Not exactly the proverbial “Rainbow Nation” but it’s a pretty disparate bunch that enters the lift on the 14th floor from the various medical suites for doctors, specialists and other service providers.
There’s me, apparently an old oke behind the surgical mask I’ve been wearing until now to protect myself from infection, officially let out of home for the first time in a week, for a follow-up consultation with my heart transplant team which has gone very well – we’re making progress, they say, the numbers are all positive, the treatment is working.
Based on accents on the tongue, clothing being worn, documents or stuff being carried, even degrees of speed that mark the movements from the foyer into the lift, there are different nationalities, religions, out-patients at different levels of recovery, a supportive relative. In the corner to my left is a heavily pregnant woman – children bring good thoughts to my mind and blessings to my soul like few other life experiences can, and encountering a mother with a baby in the womb has a similar effect. But standing here I’m also reminded of the idiotic moments when – in a rush of conviviality – someone has asked a dumb question ‘when is the baby due?’ only to receive the retort ‘I’m not pregnant’. So I eschew a second glance and certainly keep my mouth shut.
The lift stops on the 12th floor and in walks Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is frail and walks slowly, but there is a determination about him which belies his physical condition. And he has this broad smile on his face.
We, on the inside, find it impossible to hide our pleasant surprise, greeting him almost in unison. The Muslim woman in front of me says ‘it’s so good to see you, we pray for you’, although I’m concentrating too hard on our new visitor to hear her exactly. I say, “Mfundisi, welcome to our lift”.
Tutu looks around and starts counting from one to seven, then he adds “and-a-half”. And we all laugh uproariously.
I think later that this momentary encounter reflects Tutu’s “in touchness” with his world, his mindfulness, if you like, to use the current “in” speak. Despite obvious frailty, he is in touch, alert to his world and ours. He shows that good hearts, even donated second hearts, are important, as are other healthy body parts.
But he really personifies the notion that the most important attribute we humans require is the right spirit, indomitable, un-breaking, smiling, generous, open to our fellows regardless of who they are, even the “half” ones.
Most us exit the lift on the the eighth floor, he is going further. I say, “I wish I could ride the lift all the way with you”. He smiles some more.