Jane Ballot

Being me in the world

Thursday 16th April

There are so many lessons that we learn from everyone all the time. Some of these are lessons that we learn from what happens to us; some are from who we meet along the way.

There are so many lessons that we should be learning, but we don’t always look to see what it is others can teach us.

Today the country was full of disjuncture. I sat quite comfortably and happily on a lawn at UFS, eating lunch and generally contemplating the peaceful atmosphere, as students and parents came and went from graduation ceremonies and others to class. All the time, in the back of my mind, was the thought of the xenophobic (or Afrophobic) attacks that have characterised much of the news in the last few days. This, not because I choose to watch the news (in fact, here in Bloem, I’m even more removed from what I sometimes encounter than usual), but because this is a topic that surfaced in the workshop this morning.

Such contrasts in the world we live in.

The world, it seems, thrives on contrasts. I worry, sometimes, that parts of the world also thrive on conflict.

Within all of us there is so much that can be offered to the world. Every one of the students who walked past me today will take their place ‘out there’. Some (hopefully, for them, all) of them will graduate from the institution (or, maybe, another). They will all, eventually, leave these surrounds, the safety, the ‘other world’ of the university and have to find their way in the ‘real’ world.

I look at them, as I suppose I look at my own students, and I wonder what it is each of their lecturers, each of their colleagues, has given them that they have learnt. Is it just knowledge, or are they even aware of the deeper learning that can happen, if we allow it to, from simply interacting with other people?

Much of this learning is not understood or appreciated, until a moment arrives that tests us in a particular way and we draw on what we have learnt to help us. Sometimes, it is something we didn’t even know we had learnt.

Somewhere between home, university and teaching, I have learnt great tolerance and a great interest in people. I find them fascinating. I enjoy finding out about people I meet and I love hearing their stories.

We all have a story to tell. Sometimes, it is telling it to the right audience that makes it have presence.

My story for the past 7+ months has been about cancer. And it has not. The cancer thing has been an important part of who I am, what I have done and where I have been (literally and figuratively). It will, I think, always be a part of my story as I go forwards.

It is not only the cancer itself that has contributed to my story, though, but the people I have met because of it. From them, I have learnt many, many things – some of which I wish I hadn’t had to, others I welcome.

Just like those students graduating from the university this week, I am in some form of transition: it is the end of the ‘horrible’ period because of the cancer thing, but it is also the beginning of everything that happens next. It’s almost like being a student who has finished their studies and waits for the actual graduation ceremony. For me, though, I have come to understand that there will be no specific moment of ‘graduation’ from this cancer thing, no definable point at which I, too, can don my graduation gown and throw up my hat in joy. I don’t even know when that moment would arrive, or how I would know it has.

The chemo taste is back – has been for most of this week. The site of the operations is still mostly numb and uncomfortable.

Perhaps, in some way, I never will graduate from the cancer thing, but will take it with me always as I go forward. It’s how I choose to deal with it on the way that matters, that helps to shape me.

It’s how I use the lessons I have learnt (and am still learning) from the whole experience and from those I have met because of it, that, ultimately, will reveal the richness of what I have gained on the way to my own ‘graduation’.





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