November 25, 2022

Carpet nail

by Rod Smith

Thulani woke from an afternoon nap and came down the stairs and screamed siren-like and sobbed using his whole body. 

By the time I reached him,  tried to comfort him, my hold had to shift from hug to tight restraint until he convulsed a little less then relaxed to reveal a carpet nail in his underfoot.

Nathanael’s breathing had been bothered and when I mentioned a musty stairwell carpet, Dr. Yancey wanted it gone and I spent the afternoon ripping, tearing and hauling the carpet off a stairwell and repeatedly examined the newly exposed hardwood for missed nails. I ran my open hands carefully over each stair but missed the one which sat flush and satisfied in Thulani’s foot.

The boy hung from my neck until we reached the living room sofa and I used my full body weight to lock his kicking legs. He froze seeing I was about to remove the nail and watched me remove it and puked into my chest. The warm flow spewed, two or three reverse gulps, from his anxious being and eased its way down my shirt, the sludge forming a sloppy mucus curtain which dangled between us, the closeness trapping the flow as I waddled to the basement and stripped him. While maneuvering his frame from arm to arm, I removed my soiled shirt and dumped our soggy clothes into the washing machine. We got upstairs and when I had drawn a bath I eased Thulani off me and into the warm and soapy water.

“Daddy,” he said, “that’s why I need a mommy.”

When the tensions had eased he was sorry for saying he needed a mommy. I told him he was right, that everyone needs a mommy, that some of us could do with three or four while some have none.

November 24, 2022

My Top Ten reasons to be Thankful at Thanksgiving

by Rod Smith

My sons, men who get up and go to work everyday and are trying to lead honest good lives and who text me for cash on occasion even when they have their own. I love you. You are incapable with anything you do or don’t do of dislodging or upsetting that love. Thank you for the ways you keep in contact with me, far more than I ever did with my dad.

My very quirky brother and sister and Marianne in Germany. We are all on different continents but we might as well live in the same house with shared day-to-day details. Your knowledge of my frailties and my fallibilities is comforting especially when I live at times as if I have none.

Our parents, Mavis Iona and Ernest William Greer. Hard workers, both. Generous, both. Nephews and nieces and great nephews and great nieces spread around the world – you are loved.

The fabulous congregation of whom I am the commissioned ruling elder. You used to surprise me with your generosity and kindness expressed to the world around you but I am no longer surprised. This is my fifth year with you and you have trained me to expect your counter-cultural responses to a world in need.

The men and women whom I know who know how to manage and handle their great wealth and use it as a means to ends that have nothing to do with pride or power. I delight in observing your grace. I mourn for those, several of whom I also know, who parade their wealth and use it as a club.

My friends, new friends, old friends, and former friends. Thank you. I am learning. I am trying to learn. I respect you all, every one of you, as my teachers and I am trying to get the best out of the toughest lessons.

My rich history of travel and teaching in upwards of 50 countries. None of it deserved, all of it, every bit of it, a gift from the Open Hands of God’s Grace.

The two women who made me dad. You did not have to make me a dad and yet you found me. You found me when I was not looking for you and I am grateful, very grateful. Your sons have done you proud and I hope I have lived up to my promises to you. Contact me. You are welcome in our lives.

The two men who fathered my sons. We don’t know each other and probably never will. But, I do know this: there are beautiful aspects to each of your sons’ natures and characters and strengths that could only have come, at least partially, from you. Rejoice and be glad along with the loss and deprivation you must surely have known and still know. Contact me. You are welcome in our lives.

The men and women who taught me at Northlands Primary and at Northlands High School – and the handful of music teachers I had along the way. Thank you, thank you very much.

Readers, men and women across the world, who’ve accessed and used my newspaper columns. You give me purpose and hope and I thank you.

Those who tried hard to teach me to count.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Now it is time to roast some potatoes.

The day Nate came home……..
November 23, 2022

Celebrating my 22 years in The Mercury – KZN’s 170-years of daily newspapers!

by Rod Smith

My interest in writing for newspapers is the birth child of recuperating from an unexpected heart attack – I was in my early forties. 

Warned not to walk or get too excited for at least 3 weeks following 5-stent surgery, out of desperation I studied local columnists in the Indianapolis Star and decided that there was every reason I could make a similar contribution to my immediate community. It was close to Christmas and so I penned a column about – Christmas, of course.

“Wished I had gotten this a few days earlier,” responded the editor, “write on issues of faith, church, and we will run you once a month on Sundays.”

After a few years of monthly Sunday columns, rotating with a local rabbi, Catholic priest, and an imam, I transitioned to appearing weekly on Saturdays which I did for about 5 years. One day I decided I had said everything I ever wanted to say to my faithful readers in Indianapolis in 700-word weekly segments and quit.

But, I was bitten. I loved the dialogue with readers. I loved the love-mail and even enjoyed the hate mail. In response to a political column one reader wrote that I was “slow and stupid.” Seconds after reading his scathing assessment of my views I called the phone number in his email signature. 

“Ok,” he immediately conceded, “you are stupid, but you are certainly not slow.” 

The editorial columns I often thought would elicit little response got the most and the other way around – this, and so much more, fascinated me.  

While writing for The Indianapolis Star I visited Durban in 2001 and took the audacious risk of dropping in unannounced on the then editor of The Mercury, Dennis Pather. 

He graciously agreed to meet. 

Hoping for a weekly 700-word slot from the USA, Dennis dreamed up “You and Me” and the first of the daily columns was published a week later in late March 2001. 

Writing daily for The Mercury and doing it for 22 years – a newspaper published 14,225 kilometers from my home – seems absurd to some friends in the USA. 

It makes perfect sense to me. 

I love KwaZuluNatal and its vibrant culture. I need the connection to my homeland and, having grown up in Red Hill, I need the connection to my home city. Writing as I do about healthy relationships and vision and leadership helps to keep me somewhat sane. It helps me to maintain healthy boundaries, sharpens my thinking about families, and intimate and business relationships. I like to think it helps me be a better dad and therapist and human being.

That the column has lasted as long as it has is a joyful surprise to me, really it is. 

I think I have come to KZN about 4 times to speak at schools and churches and breakfasts and lunches. The response has been overwhelming and humbling and the many events – often oversold – are etched in my memory as life-giving moments when things are tough here in the USA as they often are. 

I track my trajectory with the column with vivid memories usually related to deadlines. 

I have written columns with a 4-year-old sitting on my hip, typing with one hand, because my other arm was holding infant-Nathanael, my other hand holding his bottle. 

My sons are now 24 and 20. 

I’ve stolen Wi-Fi from coffee shops on the famed Route 66 to meet a deadline while the boys and my sister and I were driving to California. I’ve written for The Mercury and answered reader emails on a flip-phone while traveling on trains in Eastern Europe. At a time when I was writing a series of You and Me columns about essential family conversations, I tried to have a deep conversation with my sons about my inevitable death. 

My older son raised his hand, as if in school.

“When you are dead,” he said, “do I have to write your columns?” 

“Do the Frozen,” I said. He knew exactly what I meant.

See you in tomorrow’s paper……

Rod Smith

November 22, 2022

Power……

by Rod Smith

When granted power, any sort, be careful what you do with it. 

The “power” you have may be political, or it may involve your neighborhood, some committee you are on, or your family, and, how you handle the power afforded you is the ultimate measure of who and what you are, it’s a very fine measure of your “spirituality.”

It says it all – right there – in how you treat the poor, the disenfranchised, those, who for whatever reason, even if it’s their “own fault” that have no power in your presence.

Who and how you hire or fire, include or exclude, is very important.

Pad your own nest at the expense of others, use your power to the detriment of others, to lord it over others, and, well, you’re demonstrating your lack of integrity and setting yourself up for a mighty fall.

A broad sweep of Scripture quickly reveals God’s views on the misuse of power.

It is not pretty.

You may have noticed, God seems always on the side of the underdog.

Was there ever one as powerless as the woman caught in adultery?

We know how that set-up, that power-play ended. The self-righteous men, educated as they were, as “right” as they were, got Jesus’ back up, found themselves backing up and backing out, tails between their legs. They quickly learned – or did they? – that Jesus really is more interested in being loving than in being right even though he was both.

I’ve seen horrible misuses of power and done it myself.

And, it is so often done in the name of doing what’s right and good and holy, when it really is an expression of holier-than-thou nonsense or a scam for taking advantage of others in the name of entitlement or self-importance.

Power, even temporary power – and it always is temporary, is very important.

Handle with prayer, care, and humility.

November 11, 2022

Say nothing

by Rod Smith

In years of ministry I’ve seen a lot of death and attended many funerals. 

I’ve ridden in the hearse, often for miles, and chatted with funeral directors about all sorts of things, to arrive at a graveside to help a mom and dad remain steady to drop farewell petals into graves. I’ve buried students. My students. Just out of high school. I’ve spoken at the memorials of a handful more where fellow clergy officiated. 

Very sadly, as the cliche goes, all of this comes with the territory, not of leading a congregation, but of being human. If you live in a community. If you know people. If you try, even a little,  to love people, you will walk some distance on this path.

While each death, anticipated or sudden, has its own gravity, when I become aware a teenager has died in a car wreck, whether I know the family or not,  it slays me. I want to go to the family. I want to show up. I have to hold myself back. Stop myself from interfering in business not my own with people who surely already have a support system and a church and a caring community.

I implore you as I implore myself, let no trite cliche insult a family at a time of untimely unreasonable outrageous loss. 

Show up. Be present. Say nothing. Offer no explanation. You have none. 

There is none.

November 11, 2022

Questions each must answer

by Rod Smith

The essential questions each of us must answer, and continue to answer, and are in fact answering with how we choose to live every day, are: “What do you want?” and “What kind of person do you want to be?” 

These crucial questions meld into one another. If we allow them to circle our awareness and we voluntarily offer the questions time for contemplation, we are likely to focus our lives on things that are really important to us. I believe such contemplations will enhance our opportunities of living lives of fewer regrets. 

“What do you want?” will go to the core of who you are and who I am. 

There are three things I want. I want to communicate with others in every possible way that it is possible to live powerful and fulfilling lives. I want to be a good dad. I want to be a good brother, neighbor, and friend. Everything else is a means toward those stated ends. 

“What kind of person do I want to be?” is shaped daily by the deeper desires of what I want. 

If I am faced with an opportunity or a challenge I hear the question circling my awareness waiting for a reply. The reply is not what I write or say or think or believe but lives and breathes in what I do.

October 26, 2022

If you seek change……

by Rod Smith

Fundamentals if you want change:

Focus on your responses, reactions, attitudes, and thoughts, in all of your many spheres of influence. Do this before you attempt to escape responsibility for your contribution to whatever dilemmas you face by aiming your energies and focussing on what others may or may not be doing or thinking. It all begins with you, for you. It all begins with me, for me. If and when we, you and I, become experts in our own behaviors and attitudes and reactions we will no longer need to worry about what others are doing or not doing. This is an essential shift for all who no longer want to be victims or regard themselves as victims. Victim living multiplies victims. 

Unearth within you your list of unresolved grievances, the things that happened to you that you cannot, or choose not, to forgive. I do not believe that forgiveness is easy or always possible. I do know that it is a remarkably freeing moment – and there can be many continuous moments – when decisions are made to forgive. This does not mean you have to be friends with someone who has hurt you or deceived you but it does mean you have found your peace in spite of what may have happened to you. Forgiving primarily benefits the forgiver, not the forgiven.

On the road nearing Gordon Bay, Western Cape.
October 26, 2022

Change…… if you want it!

by Rod Smith

Taking charge of your own behavior 

If you know your mother or father of advanced age longs for your calls or your texts or your visits and you are an adult, make a decision to meet your parents’ needs as best as you are able. Define to your parents how often you are likely to call or text or drop in so your parents are not anxiously awaiting contact with you and then keep your word as best as you are able. This is how responsible and loving adults behave.

If you know your drinking and driving increases the anxiety in your family and you are an adult, then it is time to grow up and do the right thing. Why would you knowingly cause the people you love the most and who love you to be anxious? Find ways to enjoy yourself without endangering others and yourself. This is how responsible adults behave.

If you know your foul language and your angry explosive temper and the rage you display in public places or while you are watching your children play sport embarrasses your children then get some help with your anger issues. This is how responsible adults behave. They reduce the negative impact of their own behavior as much as possible because that is the loving thing to do.

October 24, 2022

Travel and all is good……

by Rod Smith

On a personal note

I wrote yesterday’s column from the luxury of a friend’s condominium in Somerset West, Western Cape, and headed to the airport. Now, I am soaking in the quietness of Dulles International Airport  – the airport featured in an early Die Hard movie – before it bursts into its normal frenzy of rushing passengers, blaring announcements, and all that comes with one of the busiest airports in the world.

But, all is good.  

It was no cakewalk getting here. The 6 hour haul from Cape Town to Addis Ababa was long but easy. Passengers headed to Washington were whisked off the landed flight and boarded immediately for the sixteen hour flight to Washington DC. I thought it was an error when the in-flight information screen listed Dublin and soon discovered it’s a refuel and crew-switch stop before the 777 heads across the Atlantic. 

But, all is good. 

Here is what really warms me and makes it all good: while I was boarding in Cape Town, my son Thulani, texted that he was about to leave London Heathrow for Chicago after a well-deserved vacation. I heard too that Nate, my younger son, landed and started a fulltime job after his extensive knee surgery following a horrible sports injury.

Odd, I know, even travel challenges feel good when family news is encouraging.

October 19, 2022

“Small” kindnesses

by Rod Smith

The woman who checked me into South Africa at passport control in Cape Town last week could not have been warmer or more welcoming. Seeing in my US passport that I was born in Durban she added, as she stamped my passport, “Welcome home.” I was really tired and probably somewhat emotional but her welcome touched me very deeply, especially as I juxtaposed it with many harsh, confrontational experiences I’ve endured in several other countries including harsh encounters I have occasionally known on return to the USA.

I have spent a huge percentage of my free time at a bank. This is in an effort to update my checking account opened over 50 years ago. The complexities of living in the USA, generating a limited income in South Africa, and trying to be fully accountable to SARS, can result in mountains of bureaucracy and processes almost impossible to successfully complete from a distant country. I have known nothing but kindness and cooperation from men and women at The Standard in Worcester.

These experiences are isolated and perhaps insignificant. To me, they speak of goodwill and hope. They transform what can be cold and impersonal exchanges into humane memorable events.