As I sit in my study looking out towards the back of Table Mountain I am reminded of an old image. In my early to mid twenties I spent several years living at Kolbe House, the Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Cape Town. Nestled at the base of Devil’s Peak just below Middle Campus and above Main Road, it was the perfect location.
There was a little spot – an odd square block just outside the kitchen stairs where you could sit and look up at the awesome magnitude of Devil’s Peak. It was my ‘solace’ spot. The place where I could sit when I felt lost; alone; overwhelmed. I could just sit and look up at the remarkable solidity of the Mountain and somehow after 5 or 10 or 15 minutes I would feel better. Devil’s Peak always visible day or night.
At some point during my PhD I spent a couple of weeks house sitting a house in Plattekloof. During the day it had a beautiful view of Mountain, but being significantly further away, at night the inky blackness of Mountain was indistinguishable from the night sky. One night I was struggling with something (I cannot remember what now) and I did what I always did when I felt that way at Kolbe. I went outside to look at the Mountain. To my horror I realised that I couldn’t see it.
And I so I raged at God that even this last solace was taken from me. As my rage softened to silence I noticed that whilst I couldn’t see the Mountain, I could see the edge of the city lights. If I kept looking at those lights the dawn would come.
And so tonight I sit looking out of my study window with a very similar view. The Mountain and sky blend into the darkness, but the row of lights at the base are clear. It seems a good metaphor for higher education and the skirmishes which are being fought over the soul of South Africa on that playing field.
For today, I will keep looking at that line of lights and trust that the dawn will come and the Mountain will be revealed. At the end of this long night – none of us will be the same, but that is what is needed to build a real future for us all.