Support me: Great North Run 2019 for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity

This year marks 20 years since I first deployed on operations: that was my ‘Millennium Tour’ to the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, where I was the Mines Intelligence Officer based out of the headquarters in Banja Luka and supporting the monitoring of humanitarian demining efforts.  I have since deployed on operations to Afghanistan twice, deployed on exercises in Canada, America, England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, France, Estonia, Cyprus and Kenya.  I’ve been based in Germany, Cyprus, England, Canada and Scotland and seem to have gained a ‘full house’ of working at Troop, Squadron, Regiment, Group, Brigade, Division and Corps levels as well as within Army HQ and MOD Main.

During that time, I have lost friends and colleagues and seen the pain of bereavement, injury and life changing conditions impact others as well as families I have had the honour to meet along my journey.  Some of my emotional experiences are captured in poetry in this blog: Soldiers’ Muse | Contemplations of the 21st Century Soldier.

So: I am going to run the Great North Run on 8 Sep 19.

I’m raising money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity who provide vital support to soldiers, veterans and their families in times of need. For Soldiers. For Life.


Support me: Edward Whishaw is fundraising for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity

JustGiving - Sponsor Me

To the ‘me’ that needs reminding …

Crushing the Stigma – Mental Health

A colleague in the Army has recently taken the bold step of sharing his story of mental health challenge and his recovery journey on an internal social media network.  It has been followed by many.  It has also prompted others to come forth with stories.  A few weeks back another colleague, a veteran, was also in a very dark place from which his friends, family and medical professionals are trying to pull him back.

It takes a lot to admit that you need help.  Sharing is a good start.  Learning steps to help yourself is another.

This particular post is about a technique to recovery – writing to your ‘dark’ self when feeling ‘light’.  For those with further interest, the colleague has now turned the whole story public in a Facebook blog here: Crushing the Stigma.

Introduction

This morning I was skimming through a few people’s blogs that I follow. One in particular caught my eye. Leah Beth Carrier blogs on TheMighty.com, in a recent post, she talked about a piece of homework her therapist had given her to complete. Her Therapist told her to write a letter to herself; to write it whilst feeling relatively okay, and to address it to the version of her that was in the darkest of places. Literally a letter to her suicidal self, as a reminder to stay, to hold on, and to keep living. I will endeavour to write my own soon, but reading hers I felt that I could relate to so many of the feelings she talks about going through in your darkest times. For those that have the good fortune to be unable to relate to this, it may seem a little clichéd or cringy, but to the few of you that have been there, I hope that reading this makes you feel slightly less alone.

The Letter

To the me that needs reminding,

I know things have not been easy lately and the pain often feels like it is too much to bear. Death seems like a more palatable option than sticking around and hoping that things will get better or become easier. You tell yourself that you are broken, chronic and inherently flawed – messages that you truly believe define the very core of your being. You can’t see past the darkness that encircles you day in and day out. The coveted light at the end of the tunnel? It is nothing more than an elusive carrot you are always chasing.

You grow weary from fighting a relentless battle with mental illness. Anyone could understand why you’d be exhausted. It makes sense – just like wanting an end to the pain makes sense. Depression has a way of shrinking your world down to a single, solitary room. You exist within the four walls of your bedroom, barely able to make it out of bed. What you don’t realize [sic] is that there is a world beyond the dark, drawn curtains that is big and bright and waiting to be discovered. Although it seems terrifying right now to think about embracing the noise, and the chaos, and the light – I promise you it won’t always feel so overwhelming. You just have to hold on and stick around long enough to see that for yourself.

Stay.

Stay when you fell like giving in. Stay when everything in you is screaming for relief. Stay long enough to see the sparks ignite into flames as hope burns within you once again. Stay one more day. Stay to see another person smile. Maybe, one day, it will be you who smiles. Stay to watch another sunset and breathe deep as you take in the cotton candy hues covering the vastness of the sky. Stay awhile, until you get the chance to make your voice heard. You have so much to say and can be a powerful force if you allow your words to carry. Stay so that you can experience one more bad cup of coffee. At least you will know that you have feelings about something. Stay so that you can take one more trip and collect photographs in the form of memories. Stay until you cry one more time. You will be reminded that you are human, and that being human is messy and painful, and occasionally beautiful. Stay so that you can hold someone’s hand. Stay to see the changes happening all around you. Stay when your heart is full and you feel alive, but aren’t sure those feelings will last. Stay to see them through. I urge you to please stay. The world needs more of you, even if you can’t believe that right now. You are worthy and loved and deserve to take up space.

So, stick around a little while longer.

Own your space.

Use your voice.

Experience life in all of its messy and broken beauty.

Leave your mark on this world by being around to impact it, no matter how small you may feel your impact can be.

You will be OK. Maybe not today, or even tomorrow, but if you choose to stay; then you get to see first-hand, the incredible strength, power and bravery you possess. You, my dear, are a brave one.

Stay.

See you tomorrow,

The me that makes it.

My Commitment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a poem, primarily as my role has moved into a range of higher headquarters.  Having now deployed or exercised at Troop/Platoon, Squadron/Company, Battalion / Regimental Group, Brigade, Corps and Joint Forces level I have most recently been working at Departmental level with in the MoD.  It has been hard to be both pragmatic and loyal and to understand necessary management trade-offs when the decisions often require greater consideration of affordability and budgets, and the need to support difficult balance of investment decisions.  This poem is about maintaining the commitment as a service person in this environment …

My Commitment

For the soldier, for the sailor, for the airman – all of whom, I know not,
I have a role to play right now – but my duty’s not forgot:
The ways of the world of politics, said harshly, seem lacking in care,
And my part has been to represent us: to stand for the right and the fair.

The higher headquarters is many miles from the front line that’s in my soul,
So I have sought to keep my grounding: to the better of our current goal;
For duty is a caustic mix of pleasure, pain and sorrow – yet – that’s the soldier’s chosen art –
And I remain the same young fellow: that has had this knowledge seared into my heart.

So as I step aside today and hand the flag to the next team along,
I hope to leave the drum still beating, uninterrupted, with the power of the song:
Do what is right, not what is easy – stand for something, for if you don’t you’re nought,
What we have is nothing, what we do is everything: let not the good battle go unfought.

As my hair greys on: my deeds I cling to, for it’s them that make me proud each day and night:
The fact I kept my loyal spirit, remained myself, with my peers’ welfare always in my sight.
A duty is a calling not avoided: a sacrifice; whether chaplain, government, law, peace or war:
Let it be my legacy that I can say, with soul intact: ‘For what is right, I could not have given more.’

Lest we Forget

Lest We Forget

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.

Crying in the Dark

This poem was written about a day after leaving Afghanistan.  I was at an emotionally low point, and it was during ‘Normalisation’.  This is the process of taking some time, on route back from the operational theatre, to be calm and introspective.  To think.  It is irritating to be forced to spend this time rather than race home to families and friends, although it is important and having returned from my previous tour without normalisation I was glad, afterwards, that I had the opportunity this time round.

My job in theatre involved a lot of detailed planning and therefore the effort had been somewhat ceaseless.  I had left theatre slightly ahead of those with whom I had been working, in order to set the pace back at the Home Base and to ensure a smooth transition towards future tasks.  As a result, I normalised amongst a group of people I did not know.  In hindsight this suited me well, as I found that I felt ‘peeled’: emotionally raw, vulnerable and exposed.

The low feeling was not totally unfamiliar.  I had experienced it before, albeit not as strongly, after exhausting military exercises away from home.  Some call it ‘post-exercise blues’; although the feeling is not unique to military activity – post-holiday blues are familiar enough to most, I expect.

The poem is a precursor to the earlier-posted ‘Returning Home‘, which was a request, of friends and family, to bear with the process of normalising.  I could have posted this first: but I was not yet ready to do so, as it cut quite deep even to read it back to myself.

My low feelings haven’t gone completely, but they are now significantly subsiding.  They occasionally return in waves, when I am stressed with work or other concerns; they ebb with a little time and introspection.  This poem is intended for anyone who has felt the same and may be struggling to come to terms: you are not alone.

Crying in the Dark

Mornings dawn with bright sunlight, but a clouded head,
I struggle with gravity: to lift myself from my bed,
Meals taken are tasteless as I chew and swallow,
That feeling of emptiness pervades my world: so, so hollow.

I smile and nod, sound cheery on the phone to those I care for,
Knowing I’m returning soon to those I want to be there for,
But I’m struggling inside to keep my balance, to stay steady,
It’ll pass, I know, but the dark and the depth: it’s heady.

Why am I like this? Why do I feel so cold? So low?
Why do I find myself battling the world?  Putting up  a good show?
What is this feeling that stalks me? Lurking in the dark?
As the flood water surrounds me, I’m drowning – where is my Ark?

Holding my breath, an answer springs to my mind –
It is not from the outside, that the world’s being unkind:
This feeling is self-generating, an exhaustion and a guilt,
Though I know it’s no better than crying over spilt milk.

It’s a darkness, a sorrow, self analysis and hindsight –
I try to keep it at bay with all my effort, all my might,
But I don’t feel I’m succeeding and I wonder if I could:
Although I still try in public, because I think I should.

In the dim light of evening, in the quite, when alone –
I can feel a headache coming, a buzz and a drone,
And I know it’s dark thoughts all whizzing round in my head,
As my shoulders sag downward, heavy laden, clad in lead.

So I settle for mindlessness, for distraction: watch the late movie,
But in the cinema’s darkness, I’m feeling far from groovy.
I notice, however, that I am not as alone as I was thinking –
For slowly I realise, there are others here that feel that they’re sinking …

And then my flood comes, with silent shakes, invisible shudders:
With watery eyes, reasonless; in the darkness, and no one utters –
A word, for we each feel it, that we’re sharing in sorrow:
And that this feeling will be, we hope, a little lighter tomorrow.

For we’ve spend the last months driving every sinew, every bone,
And now it is our bodies chance to make our minds atone:
Too much taken, too much drawn, from the innermost reserve:
Time to rebalance, to recover, to release; to reset the curve.

It’s a phase, that’s what it is: Although whilst I say this, it doesn’t soften –
Time is what I need, the future’s where I travel, but I’ll be back here often,
I just need to once again find my drive, my energy, my hope and my heart:
Slowly but surely, I’ll splutter back into motion and restart.

Until then: I’ll be crying in the dark.

‘My Jihad’: A tender and moving drama, providing a surprisingly delicately-crafted cultural insight

I do not profess to know another culture inside or out; but I do feel I have been given experiences and insights to allow me to be open minded.  Recently intrigued as much by the name of this little series of 4 x short episodes, I downloaded ‘My Jihad’ by the BBC (link) on iPlayer.

I was greatly and beautifully surprised.  The 4 episodes of little more than quarter on an hour each, took me on a journey through the tender and difficult approach to how love might form in a more culturally controlled environment – in this case, a Muslim community in the UK.  The touching complexities – the simplicity of the story without the need to crowd or detail the key steps it took with background drama or effects – drew me to this mini masterpiece.  I shall not spoil the outcome with spoilers (those who want can see IMDb for more).  We will get to learn how life proceeds next for the characters depicted as the series returns on 28 Jun this year.

For those seeking an opportunity for a little more cultural insight – watch this small series and ensure your judgement or prejudice is suspected.  Empathise, and sympathise, with all parties and find what you believe is right, wrong – or at least the best way in which the tangles of the world can be navigated.  If little else, these 4 x quarter-hour episodes form the quarters of a full circle and have a completeness of their own.

Enjoy.  I did.

Link to Episode 1 on BBC iPlayer.  Available for 11 Months at the time of writing – unfortunately this link only works in the UK but there are clips and other methods of access in different nations.

Returning Home

I wrote this poem for our Service of Remembrance upon return as a Regimental Group from Afghanistan.  I aimed to capture the strangeness of being home yet, to a point, still finding my thoughts flowing back to where I was and what I was doing.  However kinetic, or patiently non-kinetic, we have to be – there is always a difficulty in returning to normality and bringing our experiences into context.  I found myself, and others, sharp of temper at times: the normal ‘skin’ of emotional protection wearing a little thin.  Others may have had a similar experience.  It takes time to ‘normalise’ and so this is a sort of plea for patience while this takes place …

Returning Home

We have returned: to house, to home; from duties far afield,
We are here: together but at times alone; with thoughts that do not yield,
Back in the arms of our families, of friends and those who care,
But sometimes we may still fall away, to that distant, thousand-yard stare …

For what we’ve done, for what we’ve seen, for what we were prepared to do –
The toll upon our minds was hard (I know this is nothing new)
But take my hand and know right now, for if or when I fall from grace:
The duty we did in Afghanistan has weathered every face.

It may take a little time for us to settle; for our minds to calm right down,
To remember not to jump and snap, to turn a smile where we sometimes frown,
Our loving hearts, our kindly thoughts, are safe beneath and remain so true:
Just bear with us, whilst we find our peace, and come fully home to you.

We lost some friends to the job we did, and it is hard to measure sorrow,
So when I seem strained by cheery thoughts, give me time: I’ll be better tomorrow.
For some of us feel wrong to be the ones safely home, safely back to rest,
But we know that we, as a team, as a Unit, as a Group, all gave our very best.

So here were are, safely home; tomorrow’s marching, medals and music – that tells us so,
But in our minds, in our hearts and in our souls: there may be a little way to go.
We’re home in body, we’re home in spirit, slowly our minds are coming too:
Trust us, hold us, stay with us with kindness: soon we’ll be wholly home to you.

In But An Instant

I recently read a story about the challenge and complexity of love, situated in Kabul in the mid 2010s.  I also watch a film covering similar topics, albeit based in a wholly different location and culture.  There was a common theme, which I thought about and found myself having experienced a similar moment.  The theme was this: there are times in our lives when, although at the time perhaps unnoticed or unacknowledged, through retrospection there can be a single moment in time when we fall in love.  This poem is dedicated to my wife.

In But An Instant

And then, at that moment it hit me,
Like a tonne of bricks landing with a clatter,
So loud, I turned to find myself surrounded –
Like a fast train, passing within inches –
The snap of the wind whistling and rocking me.

Yet I stood, rooted to the spot,
Like a tree holding against a storm –
Swaying between toes and heals –
I did not recognise it, but deep down I knew it.
In but an instant, life had changed.

The glint, the connection, an electric shock that
Should have thrown me from my feet yet found me
So totally grounded.  So totally and suddenly aware:
For this moment, this is when it happened;
In but an instant, I was not the person I was before.

Time stood still whilst the world turned and at its centre,
Balanced at the fulcrum, harmony amongst chaos,
Now.  Right now.  I had to act.  I lifted my foot heavily,
As though it was laden, pulling from the deep and invisible mud of my past.
Step by step I approached my future.

With one final step the future was within reach,
my hand lifted and I took yours,
And I shook it in that very British manner –
But I knew, deeply, that I wanted to hold it in a very different way, and forever,
For, in but an instant, my life began.

Protect the Force

I visited the vehicles mustered in the darkness to move forward to conduct route clearance operations some days ago.  I wanted to wish them luck, and remind them of the importance of their task to provide safety and security to others.

Protect the Force

The tangible air of tension, as you prepare to go forward,
The purr of preparation, as you check and recheck in readiness,
The buzz and hum, the glint in the eye, for now is the time:
Go forth, be professional, be on guard: Protect the Force.

Behind, around and above we will be watching you,
When help is needed we will send it to you,
But you are at the front, in the lead, and our trust is vested in you.
Go forth, be alert, be a team: Protect the Force.

By the time dawn breaks you will be on your way,
The eve of operations has passed, and you embark today:
Your actions will set the conditions for the broader endeavour;
So go forth, be safe and proud, my brothers – and Protect the Force.

Fallen Hero

I write this poem having recently attended the ‘ramp ceremony’ for a young, US soldier who died serving his country and protecting us in Afghanistan.  It was poignant and I was proud to be one of those representing the UK Forces – shoulder to shoulder.

Fallen Hero

I never knew you, young man, but here I stand in the dark;
Flood lights ahead on the rear of a plane for you,
Silently we stand in line, rows of heads gently bowed –
Nations stood together as we think of you;
I cannot tell what’s going through the minds of those who loved you,
I cannot say; words can’t convey, what I’d say to them –
You kept us safe with sacrifice – God knows that I’ll owe you forever:
Fallen Hero.

Words of command, whispered, shuffling forward in our lines;
Squinting at the night, still and quiet, facing inwards to see faces –
Just like mine, thinking of your gift to us; your life for us;
As your squad slide past marching slowly – you’re held high,
Nearer the sky and while your soul travels home your body goes slow;
I never knew you but I’m here; come to say goodbye –
I’m here for your family – I hope they know I’ll owe you forever,
Fallen Hero.

The Spirit of the Volunteer

Last year, The Duke of Westminster, as the newly titled Deputy Commander Land Forces (DCLF) at the (again newly titled) Army HQ addressed the Officers and Senior NCOs of the Territorial Army (TA), now the Army Reserve, in Scotland.  One of the aspects he talked about was that noteworthy and remarkable thing that motivates the Volunteers and Reservists to spend time away from their families, friends and other commitments to serve.  Whilst being paid is, clearly, helpful – it is not the driving force for the majority.  He was alluding to what he called the “Spirit of the Volunteer”.

Earlier this year I deployed to Afghanistan. Before deploying, I came on a ‘Recce’ to adjust our training before deploying and to discover what the task would entail. Whilst on the Recce, I met one of my former reservist soldiers from Scotland. He made me proud, although due to return before his peers because of an injury. This led me to write Tour of Duty.

This poem is about the Reserves deployed:

Spirit of the Volunteer

Tired and thin, worn from within,
I see in your eyes that the pressure has been hard.
Glinting humour there, not beyond despair,
Driven by desire, commitment and regard –
For you always seem, to your friends and team,
Someone who is strange that you choose to be here:
You’re the odd one out, that’s without doubt,
But you’re here for a different reason, not a career:
Doing your duty, that’s the beauty,
It’s the Spirit of the Volunteer.

Going home on R&R, getting into a friend’s car,
Shivering in the cold and wet and normality of life,
You tell them how it is, go and drink some fizz,
But your friends don’t all get why you leave your wife –
Parents may be proud, they’ll tell uncles out loud,
But it never makes it easier at home, back at home,
Going back on tour, going back for more,
It’s your duty and she knows it but she’ll still wake up alone:
Yet she knows, it’s your calling, as she waves shedding a tear –
Doing your part, from the heart:
It’s the Spirit of the Volunteer.

End of tour, with a roar,
Flights take off and wend their way back home;
Quick bustle through, and a queue,
Snatched call and that is all on the telephone –
Then she’s there, with pushchair,
Smiling kindly, proudly, silently, glad to see you return:
Safe in arms, done no harm,
But she knows that the memories stay, that you’ll yearn
For who you are, her shining star,
With the Sprit of the Volunteer.

To Daddy

As we approach the next deployment of UK forces to Helmand, Afghanistan, I attended a Drumhead Service prior to deployment.  A poignant and emotional event, the following was written by and read by the son of one of those deploying.

To Daddy

Soon you’re going away
Far across the sea
But I’ll think of all the things
That you did with me

You helped me ride my bike
And built my climbing frame
You taught me how to score
In a football game

I’ll miss you Daddy lots
Every single day
But know that when you’re home
We’ll have loads of time to play 

Tour of Duty

I recently revisited Afghanistan and have found it much changed. I will return again soon. There is hope, there is light, there is much that makes me proud of what we have all achieved. I can see peace breaking inexorably like sun through winter clouds. I wrote this of a friend who I met up whilst there, who was facing the disappointment of departing early and leaving his team to finish the tour.

Tour of Duty

The sun sinks slowly in the cloudless sky,
Another day passed, my friend exhales a sigh –
Finally our chance to chat; find out what’s on his mind:
The furrows in his brow today; the world has been unkind.

Deep in reverie: sweaty patrols in blistering heat,
He talks of children gathering along the dusty street,
Describes the dangers found hidden in the wall, a tunnel, the floor;
Of poppy and of plastic wrap, his countenance is sure:

With certainty and gravitas he knows he played his part –
In saving lives of innocents; no victims of insurgent art,
But heavily weighing on his shoulders is a worry deep and keen:
For he is injured and frustrated – he will not re-join his team.

His eyes glint with a commitment to those who worked so close;
Their lives’ dependence on mutual skills formed an addictive dose:
And now they’re away forward – he’s left alone to crave
The sweaty tasks of duty, the risky plod, the lives to save.

My friend sits upright, proud and firm; though behind him is a shadow,
A looming weight borne on his shoulders, the loss of all that’s callow;
And as we chat I sense relief, of sorts, to tell a friend –
How disappointed he is, that he can’t see this through to end.

Darkness all around us, the sleepless chatter now subsided,
My friend I hope has benefited from talk, to me confided,
I wish him well and hope he will go home with head held high:
For what he has already done: his duty – no-one can deny.

I hope my friend will fix, in body and in soul:
If I can play my helping part, then that will be my goal.
He yearns to return another chance to finish what was begun:
My friend will return, duty will call, to serve in scorching sun.

Your Loyal Heart

This poem is dedicated to my wife and family.  For their loyalty and love.  For the fact I tear them from place to place and they follow me.  For now.

Another year, another move, another shift of friends and schools,
I know it hurts, I know it tears, I know you know it’s not my rules:
But every time I make you do it,
Every time I put you through it,
I wonder why I do: I know – you do too.

Another house, another start, another place to call a home;
Another rule, another game, a change again I can’t condone:
But every time I make us move again, again, again,
You do not hate me; although I deserve the blame;
It was my choice to choose this life: and with it all the pain.

One day; one day; I promise I won’t push your loyal heart:
One day; one day; we’ll have that promised fresh restart;
Soon. My love.  Soon. I say. Soon. One day.
When? I can’t yet say. Stability we say;
Soon.  That day is soon.  Not far away –

The day I don’t call upon your Loyal Heart again!
The day it’ll all be said and done!
The day we taste the fresh free air,
And we can dispense with care:
Just promise me, promise me … you’ll still be there …

The Final Inspection

Having just now been posted to a Unit preparing to return to Afghanistan, I have decided to return to posting thoughts and comments on my Soldier’s Muse blog.  For some, like this one, I will not be able to take credit … many may, perhaps, be ones that you’ve seen before over the multitude of Facebook posts or similar.  This one was recently posted by a friend to remember a pal lost 3 years and a day ago …

 

The Final Inspection

The soldier stood and faced God,  which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining, Just as brightly as his brass.
‘Step forward now, you soldier, How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek? To my Church have you been true?’ …

The soldier squared his shoulders and said, ‘No, Lord, I guess I ain’t.
Because those of us who carry guns, can’t always be a saint.
I’ve had to work most Sundays, And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I’ve been violent, because the world is awfully rough.
But, I never took a penny, That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of overtime, When the bills got just too steep.
And I never passed a cry for help, Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me, I’ve wept unmanly tears.
I know I don’t deserve a place, Among the people here.
They never wanted me around, Except to calm their fears.
If you’ve a place for me here, Lord, It needn’t be so grand.
I never expected or had too much, But if you don’t, I’ll understand.’

There was a silence all around the throne, Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly, For the judgment of his God.
‘Step forward now, you soldier, You’ve borne your burdens well..
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets, You’ve done your time in Hell.’

It Came to This …

This poem, which I wrote relatively rapidly  refers to a story of commitment to a cause …

To many things I aspire, dear,
Others to which I aspire not;
But one thing really is very clear,
I want you to forget me not.

At a time and place not of my choosing,
I will find decisions, mine to make,
I know I will want to avoid the losing –
But trust that you see the greater stake:

You knew the path I trod, accepting;
Always, I knew: ’twas never your choice –
You knew that I was not relenting,
But trusted that I had heard your voice.

I love you beyond both words and bounds –
And it breaks my heart that it comes to this,
How empty, love, this epigraph sounds:
My singular thought – is an enduring kiss.

The Treasure in the Memory

The words of the remembrance day service conjure always memories of friends passed.

 They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Recently, in a tragic accident, a friend and colleague passed away.  He was about to depart on tour to Afghanistan.  I wrote this poem a while ago – but wanted to post it now to honour his memory.  Rest in Peace, friend.

The Treasure in the Memory

In rest and peace lie loved ones moved on,
And we must remember their love and devotion,
For it’s just a case of earthly gone:
A constant in a world of unending motion.

Through loss, think not of a personal losing,
For in earthly death comes a heavenly birth,
It was time for Him to do the choosing,
And time for quiet and peace of greater worth.

In sorrow and grief think only about
The good times past, forever enjoying –
Those treasured memories, the ones with clout,
And things which, as gemstones, smiles are employing.

Through tears, remember your friends about you,
Wanting to help in some useful way –
So don’t shut emotions right inside you –
As those who love you help through the day.

Stand tall, don’t let worry get you down,
In the face of your emotions, stare long and strong,
For the trials of life may make you frown,
You must take head on the things gone wrong.

The good times, memories, sweet moments past
Times which life is nothing without,
Those thoughts and feelings will forever last,
Treasuring all those, is what this poem’s about.

Melancholy Moments

I wrote this small piece of prose in 1993, whilst I was at university.  I had a close friend who was grieving and finding it difficult to find solace.  Our friendship helped; but sometimes in an unspoken way – perhaps it was simply company he sought; or the silent sharing of an unspoken burden.  I thought it worth posting as it paints a picture in my mind of the importance of listening and, sometimes, just silence.

Melancholy Moments

He enters without a whisper or knock – and in my concentration I do not notice, but sense his presence.  I turn in my chair to face into the room.  As normal, he studies my activities – consciously deciding whether or not he can interrupt.  I smile and put the lid on my pen, and his eyes glint appreciatively as he sits.  We talk briefly, about the evening, and then he goes to his room, and returns.

The smoke always goes straight upwards for a bit, and then it curls and twists into natural planes and turns that artists strive to impersonate.  The air is not heavy, though the smell of the cigars lingers in a slight fog in the room.  As my friend sits, I can see anguish in his thoughts.  It is often like this – silent enough to hear the plants talk to each other on the mantelpiece.  They must have a great view of life’s ins and outs; of my comings and goings.

Though we know each other well, we do not talk much.  Sharing pleasantries was never our way.  We think alike, and in silence we can feel the mood in the air.  Maybe the smoke talks to us, because it always seems this way.

Tonight the mood is chilling and tired.  Not physically tired, tired of the kind of unfairness he experiences.  I experience it too, though I handle it differently; I find it far easier to repaint the walls, to put things away in the drawers, and thus things look unperturbed and calm, though the truth may not be so peaceful.  He, however, cannot.  Once he comes into my room, it is difficult for him to leave without it having changed.  It looks different after a visit; not just things moved around a bit, but a whole different feel. Now it is melancholy.  It is dark dark red, burgundy.  Subdued dark fire.

He is still wearing the shirt he wore to look smart of the evening, but it is now wrinkled and worn looking, with the remnants of a drink spill on one arm.  It should come out in the wash, though it will probably never completely go.  A stain like that will linger like smoke does on clothes, history imprinted.

*   *   *

I am sleepy, and my mind wanders from his thoughts.  He glances towards me, senses this and moves to say something.  He makes no noise though, as it is understood.  He rises to leave, and recovers his jacket from behind the chair.  His eyes are glistening as he glances around the room to take in an image.  This is how he remembers it all, just as it is at the end of an evening.  As he goes, I put my hand on his arm and nod, he responds with a delicate smile.  Silently he leaves the room, pausing at the door to look round at me.  He nods, and leaves – shutting the door behind him and leaving me alone with the air of the room – like the residue of the silent communication.  I tidy the ashtray and the melancholy into the corner, and make my way to bed.

Departing Reverie

I wrote this short poem in April, after leaving Cyprus (see previous post).

Departing Reverie

I hear the clock tick, and the bell chime,
And I know: it is time –
To move on from this place of quiet splendour,
To head home; return to my sender.

But as I survey these lands, and cast eyes on my deeds,
I can be happy to say “my plan succeeds” –
For I’ve left my mark, and made more of this place –
And I leave more learned; wiser, with a keener face.

Godspeed on my travels, back to welcoming hands –
Until the next time I visit these lands.