It’s been a long time since I wrote to you, or about you. Recently I’m finding that I’m treading into new areas of grief, as well as revisiting well walked areas of grief. But I’m not sure it can be as distinctive as that. Because lately life seems to be a like an old map over a new land. A combination of the new and the old, the familiar and the foreign. Like I’m navigating new foreign lands by grasping hold of familiar old knowledge.
I’m in a foreign emotional land releasing parts of my identity to God, channelled through revelations long ago discovered. I’m in a foreign spiritual land discovering who God is, reaching out to truths long ago exposed. And I’m in a foreign physical land, where I’ve been for 3 years, but still relearning how to live life.
And well, there is you.
And where do I put you?
You overflow into so many of my lands Mike, and suitcases for that matter. How do I possibly begin to help someone outside of my heart to fully understand the depth of this? You are one whole of my identity as my brother; like the waters of the earth which are completely connected. One third of my identity as a sibling; the way the stars, dust and dark matter complement each other to create the galaxy. One fifth on my identity as part of the “Knight Family Clan”; the way the world knows of the “Big Five” Animals.
I’m not suggesting any, “we are one with the world” type of thing by saying these things. I’m simply trying to navigate foreign lands, with old knowledge, to illustrate a reality I face in my heart. Once upon a time something that was once “complete”, is now incomplete because the rivers topped running, the stars died, and the Big Five became, “Just Four”.
At so many land marks and sign posts I think about you Mike. When I see other people with their brothers. When I see pictures of you. When I think of something I want to tell you. Sadness is one dimension of grief, but being sad is an incomplete picture of grief. For example, I love talking about you. I would talk about you all the time if I could. The retelling of such precious memories warms my soul and draws me as close to you as possible. In those moments, it’s the underlying reality of separation that makes grief bittersweet… and BEAUTIFUL.
Mike, people here often say I am the glue that drives and hold our community together. It’s something that is incredibly honouring to be told. But Mike, I want to give you credit for that. Because any truth in these statements comes down to you. In your death, you taught me life is fragile; to seize the moments; to make the memories; to live freely and intentionally because we only get one shot. You always said you wanted to lead worship and you did. You, lead me into a different life style. God used your death to change the course of my life. How wonderfully redemptive and tragically broken.
I wish someone told me Mike, that in time the life alternating revelations God gave me through your death would lose its power as I allowed other things to take priority again. Busyness, compartmentalising, superficiality, worrying about what others think, allowing things to rent space in my mind. Your death was so precious, and for a while there I felt the freest I have ever felt.
If I could do it again, I would hold onto to those revelations harder. It’s not about staying in sorrow, it’s about ensuring the life death brings isn’t wasted. The very concept of death bringing life is one of grief’s truest and most beautiful conflicts. Embracing the fullness of life and death; walking fearlessly in the memories, lessons, regrets, revelations; and recycling everything you carry to give purpose to the present day.
Being in South Africa is hard Mike. I’m away from mum, dad and Laura and I’m not around for so many things that are passing by in their lives. I only get one family; and I don’t want to get to the end of their life or mine to find I regret not doing life with them when I had the chance. I struggle with the thought of living anywhere but England. Not because I love England, but because my family are there. I don’t want the separation from them Mikey. It’s already my story with you.
I left home to go to university when you were 15 years old, and I missed out on the three most important years of your life. I missed your 18th which was your last birthday. We missed our last Christmas. I missed your whole adventure of going to the ship for six months. I missed out connecting with you when we were at the age where we could relate to one another. I missed out on every imaginable, boring, special part to your last three years. And then, you were gone. I wasn’t even home for that. I wasn’t home when you left.
The thing of not being home is hard Mike. So flippen hard. Any thoughts I have about not being there for you, I try to use to wisely influence present day decisions; like about community, intentionality, living with open hands, and vulnerability. But when it’s thoughts about not being there for mum, dad and Laura… it breaks me a little sometimes. Every day I’m stepping forward; every day I’m choosing to follow God; every day I’m believing that being in the centre of His will is greater than being home… But that daily decision to step, chose and believe so often feels like I’m dragging an elephant over a mountain size step.
Mike, I honestly don’t know what the future holds, or what it looks like; especially when it comes to family. I have a lot of questions, some fear, and some pain. But at least with pain I can use it to physically push me forward. The fear thing though, it competes exhaustingly with having an open heart.
I’ve been given so much freedom, and an unimaginably honouring privilege, to do vulnerability so openly. However, I often wonder if the people around me have any idea the price said vulnerability came at, or still comes at. The price of choosing to reach down into the depths of the stinging pits and to recycle your very being, in hope that from your vulnerability is birthed hope, freedom and life for someone else. That’s the most intense type of bittersweet.
Death still amazes me. It’s power to shift the entire landscape of one’s life. The way they think. The way they operate. Their decisions. Their behaviour. Their words. Life becomes so unimaginably intentional. Whilst I sometimes feel the shudder of the earth under my feet, whilst I sometimes see the walls of water racing towards me, whilst I don’t always know how to read old maps, and whilst I don’t always know how to draw new maps… I wouldn’t trade these valleys and mountains to not be in a foreign land.
That all being said, I miss you Mike. I really wish we could just chat and I wish you could see me. Not that I want you to sacrifice the fullness of what you have in Heaven; but just so that I knew there was still a connection between us. Because no matter what people say, and people try to say kind words, the reality is death separates. Jesus redeemed the eternal consequence of death, but until He comes again, death still momentarily exists. And in its existence, separates. No matter how short the time is until we’re reunited, the separation is still awful. I wonder if that’s why Jesus cried when Lazarus died, because he knew the reality and power of death on Earth.
Anyways Mikey, I’m going to stop for now. I could write and write and write to you. There’s so much I long to share with you. I love you. And I can’t wait to see you again.
Nearly two weeks ago I went out for dinner with my friends & as we sat around the table I couldn’t help, yet again, thinking how blessed I am to have this amazing community. Unfortunately the moment was slammed with another thought, “The last time I had an amazing community of friends my brother died. Why do I have this community? Who is going to die this time?”
Lately I’ve been very aware of fear in my life. It’s like my heart is conflicted in a beautiful tension of feeling paralysed & breaking down walls or lies. Let me give you two battle grounds where this is going on.
Firstly, I love my community of friends here; so much so that I made a decision to be very intentional about not letting anything happen to it. For example, our group has guys in it. The fastest & surest way of division happening is to like someone & they don’t like you back.
So I purposely set out to make sure no guys could pick up a signal of interest from me & misinterpret it. In fact I was so set on doing this that it was a surprise to me last Sunday when one guy said to me, “But I thought you didn’t want to be in a relationship. You keep saying you don’t want anything to compromise this community & family.”
I realised then that I can think I’m communicating clearly but what I’m communicating may not be what people hear. I do want to be in a relationship, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid of loss, of rejection, & I’m afraid of losing my best friend (at least you should be BFFs if you’re dating them?! Haha).
After Mike, after my last relationship, after saying goodbye to the UK… I’m not closed to relationships at all, but my heart is fragile to loss & change. This community is my family, I’m scared that too will go away. Yet, if a guy does come along in my life, I do want to be brave enough to jump in.
The second battle ground is this. One of the coolest things about this group of friends is they give me so much permission to be myself… I know what I’m about to say is going to sound like a complete contradiction but bear with me… however, the deeper into community I get, the more this seems to be challenged.
I’m still figuring out who I am. Especially post Mike. A lot changed once he died. Especially the way I see the world, people & life. Certain things became more meaningful & I became a lot more intentional. I like deep conversations, I like encouraging people to be greater versions of who they already are, I like asking people how they are really doing… But in order to do that I first must be vulnerable. Even if my vulnerability is simply asking the question. No matter how great or small the vulnerability, it’s direct contrast is rejection.
The constant threat of rejection is exhausting but lately the consequences of vulnerability seems more intense. Like recently things have happened, or comments have been made to me that were not supposed to be negative but Satan has used it to cut deep into my heart. The thoughts going around in my head subsequently are:
“You drain people Akila”, “People want to laugh & deep stuff doesn’t refresh them”, “Akila people can only handle you in small doses”, “Akila people push you away because you are too intense”, “Akila you are too emotional”, “Akila you think you are trying to treat people the way you want to be treated but really you are just broken.”
I don’t want to be any of those things that are in my head. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I didn’t ask for Mike to die. I didn’t ask for me to change. I don’t want to drain people. I don’t want people to only be able to cope with me in small doses. My heart feel so raw, shaken & vulnerable thinking this could be.
Tonight, before church, I was trying to put on mascara without crying it off & I was talking to God about all this. I said to God, “I want to me just me. I want to be real & intentional. I want the deep conversations. I want to genuinely know how someone is doing. I really love & care for people. Even if people can only cope with me in small doses, I don’t want to change because this stuff matters to me, this is how I show people they matter to me.”
As I’m trying to figure all this out with Jesus a thought came to me, “Akila they’re not running from you, they’re running from vulnerability.”
Later after church I shared my fears with my life group leader & she gave a really beautiful illustration of a needle with thread. The needle point of vulnerability is so sharp that it can be painful for me & for others, but the thread that the needle brings is community.
Community is so much bigger than just a group of people hanging out. If God is the heart then community is what He uses to pump life into our souls. Life that fills our being with purpose. Life that He uses to demonstrate His love, His freedom, His truth. Community is life. Messy, beautiful, adventurous, living life. But it’s His life, & He gives it to us. He calls us to be our Brother’s Keepers.
This fear malarkey is hard core to address, but once upon a time when I was 14 years old God told me, “Akila I made you for people.” I want to be faithful to that calling. It’s my heart, it’s how I’m wired. What an incredible joy it is to be called my Brother’s Keeper. I’m not confused about this, but the fears bury this so that everything dumped on top causes confusion & disunity.
I don’t have a conclusion to this blog post as this is still a journey. But I do know that I don’t want these fears to kill me. I don’t want to change the root of who I am. I do want to grow. I do want to walk in freedom rather than fear. & whilst I’m trying to move away from acceptance in other people’s eyes, I really do hope I can be a good friend to people.
Last week I was walking down Long Street in Cape Town CBD with a group of friends at about 11.30pm when a guy pushed himself against my back and rubbed himself on me. I spun around only to see he was already doing it to another girl who was with us. Then he walked off. It happened so quickly.
Later that evening I was talking about it to the girl’s brother, let’s call him Abs, and to another guy friend, let’s call him Toes. Abs asked me did I say something to the guy and I said, “No, why would I put myself in an intimidating situation? I’ve no idea if calling him out on it will cause him to get aggressive with me.” Abs said, “But Akila, you were with 4 other guys at the time who have your back. What did you think would happen?”
I found myself unable to respond but inside thinking to myself, “You have my back? I didn’t even think of you guys.”
The next night it was New Year’s Eve. We were on the beach overlooking Cape Town City and once the firework shows ended we decided to go to the restaurant directly behind us because for NYE they had a DJ. Once we got our faces painted by the staff – literally, it was white paint and looked freakin awesome – we hit the dance floor.
I never really realized this until I was going home, but all night I had been looking around me. The whole time I was on the dance floor I did what I always do, observe what others around me are doing. Who is where, who looks shifty, who should I be alert to, do I need to protect someone…
Do I need to protect someone? The number one question I continually ask myself.
Back home when we go out I’m usually the oldest one in the group and/or with my younger sister. Between her and the younger ones in the group I end up stepping into that protector role every time we go out. There is always at least one guy who gets far too close, physical or friendly. Whilst it’s such an honor to be used as a trusted shield by my sister or our friends, I have to switch off my brain, compartmentalize any fear, and address the guy.
The guy’s reaction 99% of the time is either to then hit on me, or to get aggressive. Once a guy punched me three times in the face and busted my lip when I explained the girl wasn’t interested. Another time the guy grabbed my hair so hard I landed head first on the edge of the street curb which caused my head to bleed.
But on the night of NYE something magically strange happened on the dance floor.
I was dancing next to the sister, the same one who was with me on Long Street the night before, and noticed the guy behind her was bumping his backside against her. So I grabbed her hand and spun her into the opposite direction. But then that left me with butt guy and I was thinking, “Oh no?! Where do I go?! His butt is going to bump into me now?!”
I think I dived to the other side of our circle of friends but when I turned around Toes had moved into the spot where the sister and I were. I wish I filmed it because it was genuinely the funniest thing – Toes had no shame, he just danced the same way as the guy, backside to backside, and soon enough the guy moved away.
After a while the lights dimmed and the music got better so myself and two other girls moved to the center of the dance floor. And we just went for it dancing. I could see this tall, creepy, older dude dancing near us and sure enough he made a move on one girl. I grabbed her away from him but then the creep started hitting on the other girl. I grabbed her too and held onto them while dancing in hope that creep would get the message that we were not interested. But as I looked over my shoulder all I saw was Toes and Abs leading the other guys in our group across the dance floor straight to us. They gathered around us dancing and Toes made conversation with creep.
P.s. creep doesn’t deserve a capital “C”.
I cannot tell you how much that blew my mind. It was so simple and non-threatening but so effective. It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t the only one observing things on the dance floor. I never thought our guys would have our backs like that. I never thought they would step into that protective brother role. I never thought it because I never saw it before.
I know what happens when I say no. I know what it’s like to be hit repeatedly in the face and on multiple occasions. I know what it’s like for guys to force their hands onto me. I know what happens when a guy 60 years older than me kisses me inappropriately. I know what it’s like to not be able to press charges because there, “isn’t enough evidence to make the case stick in court”. I know so much more than what anyone should ever have to know.
More than anything I know exactly what it’s like to be a woman in a world where men are animals.
I didn’t know, genuinely did not know, that a group of guys, like my friends, could exist. I don’t know what overwhelms my heart more with love and gratitude – that these guys exist or that I have the joy of calling them my brothers.
I shared some of my personal life story with a friend on the way back to Pretoria from Cape Town. And after she asked me do I have someone who can help me work through some of the things I’ve been through. I do have people, but I said to her, “Do you know what, God’s really amazing. The stuff He’s doing in my heart is insane. I can’t escape Him. He’s using so many people and situations to address things in my life and to heal my heart. It’s absolutely incredible. Just like the other night the way the guys responded on the dance floor. That whole event has shifted so much in my heart.”
I really wish I could show my South Africa family how much God is using them. I’ve said this before but I can’t help repeating it when I realize how full my heart is when I think of them. I actually kinda get sad at my human limitations in expressing my gratitude to them. But I guess I can only keep encouraging them with words of affirmation; and before God just continually ask that He blesses each of them.
In the mean time, I’m so so so freakin blessed to call them my brothers and sisters. Teddi, thanks for pushing me to write about this.