As we all take a moment in lives that are full, busy, and often unaware of the importance of the most important things—home, faith, honor, the teaching of our truths to our children—on this Thanksgiving weekend, the words of Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country touch us with even greater resonance.
We travel through the worlds of two fathers who have lost two sons … a homeland that has lost its soul … and the hope and miracle of renewal out of devastating tragedy.
Paton’s simple, poetic words speak volumes, as Jarvis the father discovers his son—too late—and, as Kumalo the father mourns the lost son he fears he has not sent into the world prepared. The lessons of the fathers, taught through the tragedy of the sons. It is Paton’s ode to life.
We see heartbreakingly through Absalom’s terrible destiny that truth does not always bring justice. Through the tragedies of both Kumalo and Jarvis, we see that it is only awareness that can bring redemption. And through the acts of small children, we see that redemption can be built from the remains of sheer devastation.
When Jarvis’ grandson visits Kumalo and returns with a gift of milk, having learned that the children of the valley have none, we see a light of hope. The black pastor Kumalo teaches the young white boy how to speak Zulu. A bridge is built…and the renewal of the homeland begins.
Kumalo also begins to pray for the restoration of his beloved Ntodsheni. As his prayers seek renewal for the people of his homeland, he receives a final letter from his lost son—a letter that expresses, with terrible power, just how much has been lost:
“I think of you all at Ndotsheni, and if I were back there I should not leave it again” (pg 274). His few simple words are a tragic farewell to the land of his father’s prayers.
The journey of life and the awesome drama of South Africa, Paton tells us, is a journey through pain and fear to a place of love and faith. It is a journey with no end, only cycles of truth, mistakes, and renewal. It is the journey of each human …it is the journey of Paton’s country.
In the end, only an awareness of generosity, of self, of “home” in the deepest sense of the word, can bring renewal. On the morning of his son’s execution, Kumalo’s prayer, atop the mountain that has given him solace in the most crucial moments of his life, speaks volumes about awareness and faith, possibility and truth. In fact, his prayer speaks of miracles.