“He turned the letter over but there was nothing to show from whom it came. He was reluctant to open it, for once such a thing is opened, it cannot be shut again.”p. 36
News learned, gossip shared—one cannot put the toothpaste back into the tube. But Kumalo is not just dealing with a bit of gossip or even just disturbing news from “out there.” The contents of the letter will lead him down a road he never dreamed he’d travel. He would think later “… how far he had travelled since that journey to Johannesburg.” p. 264
The letter was the first domino—an unknown one—yet one of worry that would lead to much pain and suffering. Yet that letter also began a journey that would lead to love and kindness. The both/and were not lost on Kumalo and “‘I believe,’ he said, ‘but I have learned that it is a secret. Pain and suffering, they are a secret. Kindness and love, they are a secret. But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering.’” p. 261
The choices we make, the letters we open, the jobs we take the friendships we cultivate—all will lead to pain and suffering. It is a fallen world. Yet there is love and kindness. These are not two parallel roads; pain and suffering, love and kindness run on the same track.
And yet it is the fear of pain and suffering and the forgetting of love and kindness that make the letter hard to open, make the choice hard to make. But without the pain and suffering Kumalo does not know the kindness of Jarvis, of Msimangu, of his own church welcoming—truly welcoming—him home despite his shame.
The letter opened could not be shut—or ignored. The road was most bitter. It was “the heaviest thing of all my years.” p. 213. And yet at the end, “And while he stood there the sun rose in the east.