Sunday, July 11, 2010

The morning after...

Tonight is the World Cup final at Soccer City, just a few miles away from here. We can already hear the sirens of VIP motorcades heading out of Sandton. Choppers are circling overhead and the ubiquitous vuvuzelas blast away on the streets. Once again, you can feel electricity in the air as South Africa gears up for the climax of a spectacular month. As Holland and Spain warm up to face off in the ultimate soccer meet, there is another group of people who faces an even greater challenge than the finalist teams.

We have floated on a cloud for weeks and now this spectacular time is about to end. Tomorrow's Monday morning blues will likely saturate the whole nation. Pick 'n Pay tellers and Eskom phone operators will resume their deadpan, slow-mo service. Window-washers will harass you at intersections and taxi drivers will cut you off on your way to work with nary a cop in sight to stop them. Whities will become cynical again. The great hangover sets in tomorrow. 

Or not.

Anticipation, celebration and the inevitable letdown that follows are not unique to the World Cup. I remember the day that I graduated high school; how my friends and I had so looked forward to that great celebration of freedom, and how the day had turned out to be unusually ordinary.  Weddings, births, graduations- life is full of wonderful moments to look forward to and enjoy, before they slip by. 

Life is actually not about the wonderful moments. It's after the excitement dies down that life truly begins. 

Yesterday we read the twin Torah portions Matos-Massei, which teach us how to deal with the "morning after" syndrome. 

Matos means staffs or tribes (the singular being "mateh") and Massei means journeys. The synonym for "mateh" is "shevet" (which also means both rod and tribe). The difference between a shevet and a mateh is that, while both are branches that have been cut from a tree, the former is still moist, fresh and flexible, while the latter has dried out and hardened. A shevet is inspired, whereas a mateh has lost its excitement. 

We all have our brief shevet moments and "real-life" mateh periods. 

A shevet still has its freshness and inspiration, but a mateh has strength and resilience. And that’s exactly the point. Inspiration is wonderful- while it lasts. It is not the stuff of achievement.

By linking the twin portions of Matos-Massei, the Torah illustrates a critical lesson about life: You will always feel better when you are inspired, but you will achieve more when you are resilient. Matos, determination- not excitement- produces Massei, journeys, movement and true progress.

South Africans could tomorrow make the all-too-natural mistake of cleaning up the party mess and moving on. Or we could learn the recurring lesson that good times are there to open our eyes to life’s opportunities. And then it’s up to us to realize those opportunities.

We are blessed. We have hosted and impressed the world. We have tasted national pride and national unity. Tomorrow is not the day to reminisce on how good the last month has been. It is the first day of working to grow the goodwill, spirit and positivism that our country forgot it had.

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