Friday, July 20, 2018

Highalnd News - the Prequel

I will post the Highland News interview in a few days but just in case you were wondering about the poems John Dempster referred to, I have posted the links for you.

The poem was written a few years after the event. My brother< Michael had been diagnosed with a vicious from of cancer. He lived in Spain and I had it was my third and final visit.

The first time over, in the spring, he was in hospital having tests. A small tumour the size of a pea had grown to the size of an egg in a matter of six weeks or so. He still had his flat at the time so I’d stayed there, catching the bus to the hospital every day.

The second visit was in the summer. The pastor and his wife had a time share apartment and kindly gave us their slot. It was along the bus route to the hospital but my brother had been moved to the hospice for what was intended to be a rest, He never left. We visited every day in between trying to be tourists – albeit very unhappy ones.

The third visit was in the autumn, a week or two shy of his 50th birthday. The doctor at the hospice informed us that Mike didn’t have long. I had run out of compassionate leave, but not compassion itself. There was no brother’s flat and no time share slot and a friend of Mike’s had a friend who had a small flat a few hundred yards from the beach. It was small and basic, but the closeness to the beach made it a lucrative buy. Just opposite the flat and down to the left, in a courtyard was a cafĂ© that opened only in the mornings and the only thing on the menu was churros.

The block had three floors and four flats on each floor. There was a courtyard in the centre, small and inaccessible, more the size of a large chimney. Sounds echoed, smells drifted and you couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

I kept my praying for when I got back to the flat on an evening. Mike was so fragile. There was no flesh and he wore the skin like a shroud.

There was a constant argument, conducted in whispers, between Mike’s friends and the pastor of a church. Mike had been updating their church website and blog, listening to and transcribing the sermons. The pastor believed that Mike had asked Jesus into his life. His friends thought Mike was, as he had always been, atheist to the core. Mike wasn’t yet dead but they were wanting to arrange the funeral.

So I saved my prayers for night time. They were whispered before an open window and I there were times I wondered what the other residents would be thinking. Mostly though I was in too much distress. My brother, Richard, had been staying with Mike in the hospice, the week before I arrived. Whatever distress I faced, his own was worse. I had God to fall back on. Richard…he phoned home to his wife and cried down the line. She pleaded with me to swap places with him – for Richard to stay in the flat, and for me to stay at the hospice – but Richard would not surrender. He bore so much in those two weeks.

So that’s the context of the poem. Some of it real. Some of it imagined. No one spoke to me. It really was a lonely time – but I felt God so near.

I’m not sure how this one came about. I think this was the time when the picture of the child on the beach was published. Refugees, for as long as I can remember, have been taking to boats to escape poverty and war. Somewhere lodged in my memory are the Vietnamese boat people, refugees who fled Vietnam by boat at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

The death of Alan Kurdi – the powerful image provoked a whole finger-pointing row. The government should be doing more to help, said some. The boat owners should be stopped from making so much money out of the suffering of others, said others. The refugees should go through the proper channels to get to safety, said another group.

It was the last line that was written first and the rest of the poem later on.

There’s a wonderful poem in John Glenday’s collection “The Golden Mean” - “The Walkers”. I think that was perhaps my inspiration. I felt some response was needed – something more than the pointing fingers and the blame shifting.

We have no idea what f=refugees face. No father commits his family to the uncertainty of an unsafe boat on turbulent waters, knowing all the tales of people who don’t reach that promise of safety without being convinced that to stay where they are is certain death.

We deal with our own children’s fear of the imagined monsters under the bed at night. Their real monsters hunt by day.

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