The Big Shakeout — Part 1 | #MyFridayStory №257

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“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

John Lennon

I prefer the quote when made by Sonny who uses the phrase with the new guests at “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Sonny is the eager but young manager of this retirement hotel in India. Although eager, he is faced with many challenges to make the hotel acceptable to a group of British pensioners. As each problem arises, Sonny responds with, “In India, we have a saying, ‘Everything will be alright in the end’. So, if it is not alright, it is not yet the end.” Same, same — but different.

From the time I was born back in ’63, my life’s been defined by what I call ‘shakeouts’.

At 6 years old, six months into grade 1, I developed rheumatic fever. Near death, I was hospitalised and bedridden for months. At the age of 6, I had to learn to walk again. Although I don’t class this as one of the shakeouts, it remained a common undercurrent throughout my life. My first real shakeout came in my two years of National Military Service. I never prepared myself to be in the army due to my health. But I was drafted as a G4K4 — admin tasks only.

Many young white boys went to the army, air force, or navy during compulsory national service in South Africa. It started in 1967 when men were called up for 9 months of service to the country. By the time it ended in 1993, the length of service was 2 years. Basic training for G1K1 — fit and healthy soldiers — lasted 3 months, a grueling period of high-intensity fitness training. This is followed by a further period of combat training more focused on your area of specialty.

Most of my friends and people I meet enjoyed their stints in the military. They might not want to do it all over again, but they look back fondly at their time. For me, not so much. There were various men in leadership roles — from corporals to brigadiers — that made my stay less than memorable. They had my life in their hands and almost killed me. A few times. And I never even saw combat. Together with a group of other G3s and G4s, we were subjected to full basic training.

These men — and some women — wielded much power. I seem to have met every sadistic physical training instructor, sergeant and sergeant-major throughout my army “career.”

I was 17 when I joined the army in January 1981. I remember it was already lights-out when we got into our tent on the night of the 21st. We were exhausted from doing “Straf PT” — punishment training — in the pouring rain. The punishment was usually for something “made up” — it depended on your corporal’s mood that day. I was staring at the roof of our tent, listening to the rain. I called out into the darkness, “Guys, it was my birthday today!”

That whole period is mostly blanked out of my memory. I struggle to recall details. Must be my mind protecting me from the trauma I experienced. The rest of my time in the army was spent in Military Intelligence doing menial administrative tasks. Besides the discipline and being on a fast track to growing up, I see my 2-years as wasted years.

As soon as I ended the army, I climbed on a plane and flew 22 hours to Hawaii. From Johannesburg to Ilha do Sal, to New York, to San Francisco, and on to Honolulu. For the next month, I travelled around the USA.

A shakeout where everything turned out alright in the end.

Have an awesome weekend and please be generous! 😄

As always, thanks for reading 🙏

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