As I write

As I write, Nergal has graced me with her presence, and is eating cat food from a green saucer. For those of you who don’t know, Nergal is a cat: so, you can stop worrying now that this might be a Blog written by a lunatic who feeds some child on cat food. No one is cruel enough to name a child Nergal. And, by the way, I didn’t name the cat either. As for her saucer being green, that’s entirely irrelevant. I am the kind of lunatic who includes the entirely irrelevant, sometimes.

I don’t really search for things to write about. (“That’s obvious!” I hear you say. Well, imaginary reader – cheers!) No. Things that want to be written about search for me , and present themselves at my door, miaowing loudly and persistently, until I notice them. (Wait a minute. Nergal is miaowing at my door now to be let back out into the garden again. Her green saucer is licked clean. There’s that irrelevant green again! I can’t get rid it.)

I’m back. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah – things search me out because they want me to write about them. I don’t know, in advance, if it’ll be something funny, or sad, green, or unexpected. Not unexpected as in “Boo!” But – unexpected as in: “How does this strange little man find all this different stuff to talk about every week?” Well, like I said , I don’t find it; it finds me. And, there’s often too much of it to mention it all; or, it’s sort of a muddle of ordinary and happy stuff; and extraordinary and scary stuff.

Life doesn’t happen in simple neat sentences – where one thing follows another, and if you read an average sentence, you don’t suddenly think: WTF! (And, by the way, if you think in texts, you should probably get help. I did, and I feel a lot better now. LOL.) No. Life is much more jumbled up, and wild, than most of our sentences would suggest.

Take this last week, for example. Another week of Lockdown – for me and Isobel and Nergal and millions of other people and cats. Another week of abnormal ordinariness, and sometimes terrible things happening to people around the world. Some of us were the victims; some of us were there. There – in the hospital ward where no life lost to Covid 19 is ‘better’ because it was part of a lower number of cases announced by officials. Or, there on the street where a white police officer openly murdered a black man. Or, we glimpsed that killing on phones, on TV screens, or in the pages of a newspaper – bought from a shop where everyone was walking around in a disaster movie, wearing masks or terrorising people by coughing and not wearing a mask.

We are living through a lot of weird and ordinary stuff all mixed together; and none of it fits snugly into a neat sentence. George Orwell once wrote that the best books about war are those from the viewpoint of the ordinary soldier who doesn’t have a clue which side is winning or losing. All they know for sure is their comrades they fight alongside, and the screams of artillery shells and crashing explosions and the absolute chaos of now.

I’m trying to make some sense of where I’m going in this ordinary disaster-movie world. After decades of following and sometimes leading struggles, and serving on a hard civilian frontline that nearly destroyed me, I’ve come to value the strangeness of quietly rebuilding a life, and writing as I recover. My recovery is happening with peace and a cat and Isobel and words of hope. Noticing what matters. Turning around slowly – to face those demons that scared me the most. And, if you’re as lucky as I am, you will once again be able to stare right at those fears: that you’re not good enough, that you’ll never win. And you won’t be too scared. And, you may think: “What can I do to make things better – by a lot, or by a little?” Whatever you do, you will win – because you tried. And you may feel, as I feel, when I hear of millions of young people protesting about great injustice – that, as hard and as strange as it may feel, we must all find a way to carry our moments of peace with us, into the necessary battlefields of this world. Never to carry a white flag or sing any hymns of surrender to injustice, but to face the chaos and the fighting that needs to be done. In the frontline of our hospitals, the frontline of handing out food to those who have none, in the mass socially distanced protests, in the shelter we offer to others through millions of spoken words of comfort, and in the healing writers and artists and musicians bring into our lives, we must carry with us -our peace and our infinite capacity to struggle for a better world.

Stay safe. Be kind. Change the world.

Harvey Duke

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