What is it about edges that attract us? Why do we gladly stand, albeit timidly, at the precipice of a cliff? Why the compulsion to see the very last tip of land? When all that we know for sure is safely and surely behind us, why linger at the edge to gaze squinty-eyed at the breathless gap before us?
The Cape of Good Hope is the ultimate edge experience. It seduces with the wild, the open, the unknown.
The rugged outcropping holds what many believe to be South Africa’s southernmost grain of sand and its southernmost sun-bleached rocky beaches. (Actually, Cape Agulhas, 95 miles east, is the continent’s most southern point.) No matter. The Cape of Good Hope holds our fascination.
And because the edge is there, the people arrive. In cars and SUVs, pickups and taxis, they arrive and park along the asphalt road and near the Cape Point Visitors Centre.
They park, step out of their vehicles and walk south toward the vast emptiness. They walk single file along the road. They say “Excuse me” to others they pass who have already had their turn. They notice the hardy purple daisies—here, vegetation of South Africa’s Fynbos biome—that line the road.
They eye the ostriches grazing in the distance. They see the large kelpy swaths that flutter to shore and snag on the rocks and driftwood from unknown, faraway voyages. They stand on tip-toe in the cool gusts that stir and blend the merging waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
They smile, teary-eyed, into the blinding noonday sun for photos to mark this occasion. They know they will never return.
For many of us traveling from other continents, the pilgrimage is made to the Cape of Good Hope for the first and last time. We know this.
Tucked inside airliners that require eleven hours to traverse Africa, we envision our eventual walk on the beach at the Cape of Good Hope. We land at Cape Town, fit in a night’s sleep and make the 45-mile southerly drive to arrive at the inevitable, exotic edge.
We peer into the distance at the unknown, watery wilderness, teetering at the tip of South Africa. We stare at the seduction, we embrace the edge… and then we leave.
When the security employee at the gate asked me to step aside, I remembered. My pocket knife. Oh no, my pocket knife, I thought, realizing I had left it earlier in the little cosmetic bag inside my purse. I had forgotten to check it with my luggage and now I was at the gate and my knife was going away.
The uniformed employee explained in her thick Venetian accent, “We must take this from you. If it’s you really need, you go downstairs, fill out the form, and it be sent to you.”
Standing there, I knew we wouldn’t have time to make those arrangements. And besides, it wasn’t a valuable possession. But then again, it was.
For twenty-five years, I had carried that pocket knife.
Back in 1990, I had chosen it from a mound of identical ones heaped in a small cardboard box next to a cash register in the sporting goods department at a Kmart in Topeka, Kansas. It had cost my boyfriend (now my husband) an entire dollar. It featured a steel blade, a wooden casing, and bronze hardware that over the years, had polished to a golden shine from being nestled in my purse for so long.
Similar to how candy bars are placed at checkout stands to captivate small children, that box of $1 knives held equal allure for the fishermen and hunters who visited that department. Not that I was one of them. We had gone to the store to use the restrooms tucked away behind the restaurant at the back of the store. As he waited on me, he spotted the knives and bought one for me.
“Keep it in your purse. It’ll come in handy,” he told me. He was right.
That little knife had been many places… all over Missouri and Kansas, Nashville, Asheville, several cities in Maine and Vermont, Columbus, Atlanta, Sarasota, Highland Park, Phoenix and other Arizona locals, multiple sights in the Los Angeles area, Oregon and Washington State, Cape Town and other South African cities, DC, New York City, Taos, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Dallas, New Orleans. Over the years, we had journeyed across the country to attend annual family reunions, exhibit my husband’s ceramic art at festivals, and accompany him as he served artist residencies.
And now, its final destination would be Venice, Italy, where it would be left behind, a hindrance to a quick departure, discarded inside a gray plastic tub under the counter.
I regret leaving that silly little knife because it wasn’t just a pocket knife. It was a symbol of family life and motherhood and had been more often used for non-cutting tasks. That knife spread peanut butter on sandwiches many more times that it ever cut into a fish or snipped a cord on a tent or tarp. It was this mother’s indispensable tool. As such, it was always easy to locate.
My son and daughter both knew I carried a pocket knife and I passed it back to them at least once or twice on every road trip we took over the years. Need to break open a family-sized plastic bag of M&Ms? Get Mom’s knife. Opening a DVD? Get Mom’s knife. Got a stray thread hanging from your hem? Ask Mom to hand back her pocket knife.
Just prior to leaving Venice, as I buckled up inside the plane, regretting my decision to leave my knife, I recalled how six years earlier, I had flown from Johannesburg to Atlanta with a knife my son had purchased as a souvenir. Despite its massive four-inch blade, he had somehow forgotten to pack it in a checked bag. I offered to stow it inside my purse, warning him it would likely be confiscated at our first departure.
Nope. X-rays and inspections by hand never discovered it. Of course, that would happen to a brand new knife without any peanut butter experience. And of course, that knife has since been long forgotten, I might add.
As for my knife, I have since replaced it, but the blade on my new one is narrower and not quite as functional as the one left in Venice. I mean, you can spread peanut butter on a slice of bread if you really want to, but it’s the not the same as my Kmart special.
I’m one of those people who feels sorry for the last Christmas tree on the lot. So it’s no surprise that I’m still feeling nostalgic for my lost pocket knife… a year and a half later.
Somewhere in Italy, it’s languishing in a gray bin of confiscated sharp objects. Maybe it’s been recycled by now. Maybe it’s been donated to a charity. Hopefully, it’s performing some mother’s mundane tasks, making her life a little easier, and definitely more memorable.
Had an experience similar to mine? Like this post, follow my blog, and feel to leave a comment about any precious object that’s drifted out of your life. Thanks for reading!
A ripple of regret dashes across my mind. The clarity of this moment lays bare the brevity of my life.
Have you ever been listening to a news story on the radio, or read an article online about a solar or lunar event that’s about to be visible in your area? A blood moon. An eclipse of some sort. An unusual proximity of the Earth to Venus, for example.
As you’re listening, the announcer concludes with a date or year when the event will occur next. Sometimes the date is far into the future. 2068. 2090. 2092.
This happens to me every so often. Then I do the mental math and quietly recognize that when that celestial event happens next, I’ll likely be gone. I’ll run more numbers in my head and figure out that my kids will be well past retirement. My grandchildren, which don’t even exist yet, will be nearing it.
When I was twelve, I figured out that I would be 35 at the turn of the millennium. It was exciting then to ponder the passage of time. However, now when I think that far ahead, the certainty of experiencing any milestone is not so assured.
I don’t mean to be depressing. I don’t write this to wallow, but to point out often it’s moments like these that cause me to intensely ruminate on my reality, my life, my time on Earth.
Am I doing what I want to do? Am I doing what I consider important work? Does every day serve a purpose? Even if it’s a small purpose, or even if the work seems of little worth, it should still be significant.
With that understanding, you’d think I would make a point to experience each and every celestial happening that comes my way. You’d think I’d stay up late to seize the moment and see those meteors that will never be this visible or frequent again in my lifetime. You’d think I would wake at 2:30 a.m. to gaze at that moon. But I don’t. Sometimes I do, but usually I don’t.
On those occasions when I don’t venture out, I instead silently acknowledge that this is indeed one moment I will not experience again.
A ripple of regret dashes across my mind. The clarity of this existential moment lays bare the brevity of my life. I suspect that one day I might wish I had made the effort to see the rare events of the night sky.
When that day comes, will I instead be content? Will the purpose and significance of my life, despite those moments when I choose not to observe the heavens, offset my occasional apathy and indecision?
When that time comes, I intend to answer “Yes.”
Thanks for reading this little “slice of life” post. If you found this interesting, click “like” so others may more easily find it. Feel free to leave a comment? Does anyone else skip out on the “last in my lifetime” heavenly events?