My mother who lives on the Garden Route has a weed dealer. He grows it on his farm and supplies it as oil in a syringe. Ma keeps it wrapped in cling film in the fridge, between the half lemon and the coriander. She says she's keeping it for her 'friend' who finds that it helps her sleep better. Apparently, you just squeeze out an inch and that does the trick.
I discovered this while she was knitting and I was answering emails at the kitchen table.
It came right after she said that she doesn't know how someone with such thick fingers works on a computer. “It's awkward,” she said.
Ma never ceases to amaze me.
When I was training for the Tuffer Puffer 100 miler she kept saying she didn’t approve. “Why do you people want to do this damage to your knees?”
Afterwards, when I was lying in the bath, barely conscious after 35 hours 27 minutes and 42 seconds in the mountains (yes, it took that long but that’s a different story that involved duct-tape around said knees), she cooked and fed me two packs of bacon and eight eggs.
This same woman taught clothing construction to fashion designers, leads multiple charity projects, plays Bridge, reads poetry and cooks food that makes your fears recede and your happiness swell.
But that’s not all. The thing I most admire about My Ma is that she has always had this fierce sense of loyalty to her gang.
And she has always had a gang, from when she was at school. Even now in her 77th year, she has a gang. They picnic at the river and watch rugby. They share escape plans when there’re fires, and celebrations when there’re birthdays. They’ve got each other’s backs.
They’ve also got each other’s weed oil in syringes in their fridges.
But isn’t that illegal?
I suppose so.
As is jumping the fence to run across the top corner of the zebra’s field while they were still roaming between Table Mountain and the freeway.
Or once in your life running the 45km Otter nature trail in one day even though you can't get a permit to do it.
It’s also technically illegal to buy a warm bottle of coke from the little boy in the clay brick hut in the middle of the Sahara on Day Five of the Marathon Des Sables.
But do any of these things really matter except to the most principled pedants?
I think life is about having your senses alive. Your senses of humour, adventure, respect and ease.
And your sense of loyalty to your gang.
A sense of humour gives perspective. It stops us from taking ourselves too seriously. It tells our worries that they don’t have to be answered. After the gruelling sand-dunes of Day 3 on the MdS when our tent was feeling glum having just lost half our teammates including his own brother, Seamus announced that he gets very horny when he’s tired. He lifted our mood but he got to sleep outside in the desert that night anyway.
A sense of adventure keeps us searching. It ensures that we don’t develop too many ruts. I once met a runner who decided to take every fork he came to on the trail. Soon after this, he started noticing all sorts of cutlery forks on the trails so he started taking those too. He had quite a collection of stories.
A sense of respect keeps us listening. This rare, ever-evasive skill is essential to learning and collaborating. But most of us practice interrupting most of the time. Guess what we get good at? Running trails is the great equaliser – regardless of your bank-balance, company position, or what your IQ is, you have to carry your own body up that hill. This produces respect for the person next to you who is carrying their own weight up the same hill.
A sense of ease allows us to accept that we are okay and others are okay. This is essential to open, creative and skilful responses to stresses and traumas. We can only do so much and we must do all that we can as well as we can. Then we must accept that it is not all up to us. We are not special but we are unique. This negotiation with self is a dialogue well understood by people who choose to run far on lonely tracks in difficult terrain.
And a sense of loyalty to our gang keeps us rooted in community. Even if, like me, you prefer to live on the edge of the village, where the houses end and the forest begins and there are fewer people, there are still those whose well-being is entwined with yours. I know when I run trails I always have one ear open for a whistle or cry, ready to help a fellow dirt tracker. I assume the same in return.
My Ma doesn’t run trails. Not because of the weed between the lemon and the coriander, but because she has a preferential option for good knees. But My Ma has set me up to think for myself and live with courage and purpose.