As an avid reader, I choose books I feel drawn to. Sometimes the topic sounds interesting, the first two pages of chapter one draws me in, or the characters’ journeys seem relevant in some way. These books are often good, but they’re not usually on the same level as those 'other' books.
Do you know those 'other' books? They're the ones that fortuitously fall into your hands at a certain time, as if appearing out of nowhere because, yes, they were created exactly for your crossroads moment. Magic books! That’s what they are to me. And, The Power of One by Bryce Courtney has been one of those books in my life.
In my early 20s, I began preparing for my first big overseas adventure. I was full of fearlessness and excited/nervous energy. I was going from New Zealand to England—the Mother Country, and my own Mother’s birth country. This great foreign land in the 1990's felt to be on a whole other planet, compared to the relatively short mental distance it is today. So, during the lead up to my departure and while I practised packing 59 times a day, I consumed The Power of One with voracity.
The main protagonist in the book, Peekay, wasn't difficult to sympathise with, because while he fell victim to circumstance within the cultural climate of the era he grew up in, he didn't come across as a victim. Rather the opposite manifested. The story is set in the racially dissonant social climate where cruelty and violence prevailed. South Africa, in the time of Apartheid, meant people of colour were legally discriminated against, and other ethnicities were often treated with prejudice.
Yet, without this environment our main protagonist wouldn't have formed the inner strength and courage necessary for his survival. Because he was bullied and traumatised by those older than him at the conservative Afrikaans boarding school, he relied heavily on his mind and his inner self. The medicine man who cured his bed-wetting problem showed him how to visualise, which not only helped him escape the everyday invalidation he encountered, but, I think, also sharpened what became his secret weapon in the boxing ring—an instinctive, intuitive flow.
Peekay was a gifted learner to those who saw him as such, and once he began to box, the boy didn't lose a fight. He learnt how to camouflage himself for the sake of survival by being what those around him wanted him to be, which on all accounts presented him, in latter years, as an incredible success on the surface. He found his niche and his outlet and began over the years to turn 'his childhood trauma into a succession of conquests.'
You could say those early years of shame and humiliation prepared Peekay to be a champion.
Encounters in life do affect each of us differently depending on various aspects relating to our personality, temperament, DNA, etc. What can be life-changing for one may be no big deal to another. Back then, in my early 20s, my life experience was limited, I wanted more depth, more intensity, more danger. That was where my character and brain development was at, at that time. So, it wasn't hard to fall in love with the idea of South Africa and the deep human suffering encountered within that landscape.
Looking back now, I owe some of the responsibility for my own decisions to Peekay and his story. The Power of One planted a seed in my heart, which altered the course of my life, and I think, for the better. Joining the dots, I now realise if I'd never meet Peekay, I may not have been drawn to the South African boy who became a travel companion and who I travelled continents with. I wouldn't have been touched or connected so physically and emotionally with the history and beauty of the world, the trails and errors, the sufferings and overcoming Experiencing the world with my companion opened me to find my own way in the world, even if it meant I would walk through Dante's fire to find out for myself the things that mattered most.
On all accounts, The Power of One was a powerful influence on my life, and granted, not all things are a good influence, but I like to think Peekay's story was.
After returning from my travels, I too came to understand what Peekay and those other strong, brave characters within the book felt like when humiliated by circumstances outside of their control. I too encountered loss. But, I'm a better person for it. I can understand the process of characterisation having lived through painful and sometimes traumatic situations.
Thankfully, the abuse never lasts as long as the effect. And sometimes I'm not sure what is worse. Having Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome can be debilitating and very painful at times, but it can also be freeing when used as the basis to change one's life for the benefit of both the 'self' and other's selves.
In fact, life in fiction is not dissimilar to real life; like Peekay, pain, suffering, and trauma do manifest from within the social landscape and who we are in relation to that, what our role is or has been. But, like regrowth after a fire, the external crisis is often what shapes us moving us on to experience the power of divine growth, which, consequently, empowers us to share the fruits of our internal labours.
Thinking now, I realise it's unsurprising then that when I began to raise up a positive and encouraging editing and writing service, Peekay and his 8 punch combination came hurtling back into my life. I recently re-read the book, but this time from a writer's point of view, asking of each chapter to show me how it's done. Again, Peekay showed me how to live.
I also noticed, in the latter reading, that by the end of The Power of One, Peekay still hadn't realised his goal to be the welterweight champion of the world; yet, without a doubt, I knew he would because it was written into his character from the very beginning.
He had the stamina, the stimulation, and the support necessary to achieve what the author had begun, and so do I.