This weekend I had the absolute privilege of walking along the cliff paths in Hermanus and experiencing the only place in the world where one can do land-based whale watching. As I walked in a group on the edge of the cliffs with people I love, I was flooded by the collective emotions we all carry. To others, we might have looked like a hodge-podge group of people just sightseeing, but to us, a group of people that have known each other for decades, it was more, because we are more, and what we carry, separately and collectively, makes us so wonderfully delicate and strong at the same time.


I watched the backs of my friends as they meandered on the paths, knowing their stories and knowing what they carry inside. One friend recently lost her mother and best friend. She must process this unexpected grief while being simultaneously grateful that there was hardly any suffering, despite the fact that she really just wants her mom to still be alive. Dammit. Another friend faced his own mortality over  the past few months when a totally unheralded cancer diagnosis was delivered and changed his average life into a series of surgeries and treatment plans. Another just returned from Spain after a solitary pilgrimage of 500km through the Camino de Santiago, following in the footsteps of the Apostle John. There are different reasons for meandering through the Pyrenees, and my friend tells me that her most profound moment was when she reached the Cruz de Ferro (the iron cross). It is believed that in the eleventh century, this iron cross was placed on a wooden post and is located on the highest point between two little towns. It is here where pilgrims partake in an ancient spiritual tradition of unburdening themselves when reaching the cross, and whilst turning their backs to it, they throw a stone, representing their burdens and challenges, and leave it behind them. My friend took stones from her home in South Africa, which she does not want to leave, but might have to because of crime and general mismanagement of our country. She took two apple seeds representing babies who were miscarried. She took a stone for relationships that need fixing and losses she needs to process. I can see she is lighter and wiser and stronger, and maybe I am jealous of her renewed strength right now.


Another friend walks with a stick. She is facing a neuro-surgery again, but for now, wants to focus on celebrating life and family and with incredible courage, she is putting her anticipatory medical journey on hold. Again. My other friend’s son died. How many roads must one walk to get over that? Is it even possible? The man I love walks with an invisible burden that is so unfair and so unjust and so unending that I marvel at his ability to even get out of bed most days. I don’t understand this human race. We are all walking with a heaviness in us, but all I felt on these walks was joy and grace. Maybe the power of the  moments when the massive whales burst out of the water and breach so spectacularly is that we can only be filled by the wonder of creation. Maybe, as we have aged, we know that we can carry these different emotions of sorrow, loss and fear and yet, also absorb the camaraderie and friends who carry our hurts, our joys and our hearts together.


Tomorrow we are going to Rose’s funeral. We cared for her for months and loved her dearly. She was too young to die and she left a life behind that was hardly lived. When she died, there were so many dreams and hopes that did not come to fruition. Her family blames the cancer, but Rose, somehow carried blame for the cancer within herself. She believed that her workload, her stress and her ambition not only caused the cancer, but robbed her of living a life that contained more gentle moments than long meetings, more laughter than stressful deadlines and family, friends, children instead of a career, a Landrover and personal banker. What amazes me is that when she arrived at our lodge four months ago, she was full of regrets and anger. As time passed, a peace and an acceptance settled on her. I do not know how we process these unchangeable realities, but somehow, in our fragility of human emotions, we do. Just like those breathtaking Hermanus whales seem to somehow be able to defy gravity and move like acrobats above the water, our brains are also seemingly able to do the impossible from time to time… to change overwhelming feelings and facts into acceptance, and dare I say peace?


Paul Eckman identified the six basic human emotions in 1970 and the way these shape our thoughts, behavior, decisions and over-all wellbeing. The emotions are happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger and surprise (I must say, I was surprised that surprise was in there!) Others believe that fear, anger, joy and sorrow are the most crucial emotions that are deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and hold the key to understanding the intricacies of our human brain. (WARNING, THERE WILL BE A FEW SHORT SENTENCES WHICH WILL FORCE YOU TO CONCENTRATE, BUT THEREAFTER WE ARE BACK TO THE SOFT AND CUDDLY BLOG). Emotions are not just abstract feelings, but they do have a physical basis in the brain. The limbic system, also known to us laypeople as the brain’s emotional centre, plays a vital role in regulating emotions. This complex network of structures, which includes the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus, process the emotional stimuli and encode the memories associated with emotions and therefore, triggers the physiological response to emotions.


I asked AI why we have emotions and what the point of them is, because with my simple UNartificial intelligence, I often wonder whether life would not have been much less complicated without them. Chat GPT blames evolution and claims that emotions are a mechanism that enables us to navigate and adapt to complex social and environmental challenges (In my opinion, emotions cause most of the complex challenges we face, so not sure about that…). It goes on to say that emotions provide a nuanced communication system that conveys information about our internal states and how they are influenced by our external circumstances, thus allowing us to respond effectively. Furthermore (I like this bit), emotions apparently enable us to signal our needs, establish social bonds and make the important decisions that impact our wellbeing and ultimate survival. Emotions act as motivational forces, encouraging us to seek pleasure, avoid danger, form social bonds, foster cooperation, empathy and altruism.


When I look back on these Hermanus-walks of the weekend, I see my people and the emotions they hold, and I know that we are able to hold it all, because we are being held… by each other and hopefully, by a greater power we might believe in.