Is the world the same as it was before?

Things fizzle out like dew in the morning, but paradoxically also remain the same

Things fizzle out like dew in the morning, but paradoxically also remain the same

David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
At Sunday school we learned, as children, about Jesus, the awaited Christ, the one and only beloved son of God who through his very being, existence, demise and resurrection was a symbol of God’s bottomless love for the world and its people.

For God so loved the world that he gave Jesus, his only begotten son for the remission of sins. Through that one act, Jesus redeemed the hitherto fallen human race. Jesus.

After his sacrifice every sin and any sin could be wiped off the slate and we the guilty wretches could start again on a fresh page, unsullied by baggage from our past. In this way Divinity gave the world the template for salvation.

There are, of course, other narratives besides this one, but many of us grew up on this one narrative.

In line with the template for salvation, renewal and rejuvenation have become abiding motifs in the lives of the human race. These two things keep popping up along life’s highways.

People fall and rise, then fall yet again in order to rise one more time.

Do not be fooled. There are many that fall for good and more or less vanish from both living memory and from history.

Nevertheless, we are always looking for new beginnings after messing up and foolishly ignoring the lessons that life has always taught.

We are always trying to start afresh by ourselves or with others, and always believing, though without reason, that time is our ally. As a budding teenager I used to sing along with The Rolling Stones, the British rock band fronted by Mick Jagger of the pouting lips.

This is the guy that some said had to find ways of being as different and as outrageous as he could be on stage because in the beginning all the girls were screaming for Brian Jones who had the looks and the stage presence.

My favourite sing-along melody with the Stones included the words, “Time is on my side, yes it is!” What a piece of false assurance. Do we ever really know if we are in step with time?

Luke 12: 20 tells the story of a man who had a bumper harvest and was planning for even more spectacular things. But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded from you. And the things you have prepared — whose will they be?”

The man did not rise with the rising sun. There are instances in life when people feel that everything is going their way, that their cups “runneth over” and that goodness and mercy will follow them into eternity. Some of these people, however, are usually deluding themselves.

Do you remember Ian Douglas Smith’s “. . . never in a thousand years”, words spoken at the height of his conceit?

The man was so sure that he was on to a good thing that when black students from the University of Rhodesia tried to disrupt a meeting he was addressing, he pompously sang in Afrikaans, “Bobbejaan klim die berg” meaning “monkey climbs up the hill”. Rhodesians often explicitly or implicitly equated the black man to apes.

Old copies of The Chronicle and The Rhodesia Herald record incidents in which white farmers shot and killed black people and afterwards argued that they had been under the impression that they were shooting at a buck or a baboon.

Believe it or not, the courts always found them not guilty and they walked away scot free to sin again as it were. For many years it was a criminal offense for an “African” to walk on the pavements.

There are times when I wonder where I am and whether I am coming or going. In such introspective moments, nostalgia — that acute longing for something that has passed — is my venerable defence.

In such moments I tend to feel and think that the world has changed, somehow. My take is that the world used to be a simple place to live in; we were guided by norms, taboos, laws and customs, the defiance of which had dire consequences, we believed.

We never doubted the elders, because after all, they had preceded us into the world. Life was generally tranquil, settled and unspoiled, quite like the first day of creation. We swam at the river clothed in our nakedness, all of us together, boys and girls without exception.

There was no danger of us playing the Adam and Eve game. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, about original sin, a doctrine that makes even babies inherently evil. The simple fact of being the descendants of a sinful first human couple guaranteed that.

Everyone is guilty by association. Adam and Eve initially had sex for its own sake and so fell from grace. Theologians trace hell fire to this mythical incident in a garden, some people might say.

The first time I read “Portrait of Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce, I literally shook in my boots when I came to the part where a priest is telling a group of frightened little boys about just how vast and endless eternity is, and just how intense the fires of hell are.

He tells them that the fires of hell burn sinners without ever consuming them and that this goes on again and again endlessly. Fire normally consumes what it burns. This means that what is burnt disappears, but there is always more of you for the fires of hell to torture.

That’s the priest’s message in Joyce’s book. These fears and beliefs made many walk the straight and narrow path. Knowledge, democracy and empowerment seem to have changed many of our perspectives.

In the olden days you could catch a fish, gut it and eat it without worrying too much about parasitology and its claims. You went into the forest to hunt and came back with a hare or a duiker and so on.

You did not wonder if the animal was possibly carrying a zoonotic disease (a disease transmissible between animals and human beings). You had yourself a good meal and did not hesitate to hunt again another time.

Thus knowledge is in some respects a killer of many things of beauty and a creator of many ogres. In these circumstances the idea of permanence sounds like a mental distraction — something that only a mad man can possibly imagine.

Skies, the City of Kings, otherwise also known as KwaBulawayo, is host to a hotel that promises limitless luxury and whose punchline is that it fully subscribes to “a mad man’s dream”.

The question is, “What does a mad man dream about?” Can his dreams at some future date be re-classified as having been just ordinary after all? Anyway the mad man knows no limits. Fanciful flights of the imagination and excess are the compass by which he navigates the world.

It is the mad man’s right to daydream just as it is the right of children to be allowed the glories of fantasy. But there was a time when some of these things would have been regarded as heresy, punishable by death.

The older we grow, the longer we live, and the stranger the world looks with each passing day. Willy-nilly, without ever intending to, we are struck by the ambivalences of life and the transience of all and sundry.

Things fizzle out like dew in the morning, but paradoxically also remain the same. The changes that we think we see are perhaps no more than an illusion. The world is as it was in the beginning and as it ever shall be.

Its volatility and the falseness of avid claims by spin-doctors that things are different both make sure that when in station we are, in fact, in motion and vice versa. Put simply, when you think you are moving you discover in the end that, you have, in fact, not taken a single step forward.

And when you dig in and swear that you will not give an inch you discover in the end that you were always on shifting sands and that, therefore, compromise was never in doubt. You just didn’t know when it would happen. That’s all.

Although children are probably smarter these days, we must not forget just how privileged and pampered they are. My grandson, who is yet to turn two already can sing Winky D’s “Disappear”, Jah Prayzah’s “Mudhara Achauya” and Soul Jah Love’s “Pamamonya ipapo”.

While future whizz kids like him are not a new phenomenon, each time you interact with one you can’t help feeling that an era has passed and that a new one has begun. How has all this come about? Are we in some way responsible for the changes that to others look no more than futile attempts to avoid sameness?

David Mungoshi is a writer, social commentator, retired teacher and practising editor.

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