Chatting with Kate Turkington at Chartered House

Out of adversity comes strength.  It’s a familiar adage, as are the variations on it:  opportunity, triumph and greatness are all optional outcomes.  The indomitable Kate Turkington, guest speaker at our recent Lifestyle Lunch, has her own version:  out of adversity comes the courage to live every moment to its very fullest.

Kate holds to the Buddhist wisdom distilled into these few words:  The past is gone. You can learn from it, but it’s gone. The future never comes.  So, live in the moment.

In Kate’s past lies the tale of two little girls, aged four (Kate herself) and six (her sister, Rita) who numbered among the million and a half children evacuated in 4000 trains over four days to rural England during WWII.  Out of these six months of exile came Kate’s resolve to savour the present, to live singing Carpe Diem. “You have no control over the past or the future, but you do have control over the present moment,” she affirms.

It’s a life philosophy that started with Kate’s mother, who had quietly pointed at the moon and told her children: “There’s the moon – if you want to go there, go for it!” (and this long before Neil Armstrong took that first giant step on 20 July 1969).

Yes, a Real Life

Kate describes her book, Yes, Really! as A Life, rather than a memoire. And it is not surprising to see why.  From the Dalai Lama to ghosts and angels to a talking dog … Kate has interviewed them all. One of the most memorable – and also one of the saddest – was a conversation with a man who counselled the dying; he said that most men regret not spending more time with their families, and most women wish they had done more with their lives.

“When you are young, you worry about what people think of you, what impression you are making,” says Kate.  “When you are older, you don’t give a damn. You know who you are, what you are good at, and accept what you aren’t good at.”  Her sage advice is not to leave money to your children.  “You have done your best – loved and educated them – and now, let them live your own lives … let them go.”

Kate also urges the freedom from material things: “You have one body, one pair of feet – you can only wear so many clothes or shoes at a time.”

Rather, Kate advocates valuing your relationships.  Recently, a woman in Franschhoek, having lost her husband, approached Kate.  She felt she simply could not overcome her feelings of grief, and had taken to staying in her home, disconnected from others.  “I don’t believe we ever lose anyone,” Kate explains. “We have their love, their memories – they are not lost to us. So, I advised her to accept her situation, then to get a pet. I have long and intelligent conversations with my two rescued Jack Russells … me talking, them nodding!”

Kate’s book offers so many opportunities to laugh (and laugh at ourselves), but it does not shy away from the shocking and difficult things.  “There are no secrets in our family, so I have shared honestly in my autobiography. We all have bad things that happen in our lives – and you have to deal with it,” she says.  “Forgiveness is not in my lexicon; it feels arrogant – who am I to forgive or not.  But, acceptance, that is my watchword.”

Ready … for South Africa, for anything

Travel has very much been a part of Kate’s life experiences, career, personal growth, and enduring joy.

“I was in nine different countries last year, mostly on assignment as a travel writer. Let me tell you, there is no country like South Africa.  We laugh at ourselves, our media is free, our Civil Aviation industry is globally superior, as is our Reserve Bank … there is just so much good we don’t always hear about.” Asked to describe her city, Johannesburg, in three words, Kate was clear: sunshine, energy, diversity.

At the time of her visit to Chartered, Kate was packing to facilitate a media training workshop in Ghana, her first visit back to that country in 48 years.  It was there that she discovered she was pregnant with her daughter, Tara, and now they will be together there again, so many years hence.  “You never know what is around the corner, so be ready for it.”

Kate vividly remembers a friend whose family had a sewing machine, but one which sat unused on the shelf.  Her young friend had been warned, “Don’t try to use the machine – the needle may go through your finger!”  It was an apt illustration of the danger of holding back from life for fear of a possible or imagined hazard.

Kate, in contrast, inspired her audience to live – really live.  “There are so many ways to do what you want – become an au pair overseas if you want to travel. Whatever it is, embrace it … live, and live now!”

Left: Chartered guests are fascinated by Kate’s charm from La Paz, Bolivia.  “We all need a little magic in our lives,” laughs Kate.

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