As I write, people like me are waking up in towns and villages across England to face – streets and homes turned into rivers. I’ve just heard on radio news that more rain fell in the last 24 hours than normally does in a month. The report also stated that much more ‘extreme weather’ can be expected in the years ahead. ‘Global Warming’ was to blame.
Last night, I began to read a book by Lemn Sissay, called My Name is Why – a Memoir. The inside front cover details what the book is about: ‘At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since birth.’ I shuddered a few times reading the opening pages, which include images of official documents detailing the casual brutality by which ‘Authority’ can destroy a human life.
Sometimes, it seems there are more and more crises which can turn our streets, our homes, our lives into rivers which appear to come out of nowhere and carry us in new, devastated directions. We may only understand these processes long after the outside destruction has been cleared away, and everything is relatively peaceful. Yet, inside the damaged lives – it’s different.
I was recently trying to write about ‘uncertainty’, in my usual uncertain way. I had a look at what the word might mean to people (generalised ‘people’, not real folk like you and me), and I thought about a big list of things that might hit people so hard as to leave behind deep feelings of uncertainty. The suicide of a family member, a benefits payment stopped, fears of losing your job, beginning to write a sentence to say how you feel but not knowing what to say. Lots of things can cause uncertainty: only that much is certain about it.
Then, I realised that some of the causes of uncertainty I was thinking about were not just about ‘people’ in the abstract, but people I knew. And I also realised, with a bit of a shudder, that those people included me; and – I was deliberately avoiding thinking too closely about those long moments when icy cold waters were rushing through the rooms of my life, turning paper and words to mush and confusion.
As I write, I am feeling uncertain about the direction this small piece of writing should take. Should I, as I planned to do, talk about – what uncertainty means to other people? So, I could talk about Lemn Sissay becoming a wonderful poet and transcending the false ‘British’ identity which was imposed upon him. And I could link that with the floods in England. I could say – that I will always identify with ordinary people in England who are suffering and struggling against disasters they did not cause, and my belief in an independent socialist Scotland strengthens my bond with my English neighbours. I hope that one day the armed forces in Scotland will be re-trained into the best disaster-relief units in the world. Creating a Scotland more in tune with who we are, at our best: people who reach out to help others.
And I’m fine with all of that. My uncertainty has calmed down, like waters receding after a flood. And I’ll try not to worry too much about ‘Global Warming’ and its’ effects but oppose it any way I can. And, I’ll go back to that book by Lemn Sissay, and I’ll seethe and rage along with him about the care home system and the bampots who stole his young life. And I’ll rummage around in my bookshelves to find that book of Lemn’s poetry I know is here somewhere. And all of that is fine, but all of that is also NOT facing all those other fears which make me uncertain. Uneasy. Watching the icy waters rise around me.
So, what should I do? What should I say about my own uncertainty? Perhaps, I’m doing and saying it already. That I feel the waters rising in the lives of others because I know that feeling. I feel some of Lemns’ pain because I know that feeling. I know – because I have seen the icy waters rise in my life.
In time, we can all share how we feel. And, as we clear away flood waters, and join the millions of young people marching to save the world from Global Warming; in time, as we expose and change care services which in the past did not care; in time, as we start to create a much better world, each of us can sometimes turn to each other and say: “Do you remember how bad we felt when the icy waters came into our lives? Let’s talk about that. Let’s heal.” And those will be good days.