In our community we believe it takes a village to raise a child, but not only that, we believe it takes a village to raise them into the men and women they were created to be. This means that children are in and out the arms and homes of adults they were not born to, or by law adopted into, but who love them deeply, and who take an unspoken guardianship of them. Adults, who know these children’s true identity beyond their external behaviours and call it out, people who know their hopes and dreams and whom these kids know have their backs. As the kids get a little older, we try to establish particular relationships between these “village parents” and the kids with the intention of sharing the role of mentoring with their ‘legal’ parents. It is not really a formal thing, but more of a natural emersion with some intentional sowing from the adults. This is one of my favourite things about our community and our people, Tree of Life Manenberg. One name we give this friendship and relationship is ‘spiritual mother or father, son or daughter’. I have the great privilege of being such a spiritual parent to a number of beautiful kids and young adults. In fact I love this part of the life so much; it is part of my job. I am the ‘house-mother’ of a recovery home for guys coming out of gangs, drugs and lives of crime and violence, which means I get to be their spiritual mother, and to many I become their ‘second mom’ – a role, of course, that does not, cannot and is not intended to, take the place of their mother by birth or law. It is a ‘something else’, that communities who live outside of the ‘nuclear-family-isolation’ cultivate naturally, and I think is often lost in many western countries and societies. A ‘something else’ that is also found in the bible through the model of discipleship shown to us by Jesus, really all we are doing is discipling (raising up) the next generation to be who they were made to be and to disciple those that come after them. This is to explain who I am so that you understand what you are about to read.
On the 2nd of September 2016 my husband and I lost one of the sons of our house, a spiritual son, whom we loved with everything in us, and whose death has devastated us. I think it was the worst day of our lives, and the weeks that followed some of the worst. Along with our community, our people, we held the space of handling the logistical chaos of bringing his body home from another city and leading his funeral back home upon the blessing and request of his mother and family. I was to share a tribute at his life celebration, and writing it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But late the night before I willed the words to emerge from the emptiness of my soul and so after stalling, hands shaking, lips trembling I shared:
Part 1 – a tribute
There is a hope inside of each of us that we can be better than what we are, that there is more in this world than what we have seen and experienced. We wish to see light that tells us this hope is true, and deep down we wish that one day we may carry that light too. Maruwaan’s life was a living story of the desire, the discovery and the becoming of this light. When I first met him he was drowning in the darkness, yet he had reached through the dark to touch the light he saw in his friend, bravely choosing to follow it through valleys of great pain, great effort, discipline, difficult choices, and putting aside his own desires for a life he knew would bring life to other’s.
The first thing I ever knew about Maruwaan was how much he adored his family. He wrote on his application form to join Cru62, “[I want] to be a example for my younger brothers and sister and to be a child for my mother”. And in the following year and a half, I saw him wrestle with what was the best decision to make in any situation based on what was best for his family. But it was always the thought of you, that kept him in recovery, because he knew that if he left and relapsed, he would not be the brother and son he wanted to be. And I saw this love and care extend beyond his family to the brothers of Cru62, whom he cared for with a fierce protection and love. Whenever he thought an unfairness had taken place he would come to me and speak on behalf of the other sons of our house. I saw it in how he looked after the small children in our church on a Sunday and how they adored him in return. I saw it in how from the very beginning he would always notice if I was sad or something was wrong and ask if I was OK, how he would pray for me when I was broken-hearted and speak truth to me when lies had crept their way in. I saw it in how he gardened and cared for the flowers and the plants. I saw it in how he loved his horse at their horse-therapy. I heard it in his voice the last time I ever spoke to him, the night before his big walk, I was phoning to wish him well and see how he was feeling, but all he cared about was finding out if Dowayne was OK because he was worried about him. I saw it in how the first thing he wanted to do once he had graduated from the house was to work with us to look after other guys from Manenberg coming out of gangs and drugs and to work with Jonno in schools to prevent children ever going there in the first place.
Maruwaan’s kindness and love was felt beyond us, his family and our people. People across the earth saw this light in him and were moved to tears and sometimes celebration when they heard his story and learned of who he was. His greatest wish was that others would experience the joy, the hope and the freedom that he had discovered. He knew who he was and he was walking in the plans and dreams for his life from the moment he reached through the darkness and asked Dowayne to help him.
Maruwaan I will miss your gift of hospitality, your love of cooking delicious food especially your smoersnoek braai. I will miss how you always looked for the lost sheep, leaving the herd to find the one that was missing and bring him home. I will miss your hugs and your beautiful smile. I will miss how when you worshipped you NEVER clapped in time to the music but you were always the first to start clapping anyway. I will miss watching you jump from the rocks into any body of water you could find. I will miss our chats after a long day hearing what new thing you learned and what new thing you plan to learn. I will miss your gentle spirit. I will miss your gift of joy and making others laugh.
We know that a time will come when we will see the brightness of your light shining beyond the darkness we now feel, the emptiness left in the wake of your absence. And yet even in this emptiness I still see you in the poppies, and I feel your presence in the magnolia trees, I hear your voice in the songs we sing and I recognise your joy in the stories that others tell of you and I know that the veil is thin, and you are not far away. We will forever love you, you are written on our hearts, our sweet boy.
When it was all over and reality began, I discovered I had many more words.
Part 2 – a love letter
I loved you before you spoke to me. I loved you as you trembled and shook and looked to me to guide you. I loved you as you took courage and faced your fear, trusted me when you knew not what to do. I loved you before you became famous, before you chose to do good, before you chose to give back and before you gave your life. I loved you before you were transformed and changed. I loved you when the newspapers and media did not care to tell your story while you lived, and I did not love you more when they chose to tell your story because you died. I loved you before you were a hero and the world knew your name, I loved you when you swore and shouted, when you wanted to give up and when you tried to push me away. I loved you when you made bad decisions, and I loved you when you put others lives at risk because you were still learning how to be responsible. I even loved you when you lied to me and deceived me. I did not love you because you saw the light and emerged from the darkness. I did not love you because you were an inspiration for our people and you defied the odds. I didn’t even love you because of your great big heart and your beautiful smile. I loved you because you were you. And you were my child. I loved you because God had given you to me to love, to show love to and to show how to love.
I loved you when you cried at night and I rubbed your back until you fell into the peace of sleep. I loved you when you doubted me and questioned my motives. I loved you when you played soccer and when we went shopping for new clothes. I loved you when you made your special fish dish and kept asking if it was good. I loved you even when you pulled a knife on another son of our house because you were still learning to break the habit of violence you had learned to survive, and I loved you when moments later you preached at church because you knew it was God’s grace not your perfection. I loved you when you chose my favourite shoes as my birthday gift. I loved you in it all. I loved you as we walked the dam on your birthday and you described all you had seen and done and all the wonderful people you had met. I loved you because you wanted to see the world and preach the Gospel in Malaysia and the Middle East, and I loved you because you wanted to go to India to see the pretty girls.
And then there was a phone call. There had been a terrible accident. It was serious. I called the messenger back, I got through. Her voice shook and she told me there was a body. Then I waited and I called your phone. I called Jonno’s phone. I kept calling your phone. I called Pete and he got in the car, parked outside our house. She called back. ‘I’m so sorry Sarah, it’s Maruwaan. It’s Maruwaan’s body’. I started screaming. No. No, no no. We got out the car shaking and called the other boys. ‘It looks serious,’ said one. ‘It is’, I replied. ‘We need to pray’. I told them what had happened. I called 3 maybe 4 times to check if a doctor had declared you dead. Definitively. Then a friend called , “I’m standing over his body Sarah, he’s definitely dead. My body shook for 4, maybe 6 hours. This cannot be happening. This isn’t happening.
Pete and I got on a plane to come and get you, to try to raise you and bring you home. We arrived at the morgue at about 18:30 and you were there. Your body lay upon the table, your eyes sparkled blue. You had not yet been washed and you continued to bleed out of your head wound. I put my hand to the glass and wept. You were so beautiful. You always were. But especially that day. We sang your song over you and promised to come back on Monday. We returned and the colour had left your body. The forensics doctor had seen you and washed you. We prayed, we worshiped, we declared your destiny over you and still you did not stand. I saw you in heaven; I saw the light and the joy. And I begged you to have courage to come home but you did not. 2 days later we followed your body to the mortuary and we prayed and we sang again, but you had left. You were not coming back. The staff informed us we must leave, there were others waiting to see the bodies of their beloveds. I took my oil and we unwrapped your feet. I washed your feet in the oil and I told you how much I loved you, and that I released you to be in your happy place. I held your face in my hands and I kissed you all over, my tears fell upon your cheeks. I let you go. My boy. My sweet, brave, beautiful boy. My child.
I sat outside. I could not move. I could not speak. I prayed that I could trade with you. That I could take your place. And then we brought your body home. 10 days later we lead your funeral. I spoke of how your light and love touched us all, Pete preached the message of your life, you would have loved it. The media behaved badly and stuck their cameras in the faces of your weeping family. Then we made the journey to put your body in the ground. I stood with your poppies and my body shook, I could no longer hold back the tears and they fell from my cheeks, like a river with no end. We buried you and people left. And at the end, when most people had left, neither my legs nor my inhibition would hold me any longer, and I fell to the floor and I wept for my child. The boy we had raised into a man. I was a guardian and I failed to protect you, I was a mother and I succeeded to love you.
I loved you before you were famous. I loved you before you chose to be a change. I loved you when you were a liar and a cheater, a gangster and an addict. I loved you because you were. And I will love you forever.