Some folks have asked for the transcript of the speech I gave at Southdowns College last night. (Just to say – some of this stuff is from the book I’m working on so it would be super cool if you didn’t reuse without my consent. Thanks so much!)
Good evening Mr Rorich, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen and most especially, the Matrics of 2013.
I have a couple of connections to this school through my involvement with the IEB, but my strongest connection to Southdowns College is through two incredibly inspirational women, whom you may know. And tonight I just want to honour Corné van der Walt and Lourika Kotzee.Much of what I am going to share with you tonight has been made real to me through their personal journeys which I have had the privilege, as their friend, to share.
I have really considered deeply and prayerfully what it is that I should talk about tonight. And I want to share something that I believe will bring life and hope, and something that you can, I trust, remember when life is stitched too tight, and when life unravels, and even when life fits you just fine.
Someone said to me once that being a mom is like watching your heart walking around in someone else’s body. Matrics, as all-grownup as you are, it still feels like that for your moms and, I would hazard a guess, for your dads too. Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ You are your parents’ treasure, and their hearts are with you. Also: because their hearts are with you, they’ve spent a lot of treasure on you, like, hundreds of thousands of South African rand – to buy you a product.
And the product they’ve bought you is an education. It’s taken a while to make this product – twelve years or so. Your parents have made instalments over time and they have paid for a complex package consisting of relationships and life skills and academic knowledge and sporting skills and cultural experiences. And finally now it’s ready to take off the shelf. Except that this product is different because your parents don’t actually get to take the product home to keep. They get to set it free.
But of course, like any product or service, T’s and C’s apply, right? Terms and Conditions. General and special arrangements, provisions, requirements, rules, specifications and standards that form an integral part of an agreement or contract.
Like, you hear this all the time:
Subject to availability. While stocks last. Only at stores in Gauteng. No responsibility for any injuries incurred. This product only comes in hearing-aid beige.
And, I think, through the media and your life experience and the stories of others and your own fear and imaginings, you’ve come to believe that there are certain Terms and Conditions attached to this product your parents have bought for you.
Like, this education you’ve been given – this gift of an opportunity to delve into your potential – it’s a matchless product and your future is bright – but read the fine print:
Unless you’re a white male. Unless your parents haven’t made it out of the township. Unless you’re a woman because you’ll still get paid less than men in certain professions. Unless you’re not thin enough, tall enough, black enough, white enough, gifted enough – because maybe you’re just not enough.
And suddenly T’s and C’s stands for Trouble and Catastrophe or maybe just Tough Cookie because that’s what you’re going to have to be to survive unless you marry rich so that it’s Tea and Cake or maybe Teeing off at the Course.
And of course it’s not just your education, is it, that comes with T’s and C’s. If it hasn’t already, life will happen to you and it comes with small-print stuff that you so did not sign up for. T’s and C’s like Trauma and Cancer. Tragedy and Collapse. Trials and Crashes. Terrorists and Corruption. Toddlers and Carrycots. We’re living in what Prof. Corne Bekker of Regent University in the United States calls the Age of Confusion because never before have we had so many screens on so many devices that give us instant access to unfathomable depths of conflicting information. And without even knowing that it’s happening to us our lives become governed by Terror and Confusion.
Our eldest son, who is now 5 years old, was born blind and for a while the Terms and Conditions that ruled us were just Tears and Cataracts and we felt trapped by a metaphorical contract we’d unwittingly, unwillingly signed when we started a family.
But as our baby boy began to make his way through the darkness so did we and two astounding realities changed forever how we do life. God showed us that when we do life with him the Terms and Conditions that rest easy like his yoke and his burden which is light – are Truth and Courage. If you remember nothing else of what I say tonight remember these two words – truth and courage – because they are life-changing, life-giving, for life. For every text you send, every module you take, every job you apply for, every game you play, every line your rehearse, every date you date, every drink you drink, every tweet you tweet – ask yourself: What is the TRUTH about this, and what COURAGE does it require of me?
Here’s a bunch of stuff that’s true about you, Matrics:
It’s true that right now you’re the oldest you’ve ever been, and you’ll never again be this young. Do you have the courage to use your age and experience? How can you channel your wisdom? Do you have the courage to use your youth and vitality? How can you channel your energy?
It’s true that you can’t change your past but you can have the courage to face it down and put it in its place – which is behind you. It’s true that you don’t know what waits for you in the future, but you can live courageously today in the sure knowledge that the future approaches slowly, at a rate of 60 seconds per minute, and that you have a Big God who goes ahead of you to prepare the way. Have the courage to live in the truth of every moment. Almost 2000 years ago Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris in Gladiator, right) said (in Latin, originally):
“Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: ‘What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?’ … then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it, when taken on its own.”
It’s true that in the next decade – as you head into your 20s – you are likely to face some of the most significant decisions of your life: What do I study? Should I marry her? Which job do I take? Do we emigrate or don’t we? Will this tattoo embarrass my kids one day? All those questions demand truthful consideration and courageous action. But Dr Seuss said it well: ‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’
It’s true that culture will always bait you to the edge of disaster and you need to be brave to make wise moral choices that fly in the face of permissiveness and indiscretion. Wise financial choices that are counter-culture in an age of consumerism. Wise relational choices that don’t fit in a world where things are more important than people. And yet it’s true, too, that we serve a Creator not a Kill-Joy and the universe seems to have been designed around the astonishing paradox that surprising, overwhelming freedom floods in when we play by the rules and that the Terms and Conditions set upon our lives by the Architect of galaxies and molecules are only ever to shield us and to liberate us to live fully, for our good and his glory.
It’s true, as Isaiah tells us, that God calls each new generation from the beginning of time. He knew you’d be part of this generation. He chose you for it. He birthed you into it. He knew just where and how he would ignite your journey on Earth. He knew the continent, the country, the city, the smartphone, and Matrics, you are people of the south – of Southdowns College – of South Africa. I want to challenge you tonight to live courageously in this country and to give it your strengths. Because it’s also true that while our country is one of the safest places on the planet when it comes to natural disasters and nuclear fallout, what makes our country dangerous is people who do not walk in the truth and it’s going to take people with courage to make a difference. You’ve got what it takes. Don’t run from that.
Finally, it’s true that you can change the world. Anne Frank was thirteen when she and her family went into hiding. They were Jewish and it was 1942 in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and so some sickening Terms and Conditions applied. During the two very quiet, very scary years that they spent holed up in a few square metres of hidden room, Anne displayed remarkable strength and resilience. The way she lived her life in those years – revealed through her diary after the war – changed the way people thought about hope and our ability to transcend horrifying circumstances. In a situation where she couldn’t physically do very much at all, she did everything she could, and she was a world changer in her own right. She clung to truth and she had the courage to scrawl on her secret pages, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.’
Someone else you might have heard of: Nkosi Johnson was twelve years old when he died in 2001. Nkosi’s life was subject to some serious Terms and Conditions. He wasn’t allowed into a particular school in Johannesburg because he was HIV positive. He had everything against him. He knew the truth and the truth was that he was running out of time. He had the courage to become an AIDS activist, playing a deeply significant role in educating our nation about the realities of HIV and AIDS. Nkosi Johnson said, ‘Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are.’
I’m not saying you’re a loser if you aren’t destined for a Nazi concentration camp or if you don’t have a sensational disease. All I’m saying is that you guys have everything going for you. Think what you could do for this world.
My prayer for you as you stand on the brink of your future, equipped as you are for success and significance, is that when you hear the whispered lies and the shouts of the naysayers you will find your voice and let ‘em hear you roar much louder than Katy Perry because you can choose to live by the T’s and C’s of Truth and Courage. I said at the start that your parents are about to set free you and your education. In a way they have fought the fight on your behalf and now you are the woman or the man in the arena and as Roosevelt said,
“It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. Or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement. And at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Matrics of 2013 – be honest – be brave – go with God.
©Dalene Reyburn, October 2013
Thanks, too, to Clint Archer, Murray Reyburn, Tom Hamilton, Jordan Lamprecht, Andy Stanley and Samantha-Leigh Bester for inspiring some of these thoughts.