Part II: Bullseye Interview with Jesse Thorn
Benedict talks about the trauma of being abducted in South Africa, and how the incident changed his life.
Here’s the second part of our re-look at the Bullseye interview. As we said in our previous post, this section is devoted entirely to Benedict’s quiet, yet deeply moving account of the incident in which he and two colleagues were carjacked in South Africa.
From 18:39, after he is asked how going through that trauma affected his life:
"I think it made me for a while … it was the hardest thing for anyone around me to deal with, was that I yearned for a life less ordinary with every second that I had to breathe. Because I came face to face with some very plain facts. One is that you die on your own — no matter who you’re with or who you’re leaving behind, you have to face death on your own. And also the fact that I was too young to die made me angry to live, if that makes any kind of sense. So I … I had a sort of profound insight really and a fantastic dinner party anecdote at the hands of these people who, you know …
"It could have been a lot worse, I could have been left with scars both physically and emotionally which could have been a lot worse. I wasn’t beaten up, I was pushed around a bit and tied up and put in the boot of a car as well as the side of the road, and I had a gun put to my head. But I wasn’t pistol-whipped, I wasn’t beaten with a stick, I wasn’t kicked, I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t cut, you know. It was an awful lot that didn’t happen that I can be thankful for.”
"It was a very, very big event in my life, but it’s one that I’ve learnt from rather than being traumatised from … The main way it changed me was … an immediate aftermath was that, well, I cried the first time I felt the sun on my face the next day. There were a lot of almost born-again, resurrected feelings of the preciousness and wonderful … beauty that is life, I mean, it’s just such a blessing. I know that sounds a bit soppy, but when you’ve come near death, you really really learn to re-evaluate it and appreciate it. And that’s a great thing to get in your twenties, because you start using your vivacity, not to kick against the idea of, `oh, I’m immortal, there’s no such thing as mortality,’ but to embrace your mortality and take control of it…”
"It’s a f*cking exhausting anecdote — I’m not gonna excuse my swearing there because it’s a really big story to go into… and I do feel a bit pale and wan after going through it… But I’ve got nothing but good out of it, really.
Then at 24:28, he recalls a final encounter immediately after that terrible incident:
"It was a roadside truck stop for the night so people would come and get some Coca-Cola or just relieve themselves and have a gossip. And that was the light on the horizon that we ran to … And when I was there, I had, my shoelace was still tied around my right hand, I hadn’t bothered untying it. And as I was telling my story and these women were clucking and tutting and ticking and just crying and shaking their heads and saying `for shame, for shame, they steal from us, too, they steal from the poor, we’re so sorry this happened to you in our country’ … It was profoundly moving.”
“And then to add to that, this hand, this black hand came out and untied the thing that had been used for my bondage on my white flesh. And the whole thing just snowballed in my head, everything, everything we whites have done to that culture — just the whole thing just suddenly smashed in. And it was a profoundly moving moment, and I looked up into this man’s face after having been scared by the men that were there … To be able to look at a black man’s face in the night in South Africa and say thank you with tears running down your face as he takes away this final sort of token of the night’s trauma — that was wonderful. And that was a huge part of the healing.”
When we talked about this last story in messages back and forth, we felt that it gave us a sense of the scale and depth of Benedict’s intellect, and his ability to contextualise — while barely out of danger — such a terrifying experience against the backdrop of South Africa’s history of oppression. And it drove home, in just a few lines, the essential humanity and goodness and kindness that he continued to see in the people of that country, even though he had just suffered an attack by several of their countrymen.
So often these days, the media and entertainment industries give us hollow men and women to admire, idolise and even emulate: beautiful to look at on the outside, but lacking in both substance and character. Benedict has no shortage of either; and we think this interview proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Part I here!