It is an obvious truth – we don’t know the future. But today I reminded of that in a useful way. We stand on the cusp of history in South Africa right now. Or that is how it feels. Will we descend to the infamy, ridicule and ruin that is Zimbabwe, or will we manage to make democracy work in a traumatised, tribal, post-colonial culture? It really isn’t clear.
But today I am reminded that there is hope. Almost exactly 10 years ago I began work as a postdoc in the lab of Kelly Chibale at UCT. I shouldn’t have been there. I had been working outside of chemistry for four years (when I say outside of chemistry – I was a spiritual director in a Jesuit retreat house!). I had to relearn most of what I had known.
Today I said goodbye to my first grad student. He was with me through honours, masters’ and his PhD. He’s going to postdoc in a very good lab at a good university overseas. When I began in Kelly’s lab in 2007 this was not my dream – I don’t think I had one. And yet now, 10 years after that reentry and nearly 15 years after I submitted my PhD this is where I am.
There is real fruit. My student’s journey is his own. I cannot claim any of it, except, I gave him space. For me, I didn’t dream 10 years ago that I would end up here.
I don’t know where I will be in 5, 10, 15 years, but I do inherently trust the journey so much more now. I don’t where South Africa is going, and I don’t know whether my fate is linked to the country I have adopted. But I have hope in humanity. Because when I sit with those who are truly seeking, I see healing happening – in myself and in those who choose to share their stories with me.
There is nothing but hope.
Not blind optimism but real hope.