Looking for stories for my book has lead me down a few interesting paths and while I’ve mostly relied on random meetings and stranger-stalking for my interviews, Stan is someone I intentionally set a meeting with.

A friend had told me about him and I figured someone with his age (uncertain but more than all his colleagues) and experience, working in such a young industry (digital marketing) must have a few good stories to tell. I knew only that he was involved in strategising things, so assumed a nutty professor type;  academically dusted and grandfatherly.

Even so, I wasn’t all that surprised to be met by a rather stylish man who exuded openness and charm. No greasy glasses perched on the end of his nose, no quasi-tweed jacket and the smell of mothballs and pipe tobacco.

When you ask someone to tell you a story, as opposed to just listening to them talk, they always seem a little nervous and begin glimpsing around in their mind for a good one. There’s never a lack of stories in a person’s life – after all, we’re all of us libraries – but being put on the spot to produce one isn’t as easy as you’d think. And because I’m not looking for death-defying or defining stories, it’s all the more difficult.

With this meeting to be honest, I didn’t give Stan much guidance at all, I felt I wanted to allow his mind to dictate the rhythm and I’m glad I did. As we meandered back in time to when life was so much simpler and the great city of Jozi was more of a collection of villages than a sprawling metropolis (metaphorically speaking), a sense of what was crept in; and along with it, a sense of sadness.

From fighting with the neighbouring kids using clumps of clay flung on sticks, to joy-riding stolen horses and exploring the vast expanse of mine dumps, Stan’s eyes fairly glistened as he waxed lyrical about the incredible city we live in. Although boys will be boys and many of their adventures held the promise of real danger, they felt safe, loved and held tight in the community that bore them.

Things have changed, of course. But so has the world. Children no longer have the freedom to roam their neighbourhoods, and certainly not to watch two stallions fighting in a city field. Rain no longer holds the promise of gutter-borne boat races or mud baths. But joy and hope can still be found.

Certainly, everything that Stan’s early years instilled in him is still there. Good, strong values have been passed down to his children and grandchildren. He’s influenced friends and colleagues with those same values. So, perhaps a lesson is that if you are rooted in love, no amount of change can erode what’s in your soul.

Perhaps we should spend more time re-learning what our soul already knows. Maybe we should listen more.

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