By Alayna Wort
In Nadine Gordimer’s book, “A Burger’s Daughter” the reader follows the story of a girl growing up in apartheid South Africa, discovering who she is apart from her family. This journey of discovery is necessary because she has grown up in a White South African family that believes in freedom for everyone in South Africa, thus making her parents enemies of the government. The story follows Rosa—the name of the girl—as she brings food and clothes to her imprisoned mother, and as she goes to the trial of her father, who is being tried for treason. She watches as the judge pronounces a guilty verdict, sentencing her father to life imprisonment.
As I tore through the pages of the book, one thought came to mind over and over. We have a choice, one which many of us likely encounter almost every day; we have the choice of doing what is right, or what is easy. It may seem like the answer to the choice is simple. It may even seem like both answers are the same. That is, doing the right thing is also the easiest thing. Perhaps that is not always the case, though. Perhaps doing what is right is not always the easiest or the simplest thing.
In relation to the current condition of the world, is this a question we should be asking ourselves? Is wearing a mask in public spaces at all times the right thing to do? Is asserting that the government has no right to require us to do this the right thing? Is easing the restrictions of the current lock-down the right thing, or would it be better to go until May 15th (or later)? And, further, what about the economy in all this? With so many out of work and the doors of small businesses and restaurants remaining closed since the beginning of the lockdown being unable to open them again? With so many questions and a choice to make with each question asked, to whom or what should we turn for answers? Should we be making judgments on the best course of action individually? That is, should each business, religious space, family, individual, make a choice for themselves as to what they think the best course of action during the pandemic is? Or should we all be collectively participating in and adhering to strict guidelines set by government and healthcare officials?
During apartheid in South Africa, many businesses, religious spaces, families and individuals found themselves asking which direction they should take: what is right or what is easy. What was easy turned out to be incredibly oppressive to the majority of the nation, while was right often landed people in jail or in a grave.
Now, in 2020, it seems that we should be intentionally asking ourselves, “What is the right thing to do during the pandemic?” For a while, it has been practicing social-distancing guidelines and doing our best to stay home, unless it is necessary to leave the house. But, as case and death tolls continue to rise throughout the world, how do we move forward? How do we learn to make choices that bring life and not death? Is it even possible to make a ‘right’ choice that brings life (such as maintaining six feet distance from one another whenever possible), when making that ‘right’ choice might mean the loss of a job for someone else? If workers in grocery stores stopped coming to work to make the seemingly ‘right’ choice of staying at home to flatten the curve—how would the world survive? Should we all go back to growing food in our backyard, further limiting human contact?
For those in extremely condensed areas such as NYC, Detroit, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, and Johannesburg, the choice between doing what is right and doing what is easy becomes even more complex. When is the right time to go to the grocery store? What about going outside? In America, many talk about the government restricting their freedom of choice; being an American, I have found myself confronted with how to navigate the pandemic based on both my conscience and on the advice of healthcare and government officials. What is the ‘right’ choice?
This is the question I ask myself during this pandemic. This is also the question I ask myself when I look at the history of South Africa—did the apartheid government really believe that apartheid was the right choice for the country? Or would it have been considered the easy choice?
As we navigate the current crisis, what is the right choice? Is it found in scripture verses or in healthcare officials’ advice? Is it found in economics and debt-forgiveness or is it found in learning new ways of living and being that we don’t exactly like, but must participate in for the sake of those around us? Difficult times provoke difficult questions.
About the Author: My name is Alayna Wort and I am currently in South Africa studying abroad. One of the courses I am taking is South African literature, where I read books all written by south African authors. Over the course of this semester, I am writing and submitting articles to be published by The Crossings. Some of you, the readers, may have already read the books I am writing the articles on, some of you may not have. Either way, I encourage you to reflect on the concepts within the articles, to engage in dialogue with peers and mentors about the content, to assert whether you agree or disagree with what I say, to ask questions, to seek understanding of those perspectives that do not make sense to you. I am titling this project: “One woman’s road to holistic reconciliation.”
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