March 15, 2023


by Rod Smith

It’s a Saturday morning. 

I’m 11. 

I am riding my bike on the gravel entrance to E. W. G. Smith, General Dealer, my dad’s grocery shop as I have done for years.

A car eases alongside me and the driver leans his head out of the open window and asks me directions to Parkhill Soccer Club. 

I know where it is but …. but… but everything I know sticks in my head. 

Words fail. 

Arms twitch. 

My neck stretches. 


Not a sound will come out of me but for gasps and whelps. 

Then, I am choking on words. 

Monosyllabic squeaks and squawks shot-gun out of me and I can’t stop. 

I turn my bike to look elsewhere and point down the road. 

The driver mimics my sounds, movements, and laughs and points. He fake-chokes. He spits, jerks his head, playing to his audience, a car full of adults. They all begin to move their arms, spit, copy my rapid repetitions until at last the driver shifts his gears and the car tires rip the gravel and the merciless mockers are gone.

I retreated into the house and into myself. 

Closed all doors. 

I am debilitated. 

For days I want to hide in shame and resist venturing into daylight. 

Yes, I’m 11 and I enter days of dark silence, moodiness, and humiliation. 

I can’t shake this stutter. I can’t shake the shame. 

The memory of trying to give directions to a place I knew so well plays repeatedly in my head and humiliation washes over me everytime i think of it and even when I don’t.

March 15, 2023

Subtle art of Self-care

by Rod Smith

Within each person is a holy place called The Self. It is here, in the deepest recess of who each of us is, that the human spirit, soul, intellect, meld and form the powerhouse or engine room for who and what each of us is. 

The subtle art of self-care — “subtle” because there is a delicate difference between being self-caring, selfishness, and being self-serving — is fundamental to good mental, emotional health, and also relational health.

Appropriate self-care is not selfishness or self-indulgent. It is not self-centered-ness. It is not self-serving. 

It is self-awareness. 

It is self-monitoring with the firm understanding that each person is responsible for the condition of his or her self. 

Each of us is responsible for how we relate to all others (to neither dominate or be dominated). 

Each of us is responsible, when it comes to ALL other adults, for maintaining relationships that exemplify mutuality, respect, and equality.

Part of self-care is the enduring understanding that each person has a voice to be respected, a role to be fulfilled, and a calling to be pursued. 

Every person (every Self) requires room to grow, space apart from others, while at the same time requiring intimacy and connection. 

The healthy Self is both connected and separate all at the same time, underscoring again the subtlety required in the art of self-care.

Greenland from 30,000 feet
March 14, 2023

Keep it clean

by Rod Smith

Harking back to my early music days – I began to perform publicly at 14 – my dad always told me to keep it clean.

He said that comedians and musicians never needed to be “blue” which meant suggestive or sexual. He said no one ever needed to use swear words or “bad words” or racial slurs in order to be funny.

Dad said that real artists could do it all without resorting to filth, claiming it was the distinguisher between real talent and those who were found lacking.

I know my dad would cringe if he were around today. Browsing an airport bookstore recently I was surprised how many book titles contain the “f” word on the cover. There are clergy who think it is cool or authentic or “vulnerable” to use the “F-word” in common exchanges and in print and from the pulpit.

Keep it clean, really. 

What we say and how we say it exposes our hearts.

It reveals what’s going on within you and me.

It lets others into what’s going on within each of us and I hate it when I am in a place where it feels necessary to use words I know my dad would prefer me to avoid.

Duke keeps it clean…..
March 13, 2023

Suggestion for Hallmark

by Rod Smith

I’m amused at how many “special days” there are and how many I miss. I’ve got the very best sister and brother on the planet but “National Siblings Day” comes and goes and I’m usually none the wiser. I missed “National Sons Day” quite recently. “French Bulldog Day” too, comes and goes and I’m yet to post a picture of Maggie dressed to the nines in her French Pink collar. 

I’d like to suggest a few new holidays for Hallmark or whoever pushes these special days:

Good Samaritan Day — love someone (send flowers, bake cookies, research what he or she needs and provide it) whom you could legitimately reject or who could legitimately reject you. That, after all, is the essence of the parable. It’s not about dumping “the poor” with stuff you don’t need or want.

Prodigal Day — Dismount your high horse and throw a party of welcome for all the “wrong” and “lost” and rejected people you know whether they’ve “changed” or not. There’s no indication in the parable that the returning son has “repented” and it may well be you or me who really has to.

Woman Caught in Adultery Day — leave your “stones” of judgment at home and walk through the day humbly aware of your own shortcomings. Jesus gives the woman a break and an identity. Let’s do the same for all the “tragic figures” we meet and perhaps someone will have and display similar grace for us, yes, you and me.

Meet Maggie
March 11, 2023

Are real conversations a dying art?

by Rod Smith

Screen-obsession may be rendering face-to-face conversations a dying art. 

You may have noticed some people can look deeply into a screen for hours but are uncomfortable, even unsettled, rattled really, with the briefest of human eye-contact. 

I acknowledge this idea will not fly in some cultures and contexts and none of which I’ll name.

Adapt the words (adjust, make the idea sound like your own) that follow to avoid sounding ridiculous and contrived, but use the broad ideas in face-to-face conversations.

Be gentle, you may be met with delight or horror!

“I am interested in how you arrived here (this job, predicament, fabulous place). Tell me as much as you’d like me to know.” 

“I will give you an hour (ten minutes, two hours, choose your amount of time) of uninterrupted time to tell me as much or as little about anything you choose. I will listen with both ears, both eyes, and all my heart and offer zero advice or judgment.”

“I’d love to hear about what you want from your life and about your plans to achieve what you want with your life.”

“What are the three or four greatest challenges you’ve ever faced? I’m interested in learning. Tell me as much or as little as you’d like me to know.”

[web only- not for Merc]

Some time ago – my sons. Pure delight.
March 10, 2023

Does God open and close doors?

by Rod Smith

“Do you think that God opens and closes doors for people?” asks a close friend. 

I’m so glad to hear how well you’re doing.

Now to your question:

Women and men open and close doors for each other in many ways all over the world and it is therefore a convenient metaphor to apply to God.

I’m not so sure that God “operates” on quite the same plane, is quite so transactional, and impersonal. I think the idea is dangerously Anthropomorphic (that’s not the exact word I need but it’ll work for now). The metaphor is hard to escape, given that it’s such a widely held belief, I think it limits our understanding of God’s willing and intimate and vibrant connection with each and all humans, if we recognize it or not.

Doors do close. And open. Sometimes doors slam shut. On occasion a closed door needs a bulldozer while some ought to be forever sealed shut. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Wisdom is appreciating that things change: an open door today may need demolishing next year.

The problem with attributing all this to God can reduce us to anxious lab rats trying to avoid getting doors slammed on our tails or in our faces. God is too loving and kind for life to be an endless quest of chasing opening or closing elevator and other doors.

God is at one time, while building God’s Kingdom, Ultimately Intimate and Dangerously Loving while Equally close and involved in matters historical, political, and geographical.

Nothing, absolutely nothing takes God by surprise except when we, you and I, embrace and live to the best of God’s Empowerment, the Counter-Intuitive Gospel. It takes even God by surprise when we actually Love our enemies and embrace the Stranger and don’t just preach about it. Preaching drones on, and on but actions of Love and Acceptance and the Embodiment of Love in unexpected places gets God’s attention.

You are where you are and are intimate with whom you are intimate in a family as the result of Divine Courage – yours and God’s and mine (I was there if you recall) and the host of friends and family who all rejoiced with you on that beautiful day.

And, what a day it was. 

Doors didn’t open and close, continents tipped and nations conspired to bring you and your Blessed husband together.

I know.

I was there.

Before the beginning of your profound discovery of each other I was there and watched it all unfold and was regularly caught quite off-guard by the sheer beauty of your mutual discovery of each other.

You brought each other to greater life. You resurrected each other to life more beautiful and challenging and annoying than each of you had previously known. And it was nerve wracking and magnificent to witness, and, I’m sure, to experience, and continue to experience.

Open and close doors?

No, I think rather God moves mountain ranges of doubt and fear and replaces them with the quality of courage you both displayed when you said “I do” (less than a meter from me). At that moment a continental shift occurred and made you one and then over time made you many and then made you one and then many and on and on to all be more beautiful now – including your fabulous children of course – than when you said “I do” and you were already beautiful then, too!

Now, your question and visiting these memories has made me cry.


Unrelated picture —— Nate will be 21 in a few weeks!

March 9, 2023

You’re not always right…..

by Rod Smith

Dear Rod: On the whole I think you give very positive advice, although you’re not always right! I estimate that 90% is a good average, so keep it up! I enjoy your column. Kind regards, Glen

I love such responses to my work and have probably received hundreds of similar replies (always from men) over the 22 years this column has appeared daily in The Mercury.

Glen is far above average when it comes to politeness.

Thank you Glen for the 90% grade. I’m quite happy to reach even 75% (of being “right”) given the diversity of readers and thinkers of our beloved newspaper.

I do try to be positive. I do this first for myself and then for my readers given that most of us are more immersed in negative news than is probably good for the soul. I really do approach my life and the blank page (actually a blank screen) with a “yes” or “can-do-it” mindset. Who wants to live with anything less let alone read repeated discouragement in the mornings?

I know I’m not always right. Thank you for reminding me about this.

Life certainly agrees with you and often reminds me, rather loudly, that I’m not.

My son Thulani – 25 soon!
March 9, 2023

It’s encouraging to hear from readers……

by Rod Smith

Dear Mr Smith

I trust you are well.

My name is Sibahle Nsukwini I am a final year student at Durban University of Technology. As an upcoming journalist I always follow the steps of people who are the best in the game and who have experience in journalism like you, Mr Smith.

I read your article in The Mercury newspaper which has a title that says “Beauty is all around us, in all we meet.” The article inspired me a lot since I have been struggling to myself since high school.

The article lifted me as it said all people are beautiful and there is gold to everyone, it gave me strength to continue love the way I was created and to tell myself that even if people can poke fun of me they will not touch or shake my silver and gold, I just have to be strong.

When the time comes next year and if I quickly get job Daily Newspaper Organisation ,I will write articles like yours maybe I will touch souls and give hope to the people who are in the dark.

Thank you so much sir and keep being the light to us

March 7, 2023

Us and Space

by Rod Smith

There’s an “us” between us, between you and me, no matter how close or platonic our relationship may be.

When I do my part to care for it (the “us”) and you do your part to care for it, things go better all round for each of us. We do this when we each maintain clear distinctions of who and what we are to each other. When I’m honest, kind and generous toward you, intimate or platonic, and you return the favor, the “us” grows in trustworthiness and our confidence in each other and even in ourselves, grows.

There’s “space” between close friends and intimates and when I do my part to care for it and you do your part to care for it, things go better for each of us.

The space between us is kept clear, clean, healthy when respect and equality and mutuality and freedom flow between us.

When the space between us is clear, the story we know and tell of each other is affirming and accurate. It is when the space between us is cluttered with half-truths and suspicion that we have to invent the story we tell ourselves and it usually comes out full of hope or fear – or both.

March 6, 2023

Which self will show up?

by Rod Smith

Which self within you will reign this hour, during this encounter, or this day?

• Anxious self: anxiety messes with hearing, seeing, assessing and is reactionary and so unhelpful decisions are usually made. The anxious self needs time to settle, take stock, reassess.

• Angry self: anger driven decisions usually have in-built vengeance or hurt as part of any process. Anger driven moments lead to damage and usually remorse. 

• Victim self: the victim defends and protects and decisions are hardly decisions at all but drawn out processes cloaked in “poor me” non-thinking. This may lead to short-lived unhelpful sympathy from others.

• Arrogant self: arrogance blinds and deafens, makes the needs and cares of others hard to see let alone acknowledge and respect. Arrogance pushes others out of the way. 

• Indifferent self: indifference is neutral blindness toward others. It inures, it separates the indifferent from others and from him or herself.

• Flippant self: the flippant flaunts though times others find tough as if everything is a joke and of no consequence. Flippancy is pseudo protection and denial with little more to offer than brief moments where the joke feels real. 

• Sane self:  the sane self stops and thinks, weighs pros and cons, takes time for deliberate thought regarding how decisions and behaviors impact self and others. The sane self looks ahead. 

Seek your sane self and “live” from there! 

It’s the place to be