After publishing “Three years on . . .” on Facebook recently, I received numerous comments from friends around the world – Australia, Hong Kong, Europe, South Africa and the United States. I was extremely humbled by all the unexpected comments that were made, and I responded as follows:
I am humbled by the support and prayers that I receive from around the world. I stand in awe when I realize just how many eyes are upon me and the task that has been set for me – despite my so many shortcomings.
In the early hours of this morning – when I struggle to sleep with this cast! – I heard a song on the radio “Everybody hurts sometimes”. I realize again that I am not unique.
My prayer is that my disease will remind us all that we are surrounded by people who carry their varied burdens in a far less public way than I do. They are constantly in need of our assistance, support and prayers.
Please support such people today and every day – then the fight is not in vain, and together we can make the world a better place.
“For it is in giving that we receive …”
I also received a comment from Jonathan Barber (Old Grey and ex pupil of mine now residing in the US) “Ed, how on earth did you end up in school in Oklahoma?”
Well, Jonathan’s question – and Sean’s recent induction as a prefect – got me thinking about my own matric year. Here’s how I “ended up in Oklahoma”:
In 1974, my last year at school (matric, standard 10, grade 12), I was deputy head prefect at Hottentots-Holland High School in Somerset West. I participated in the public speaking contest and won – talking about whether South Africa could afford building statues and monuments when it had so many other priorities to fund. Afterwards, a Rotarian present asked me to apply for a Rotary Exchange Scholarship, which I did.
Later that year, I became one of twenty pupils in the Western Cape to be selected as an exchange student. We could state our preference – Australia, New Zealand, Canada or USA. Most of us selected USA but only 5 were chosen to go there, and I was the leader of that group! I dreamt of New York City, but remember being very apprehensive when I was told that I was headed for Sulphur, Oklahoma – it wasn’t even on the map!
There was one big problem, though. I needed R1000 to pay for my return ticket to Oklahoma City.
We had grown up in a financially challenged environment (read that as equalling a rather poor home!) Dad was in his sixth year of being totally paralysed on the right side and unable to talk (as a result of a stroke that he had when I was in standard five). Mom had struggled to raise four young children and look after a handicapped husband. When I had discussed applying for the exchange programme with her, she had warned me about the financial implications. There was just no one thousand rand!
With days to go before the deadline of accepting / rejecting the exchange scholarship, I recall going to the usual Monday morning school assembly – this one with a difference. Mom was sitting on the stage. I was called up and presented with a cheque of R1200. Unbeknown to our family, the money had been raised by my classmates – the matric class of 1974. Under the watchful eye of our Afrikaans teacher, Mr Danie Schoeman, they had organised sponsorships for Deon Dorrington to play the organ in a local music shop for 24 hours during the previous weekend.
So it was, that on 15 January 1975, at the age of 18, I flew (for the first time!) out of Cape Town via Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, New York City and Chicago to Oklahoma City and on to Sulphur, Oklahoma.
That’s how I ended up in Oklahoma, Jonathan! That’s how I got to graduate from Sulphur High School. That’s how I got to become an honorary citizen of Oklahoma, conferred on me in Oklahoma City by governor David Boren on 1 December 1975.
That’s how the water painting “Oklahoma Sunset” by Mr Paul Walsh, art teacher at Sulphur (who just this week has become a “friend” on Facebook) and the watercolour “Aspen’s Maroon Bells and Snowmass Lake” by Rev Lee Griffen come to decorate our dining room today.
That’s how I got to live with the Whitleys, the Colberts, the Griffens and the Seips. To this day, the Whitleys are a part of our family’s lives. In 1988, I took long leave from Grey and got to go back to Sulphur High School. In 1999, I visited with the Whitleys in Atlanta; in September 2001 (just after September 11), Pera, Sean, Phillip and I spent a month with them in Atlanta and Missourri; and in March 2007 (a month after I had been diagnosed with CBD), I returned to Missourri for “Dad” Bill Whitley’s 80th birthday, sadly, just months before his passing.
Thanks, Kevin, for keeping us together all these 35 years, and for, not so subtlely, trying to plant the seeds to get us back to Colorado. (I know the hiking around Aspen is good in the summer, and the skiing at Purgatory is superb in the winter! Been there, done it, worn the t-shirt!)
Thanks “Mom” Nadine, Blake, Colin, Brett and Pat, and your wives, children, and grand children, for accepting me as the 6th brother in the family. I’m not only an honorary OKIE, I am also an honorary Whitley (somehow, Whitley-Lunnon sounds quite aristocratic!)
Thanks to my Sulpur High schoolmates, the classes of ‘75/’76 – many with whom I still correspond today (thanks to the internet). (In 1975, it was almost impossible to even phone home from America. The quickest roundtrip communication – by letter – between me and home took four weeks!)
And, I can’t remember if I ever did this formally – but thanks to Rotary for the opportunity of student exchange (Noelene, please do that for me), and very special special thanks to Mr Danie Schoeman and the HHH class of 1974, who made it all possible in the first place.
Your cheque of R1200 not only paid the airfare, but has provided me and my family with an unbelievable life experience and with one hang of a ride!
To paraphrase Neil Diamond’s I am I said:
OK’s fine, the sun shines most of the time
And the feeling’s laid back . . .
Well I’m Cape Town City born and raised
But nowadays I’m lost between two shores . . .
OK’s fine but it ain’t home
Cape Town’s home but it ain’t mine no more….
May I call myself an African-American, or does that create a new set of problems?
(In loving memory of Herbie Lunnon, Doris Lunnon, Bill Whitley and Sherri Danley (SHS))