Leap of Faith is an excerpt from Bernard Preston's first book of inspiring stories; chapter 17 from Frog in my Throat.
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 1st June, 2023.
Do you remember the first time we met?’
I smiled, although Sandy couldn’t see me. He was lying face down at the receiving end of some of my chiropractic attentions. ‘How could I forget?’ I replied. ‘I had heard you play, though, long before we met. Remember?’
Sandy Eckford was one of those persons who reminded me of only one word. Passion. At our first encounter, I had walked casually into a smoky college dive late one Saturday evening with the prettiest girl in Math II on my arm. I was disappointed. Nobody looked up, nobody noticed. Nobody even took note of her shapely legs and black mini. Instead of the usual roar and banter, there was concentrated attention on a guitarist sitting on a stool up at the bar. It was more like walking into a philharmonic recital at the music school than the raucous and often drunken scenes I was used to at ‘Tango Two’. I quietly ordered two beers and someone gave me a loud ‘shhh’. I couldn’t believe it.
‘This is incredible,’ my pretty escort whispered, looking around at the animated look on the faces of our drinking companions, which earned us a few more glares. And then we too started to listen as the ‘long haired communist’ student wove his magic, a piece that was later described as a Rodrigo, and it wasn’t long before we too were spellbound by Sandy’s music.
The end and the applause came, and we moved on to the more serious part of the evening. I mentally dismissed Sandy, not guessing for a moment that he would probably have a more profound influence on my life in the years that lay ahead, than any other living person. A classical guitarist of note, Sandy went on to make a serious mark on the music scene, despite his ‘communist’ looks. In those early repressive days of the Apartheid regime, any long-haired student was labelled a communist and terrorized by right-wing elements. Nothing could have been farther from the truth as far as he was concerned.
I hadn’t seen Sandy for some months. He lived in another city and it had come as quite a surprise to find his name in my appointment book. ‘This is a surprise, Sandy. What have you been up to?’
‘Marion sent me up to clean out the gutters. They had overflowed onto her seedbeds in that storm that flooded Margate and she was mad at me. It wasn’t the first time she had reminded me,’ he went on, obviously feeling a little guilty and foolish. ‘Like a twit I didn’t ask her to hold the ladder and it slipped and jackknifed my back,’ he grimaced with a sheepish grin.
My mind flashed back to all the patients I had treated over the years after falls from unsecured ladders. Broken ankles, slipped discs, dislocated shoulders. Gliders are a much safer way to get off the ground, I chortled quietly to myself. I mentally made a note to include something on ladders in our next clinic newsletter.
Fortunately it was a relatively straightforward facet syndrome in the lower part of his back. If there is anything straightforward with spines. I have learned the hard way that even relatively simple conditions, if not properly cared for, may result in something more serious. It’s particularly difficult treating friends and family with serious problems – they just won’t take you seriously! For centuries doctors have been strongly advised not to treat them. It was some years before I fully understood the reason.
‘Wasn’t that trip to Nkosasana’s cave just amazing? Don’t see snow like that very often,’ I chatted as I worked on Sandy’s back, at the third consultation, thinking about the first time I had really met him.
A small group of university students had assembled at the base of Grey’s Pass for the climb to the top of Champagne Castle towering six thousand feet above us. Everyone knew what was to come. All except for me! Little did I know that this trip was going to be the beginning of another, far more profound, journey.
Easter weekend is never a good time for hiking in the Drakensberg if one is not prepared for the weather. Occurring close to the full moon, it almost invariably brings cold and wet and, in the ‘berg as we call it, often the first snowfall of the Southern Hemisphere winter season. This Easter was no different and that Good Friday morning was dark and foreboding, the clouds threatening as we all looked apprehensively up at the mountain.
Before we had finished striking camp, the skies had begun to spit very gently. ‘Amathe we mpukane’ as the Zulus call it. The spit of the fly. Not real rain, but before we reached the summit of that mighty mountain, it was snowing heavily and we were very relieved that our experienced leaders found Nkosasana’s cave in the early twilight.
‘Quite a difficult cave to find,’ I said to the prostrate body lying on the table in front of me, squirming as I did some painful cross friction on the Quadratus Lumborum muscle. ‘I wonder how many people have died up there not being able to find it in the snow?’
‘Plenty,’ came the reply. ‘I know of at least one party. An old San woman used to live there and she rescued a lot of people on days like that. She did those paintings on the walls of the cave.’
‘Look,’ I had said excitedly. We had been poring over the beautiful depictions of San life, mainly of buck and weird mythical creatures, when I found a painting that was to become the label for my famous honey and mead: ‘There’s a picture of a San man robbing a beehive.’
Unable to move from the cave for two whole days, Sandy and I, perfect strangers on Friday, had drifted into an easy friendship. Over hot cups of soup, chocolate and nasty mountain biscuits called ‘protons,’ a friendship developed that was to last the rest of our lives. Fortunately we had taken plenty of benzene for my tiny little primus stoves, aptly nicknamed Happy I and II. Their gentle purring is a comforting sound to the cold and hungry mountaineer. Gas stoves do not burn well at altitude and, although they are more convenient, I don’t like them. Pristine was a word in vogue in the mountain club in those days. Every scrap of aluminium foil, can and bottle was laboriously hauled off the mountain.
‘I hate carrying the empty gas cylinders down the mountain,’ I had remarked. ‘Benzine saves me having to make awkward decisions of conscience.’
‘True,’ Sandy laughed. ‘I hear even Everest is now one of the most disgustingly filthy mountains in the world. And in any case we would have to wait twice as long for our soup!’ We were snowed into our little cave that weekend, impatient but unable to move. I had my first lesson on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ and found it strangely pleasurable, once I was over the initial frustration of not being able to hike around the mountaintops.
It was up there in that confined mountain cave that Sandy introduced me to another friend of his: Jesus Christ. Having been educated in a religious school where we had to attend church daily, I thought I had had an inoculation that would prevent me ever getting that disease! Like any other student I was trained to question everything, but five years of having religion forced down my throat had put me off God for life. Or so I thought. I hadn’t darkened the door of any church since the day I had left high school and had become quite cynical about the Christian faith. Bunch of hypocrites!
‘You really caught me unawares, with that little gimmick with the watch,’ I laughed. ‘I still remember it as though it were yesterday.’
As the rugged mountaineer had begun to share his faith with me, high up on that mountain, I had come with the usual arguments behind which a scientist hides. And Sandy had totally undone me by pulling off his watch, placing it on the palm of his hand.
‘Do you think this watch could have come about by chance?’ he had asked. ‘A flash of lightning perhaps, some iron ore in the ground, a chunk of quartz lying about?’
I still remember vividly being quite speechless, knowing what was to come. His watch, like any other watch, had the unmistakable stamp of having been carefully designed and manufactured. To believe anything else was absurd. Pressing home his advantage he continued. ‘I think it was Sir Isaac Newton who said: “The thumb alone is enough evidence for me for the existence of God.” He was a scientist wasn’t he?’ Sandy was pulling my leg, of course. Albeit a chemist, he knew perfectly well that Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion and the universal effect of gravity are core mechanics for every budding scientist. He is described at the most profound scientist who ever lived.
It was years later, in the anatomy laboratory, that I was to discover that our Maker also thought the thumb important. So important that he provided three different nerves to move it, so that if any single nerve was damaged, the thumb would still be partly functional. The thumb has enormous representation in the brain and, is of course, one of the distinguishing features of the primates. Without our thumbs we could never have developed the dexterity that enabled human civilization to develop as it has.
Sandy was gentle enough not to force his point any further but we went on discussing this and that: ‘Latent heat of melting. Amazing stuff. If it wasn’t for the huge amount of energy required to melt snow, without a change of temperature, there would an avalanche every time the sun shone,’ Sandy had said. ‘A bit of a problem when you want to make soup from snow though,’ he went on with a wry smile. ‘I hope we have enough benzene.’
It was only then that I realized the great significance of the very high latent heat of water, much greater than that of other compounds, and its fundamental part in our natural world. Without it, life on earth as we know it, could not exist. Huge tropical storms, as water vaporized, and floods as the snow and ice melted would have made our Earth a chaotic planet.
After the storm, as I looked out of that tiny cave high up in the mountains with the most incredible sweep of nature before my eyes I began, for the first time, to have serious doubts that all of this could have come about by chance. A random occurrence? All the mountain peaks as far as my eye could see to the north and the south were covered with the most beautiful icing, my eye tracing the soaring peaks down into the plunging valleys far below. Snow is a rarity for us South Africans. Most of us probably never have the opportunity of throwing snowballs and making a snowman and, as I sat looking out at that wonderland with the province of KwaZulu Natal far below us, stretching out to the east and the Indian Ocean in the far distance, I felt a calm that had nothing to do with the silent peace of the mountains. Something told me a new adventure lay ahead, something quite unknown. Lying on my back and staring into the Milky Way on our last night, I had my first serious thoughts about eternity, the sheer vastness of the night sky laughing at my ideas about chance occurrences.
Sandy was passionate about three things: his Lord, rock climbing and hiking in the mountains, and music. And one other thing – my freedom. He refused to bully me with his faith, just presenting it in a way that I was compelled to consider. A young man quite without guile, his sincerity undid me. ‘I don’t know if I ever told you, Sandy,’ I went on, arranging the blocks that were balancing his pelvis, ‘that you were the person who knocked out all my pseudo scientific arguments but it was really Ruth who castled me.’
‘You mean Ruth Gold?’
‘Yes. I really owed her one for all the lifts she had given me home after lectures. Then one day she asked me to a lunchtime prayer meeting! Can you imagine that? Me! A prayer meeting!’ I snorted.
Unlike Sandy, Ruth did not believe in my freedom. I owed her one and she exacted maximum when payback time came. She went on into big business but even back then she knew exactly how to clinch a deal: ‘Otherwise you will have to walk back to lectures this afternoon. I’m going early.’
‘But you know, up to that point the Christian faith to me was some waffler, standing up there in Coward’s Corner, reading prayers out of a book. But at that prayer meeting I first heard people talking to a God who was obviously real to them. Like he was their friend. I had never heard anyone pray like that before, certainly not a bunch of students. And you know what else staggered me? I recognized most of them from the science faculty!’
There followed some months of considering this Christian faith in a new light. There were late nights of earnest discussion and the first attempts to read the Bible but it was still very dry. Marxism was definitely more fashionable, especially amongst friends in the arts faculty. A series of lectures at our university by four young men, who were brash enough to think they could win the cities of Africa for Christ, continued to disturb my equilibrium. Could it really be true that God loved me and I could know Him in a personal way?
And then that day. It was a simple affair really but, receiving Jesus Christ into my life as Lord and Saviour was undoubtedly the most far-reaching and profound experience of my life. Bit by bit everything changed and became new. Some things had to be put right, of course, such as going to a Muslim fruiterer to make amends for a box of paw paws I had stolen some months earlier. Some things were very hard, others came wonderfully simply.Like joy. Later I was able to relate so exactly to C.S. Lewis’ book ‘Surprised by Joy.’ It was such an unexpected surprise. Like many of the spin-offs of knowing God as against simply being religious.
Adjusting the facet in Sandy’s lumbar spine brought him immediate relief and he was as conscientious about the exercises as he was about his music. Of course being employed by a pharmaceutical firm that would pay while he was on three days sick-leave did simplify things. It’s tough being self-employed and sick. No work, no pay.
Frog in my Throat is only available in the United States, Canada and South Africa.
Hopefully in the future, I'll find the time to convert it to an ebook, to joint Bats in my Belfry and Stones in my Clog; the three make up Bernard Preston's trilogy of anecdotes from the coalface.
"Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines."
Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)
Bertrand Russell was such an interesting man. I use the word was deliberately. If he was right then all that is left are ashes and dust, end of story; that would sum up the man today.
There can be no gainsaying, he was indeed brilliant and a worthy Nobel laureate.
Yet, humans have proved over and again, you can be brilliant, very sincere and eminently plausible; and quite wrong.
I choose to believe Jesus. "He who believes in me shall never die, but inherit eternal life."
Oddly it was a snippet of pure science that brought me to faith. Latent heat fusion; without it, life on Earth as we know it, could not exist.
Leap of faith is a core chapter in Frog in my Throat.
Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself, the family and Mother Earth for future generations. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books.
Here are the back issues.
The wisdom of Almighty God is wiser than man's best reason and, though I believe in the scientific principle, it can never be my guideline.
Science devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Science brought us Thalidomide babies.
Science enables the rich nations to pulverise the little people into submission. No, I won't put my trust in it. Or my own reason, or that of the geniuses of this world.
On the other hand, I try to be a Christian without being religious. Can that be?
When browsing use right click and "Open Link in New Tab" or you may get a bad gateway signal.
Did you find this page interesting? How about forwarding it to a friend, or book and food junkie? Better still, a Facebook or Twitter tick would help.
56 Groenekloof Rd,