveness. I am the intruder here, in a place of incredible beauty, I have brought an ugliness. I have brought fear.
As these thoughts wash over me, a young woman surrounded by members of her church strips and steps into the icy ocean. A baptism of faith. She has chosen life, and hope, and love. How different we must be, standing so close yet in spirit so far apart.
How I long to be the one drowning in love and spirit, like she is. How I ache not to feel the shame and fear I have carried onto this beach.
I want to feel what she feels.
I kick off my shoes, roll up my jeans and step into the water. It is ice cold and punches the breath out of me. I can endure no more than a few seconds before I withdraw to the beach. There is no absolution in the waves. They do not wash away my shame. What was I really expecting?
Eventually the tears come, masked by the ocean spray. I close my eyes and draw deep breaths, unmoving, losing myself in the sound of the waves breaking on the shore.
Time moves on while I am anchored to this spot. Calming. Breathing. Feeling. Not thinking.
I open my eyes at last, ready to leave. There is no one else on the beach. They have silently prayed and left.
I am alone.
I have been given a lesson in humanity, and in fear.
One I will take with me, the other I offer up to the sea.
© Dave Luis 2017. All Rights Reserved.