So, starting just before 10am this morning, SuperSport 2 was an absolute feast of World Cup rugby – the full 1995 and 2007 finals, followed by the highlights of all the Springboks’ games in the 2019 RWC, and the full 2019 final is about to start. Let’s face it, even if I was allowed to leave the house, I wouldn’t have. (It also means I sang the anthem a few times today…probably a good thing that I live alone!)
But let’s rewind a little to last week Saturday, the first without Super Rugby, and so I opted to rewatch the 2019 RWC final then too. I’ve watched it once or twice (cough cough) since that fateful day in November last year, and even though I know the outcome, and know exactly when Mapimpi and Kolbe are going to score their epic tries, it still evokes all the emotions, and some tears (although luckily not as many as on the actual day). When I watched it last weekend, it was after the president’s first address, limiting gatherings to less than 100 people, but before the lockdown was announced. And still, I felt more emotional than usual when I watched it, thinking of that the immense sense of community that prevailed while I was watching it last year. I watched all the RWC 2019 games at my local pub, the Hogshead Rock Cottage, and on the day of the final, the atmosphere was insane. The place was packed, with people of all colours and creeds donning the green and gold to show their support for our incredible team. My tearfulness scored me a lot of free drinks after the game, but even more special was all the people who kept high fiving or hugging me (and I’m not a hugger), making eye contact across the crowd to ask if I was okay and tell me to breathe, and generally sharing my anxiety and my joy. And that’s the way it was throughout the World Cup, with even the staff making a point of stopping by my seat during every game to check in on me. And so, my usual RWC emotions were heightened last week when I had to wonder when we would be able to spend time in that kind of community again.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this virus is an opportunity for us to show that the incredible spirit and sense of unity that prevailed in South Africa during the World Cup last year, and in the days immediately afterwards, does not require physical presence. The Springboks coined the beautiful hashtag #StrongerTogether and I pondered the fact that even though we need to distance ourselves from other people right now, we are still stronger when we act as a unified nation. When we all choose to do what’s right, even though it’s not easy, for the good of the whole country. When we, frankly, just stay the fuck home, even if we don’t want to, because it’s the only way we can all make it through. And then the Springboks shared this photo the next day, capturing my feelings exactly.
We can choose to look at this lockdown as a punishment, a deprivation. We can continue to whine about all the things we can’t do. Or, we can see this as an opportunity to revisit that beautiful time in our country last year, to recapture that feeling of unity and community, and of everyone striving for one goal. I’m not trying to minimise the difficulty of the situation. It’s hard. Most of us are not used to having our freedoms limited. Many people are scared by the power now vested in our police and defence force – it’s a big responsibility for them to bear lightly. It’s also super tempting to lose patience (and kindness) with people who seem oblivious to their privilege, and determined to have things their own way, when others less fortunate than us must be finding this lockdown monumentally more challenging. But maybe if we shift the way we think, and focus on that spirit of community, on all of us being in this together, working together to fight a common enemy, this challenge will become an opportunity. For more kindness, more connectedness, more desire to think of the common good, instead of just focusing on our individual needs. Of course, there will be people who won’t play the game, who will continue to flout the rules, whether out of ignorance, selfishness, or circumstance, but if more of us choose to react with kindness and empathy, we’ll be doing our own mental health a favour too. There’ll always be those you just can’t get through to, and there’s no point in banging your head against that brick wall. That’s why I (hardly ever) argue with the weird, heretic South Africans who support the All Blacks anymore. Maybe we should get the SANDF to round them up too. Bloody traitors. Anyway. I digress.
This is all a little hippie-ish, and not entirely easy to put into practice. Maybe we need a weekly speech from Rassie. But if we can get it even halfway right, perhaps we’ll emerge into a slightly different world, post-lockdown. And we’ll be stronger, together.