The death of a good man

Somehow, the world spun so fast and it is now August. Summer is taking its last breaths before it resigns and hands over duties to Fall and soon the parade of holidays will start and lead us to the end of this year. It bewilders me that three seasons have been crammed into the space between when I returned to the U.S. and now, as I sit in a sun dress sipping coffee from the deck of my Chicago apartment. 

Seasons have passed and I have lived. 

Time change in Lesotho was quite calculated. Months, holidays, school semesters until the finish line. I often wondered if I joined the Peace Corps because it came with a specific deadline, a goal for my attention. Just get to there, I would push myself along. A new season was a time marker passed.

Peter celebrated seasons, too. As I was trying to shorten my journey, he was lengthening his. For the 70-something man, a season gone met that he was still alive. He was still going. 

If you read this blog while I was in Lesotho, you’ll remember Peter as the British man who lived in my village. He had come to Lesotho in his mid-40s as part of a work placement program. He looked at the list of countries and Lesotho stuck out because he had never heard of it. He came, worked his allotted time and, when opportunities in the UK fell through, decided to stay. He fell in love with a Mosotho woman and on the day their first child was born, a girl, he bought a large chunk of land in Ha Matela.

He often travelled the 50 K to Maseru and they had a home in South Africa, but the land was his kingdom. He told me that he could go back to the UK and have a cramped house in a stinky city or he could have this land with lemon trees, an expansive garden, three living quarters and a beautiful view of Machache Mountain. He had a workshop for his woodworking and a vineyard for winemaking. His home was full of cookbooks and he spent evenings watching the Premiere League. Yes, he could have used more time and money to accomplish all of his projects – the bakery in the shop he owned, the full renovation of their home – but he loved his life with his family. 

It took me a long time to go over and introduced myself to Peter. Although it was custom for Basotho to have people drop in, I wasn’t sure with a man from the west. I often worried I was bothering him and his family, but that feeling always vanished within the first minute of stepping into their home. They never hesitated in welcoming me. 

While having dinner at The Marfleet home in May 2013, Peter read me a poem he wrote. Peter had so many interests and hobbies and it wasn’t at all surprising that poetry was one of them. His poem described an accident he had as a younger man, when he drove right into the back of a semi-truck. He wrote the poem because the same thing happened, just days before I saw him. In the recent accident, his depth perception vanished and he collided right into the truck. I can’t quite remember the poem, but I remember loving it and feeling so safe and welcomed by this man. 

I didn’t see the The Marfleets for many months after that. Peter grew very ill and spent several weeks in South Africa. He had had a stroke, if I remember correctly, and they found a tumor on his brain. The doctors advised care at the hospital but he wanted to be home, with his family and where he could see Machache Mountain each day. 

The last time I saw Peter was shortly before I left Lesotho. I had been busy, they had been busy, but I found time to stop over for a quick goodbye. A few months before I had had dinner with them and I noticed that Peter had slowed down. His energy and enthusiasm, although not gone, was now less. Then, he was optimistic about recovery, we all were, but in December it was clear that he would not being going back. He was on the road to the end. 

On Wednesday Beatrice messaged me to tell me that her father had passed. I deleted my Facebook account some months ago and I’ve actually been nervous that if he did pass I would miss it. But, I gave her my number before then and she was able to connect with me on whatsapp. At first, I was so grateful that this woman who had just lost her father took the time to tell me that he was gone but then I realized he was gone. I went to the bathroom at work and cried. 

Leaving Lesotho, I knew people would die. I understood that the Ha Matela I knew would change without me and I had guessed that Peter’s life would likely come to an end in the near future, but it didn’t make the news any easier. All I wanted was to hug John and Beatrice. I wanted to go over to that house and be with them. I wanted to be able to go the funeral, sit underneath a tarp and listen to people tell stories about Ntate Peter. I wanted to honor this kind-hearted man, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know who to tell about his death, so I told Twitter. 

It’s been a few days since his death and it’s only now that I’ve had the time to process and write about it. My heart breaks for his family and I still can’t picture the Marfleet estate without that vibrant man. Yet, Peter taught me a lot about living and finding happiness in simplicity. He showed me that there is no age to stop dreaming and that really the greatest thing in life is the people you love. He was a good man and he makes me want to be a good woman. 

Peter is gone. He did not get to the next season, but he had many, many great seasons. He lived a good life and was loved. At the end of our life, if that’s what people can say about us, then I think we did what we came here to do. 

 

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