Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Sometimes I wonder what the hell the world is about. Here we are this tiny rock spinning around an inconsequential giant ball of hot gas with a few other rocks, some smaller some larger. We spin around just quickly enough to ensure most things stick onto the surface without floating off, including us. We inhabit this rock and organise ourselves roughly by geography, political, belief and monetary systems. Sometimes we decide that one of these systems is not fair or not working to meet our needs and we attempt to change it. Sometimes that attempt is successful through the ballot box, sometimes it fails because a fair and democratic system is not in operation but the interesting thing is we still keep trying. Those who are most invested in a current system try to ensure that those who want change are ignored, silenced or generally marginalised. Fear and bullets are the quickest way to silence those who want change but many still keep trying.
Change of course is not always good, sudden change can mean instability, more conflict, a situation that seems worse than the one people at first sort to change but in some circumstances people will still fight for change because there is no alternative other than to try and make something intolerable better; the cost of not doing so outweighs the huge price that might have to be paid in human life and dignity.Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain are moving towards change, some may succeed in establishing a fairer, better system, others may fail, but the thing that impresses me is that people are willing to still keep on trying.
I don’t know whether I would have the physical courage to go out onto the streets and face the forces of authority that may seek to humiliate me, beat me, kill me. I went on the march against the war in Iraq because I was fervently against that war but it didn’t require any courage on my part, there was no danger of having to sacrifice my life to protest against something. However I did feel part of something bigger than just myself on that march surrounded by those who felt like I did, as I did way back when I marched against the war in Vietnam and Cruse missiles being based at Greenham Common. This may just be a tiny fraction of what protestors in Egypt and Libya and other countries may currently feel. Some may cite phrases such as ‘mob mentality’ but if a sense that nothing matters more than achieving change and striving for something fairer and better is shared by enough people there is a group will that comes into operation that might just be strong enough to bring about that change. And if bullets, tanks and planes prove too strong some will still be willing to keep on trying.
Of course there are as many reasons for protesting and wanting change as there are protestors. There will be some protestors who act out the worst that humanity is capable of(looting, random acts of violence, rape) and there will be many who act out the best that humanity can aspire to. Just because you want change does not automatically make you a better person but maybe what it does do is make you a person who is prepared to believe that change can be brought about through the sum of individual actions.
I have been re reading Anne Sexton’s last Collection of poems, ‘An Awful Rowing Towards God’, published after her death by suicide. She is of course one of the great confessional poets. She was encouraged to write poetry by her therapist to help her through her bipolar mood swings. She struggled with mental illness and writing poetry helped her with that struggle and out of that came poems that won her prestigious prizes and huge international recognition. I always let this be a touchstone when some tend to see poetry as a form of therapy as somehow a 'lesser species'. Survivors Poetry can produce poems that demand to be heard not just for the witness of the content but for their use of language and craft. One poem by Sexton jumped out at me, as I was reading it just after another news update from Tripoli in Libya speaking of people still protesting despite the attacks made upon them by Security Forces. The second and third stanzas remind me of all those men and women in Libya willing to still protest despite the danger, to swallow that hot coal of courage to die for each other and a cause. They have felt despair for too long and perhaps now it can at last awake to the wings of roses and be transformed
It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.