In Memoriam

Yesterday I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic deaths of four children at the Mants’ase Children’s Home in Lesotho, which a friend is involved with. Whilst the loss of a child is always devastating, what makes this story especially heart breaking – besides the fact there were four of them – is that they died trying to rescue a duck from a dam, which they believed to be ill and in need of help. The children were aged between eight and twelve, and a six year old who was with them when the tragedy occurred did not comprehend the seriousness of the situation and did not report it immediately for fear of being told off.

Incidents such as this are a huge test of faith for those of us who have it. If there is a God, it is difficult to understand how He could let four innocent children die in the pursuit of saving another living being. But if there is anything we can learn from such incomprehensible tragedy let it be this: the importance of compassion, of loving for our fellow humans (and non-humans), not just in word but also in deed, and of living every moment as if it was to be our last.

God bless you and keep you Nthabeleng Kibe, Mpho Mafa, Tebello Machona and Reitumetse Mohale. Sleep tight little ones. x

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Should anyone feel moved to make a donation to the children’s home to show support at this difficult time you can do so here. Thank you.

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New Beginnings

On this Christmas Eve I’m thinking about new beginnings. More specifically, the new beginnings that two of my friends are making – one, in fact, who at this very moment is on a plane from New York to Hawaii to start the next chapter in the rip-roaring adventure that is her life, and the other who is spending Christmas in Bali after losing her boyfriend to a tragic accident earlier this year and returning to Australia without him to rebuild her life.

Both these friends are brave beyond all measure. They have endured the most testing of times and yet have still stood up in the face of tragedy and adversity and said to life, you know what? You won’t beat me, because I won’t let you. Their strength of character both astounds and inspires me.

Jen, the friend en route to Hawaii, is the fellow wanderer and writer who I met in India in 2011. She forged a fantastic life for herself in NYC from nothing, but she knew in her heart it was time to move on and has ignored her misgivings and the doubts of those around her to make this change happen. She is a free spirit in the truest sense of the word and is my muse and spiritual twin (as cheesy as that sounds it’s true).

Sarah, meanwhile, has been to hell and back in recent months after the loss of her wonderful Paul, and yet has borne her loss with a huge amount of dignity, poise and humility. It was incredibly brave to return to Australia so soon after Paul’s death and resume her life there but it seems, from the outside, at least, that the sun and her wonderful friends over there are beginning to work their magic, and whilst I’m certain she will never get over the loss of her love, I’m hopeful she will find in life many other much deserved joys that will bear testament to the fact it can still be wonderful.

So here’s to new beginnings, fresh starts and adventures-may they take us where we want to go, and may they make us richer in spirit and strength than we were before.

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Honour the dead – and help the living

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day that evokes strong emotions in many for myriad reasons. For some it brings back the horrors of war that they’ve experienced themselves and a deep sadness for their fallen comrades, for others it triggers feelings of anger that are more political in nature. But whatever your view on the existence of – and motives for – war, the undeniable truth is that over the years many thousands have sacrificed themselves for what they believed – rightly or wrongly – to be for the good of their country. And so, putting the politics to one side is it not right that we take one paltry day each year to honour them?

On another note, the news from the Philippines is looking bleaker by the hour. From initial reports citing hundreds of casualties as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, there are now reports of 10,000 dead in one city alone, with widespread food and water shortages, looting and little or no contact with countless villages. Bodies are piling up by the roadside and being buried in mass graves, as over 600,000 displaced people try to make sense of the massive tragedy that has robbed them of their homes, their livelihoods and, in many cases, their families.

Right now it’s impossible to say if we will be able to go ahead with our trip as planned. Both Malapascua and Leyte, which were amongst the worst affected places, were on our itinerary. We have a flight to Tacloban, Leyte’s capital, booked for 6th January, yet Tacloban is the city referred to above where 10,000 people have been killed, and all buildings for a kilometre inland from the sea completely razed to the ground. I naively thought we might be able to do some volunteering to help the relief effort when we arrived, but something tells me two tourists from England are going to be little use in the face of such horrific devastation.  I just feel so horribly sad. What did these people do to deserve this?

To assuage my western privilege guilt I’ve made a donation to World Vision’s typhoon relief fund, and I would urge anyone else who can spare a few pounds to do the same. They may be out of sight and out of mind, but those people are just like you and me. They have families, they have feelings and, right now, they desperately need our help. On Remembrance Sunday we can only honour the dead – but it’s still within our reach to ease the suffering of the living.

 

Thoughts for the Philippines

I’ve been so saddened to hear of the devastation that’s been caused in the Philippines by the recent typhoon. Two of the worst affected parts are the islands of Leyte and Malapascua, both places on our travel itinerary for January. The dive school where we are booked to stay for three nights on Malapascua has been completely devastated (see pic) and supplies are being sent in from the office on the northern tip of Cebu, which hasn’t yet managed to make contact with the inhabitants. Similar devastation has befallen Leyte, where we are due to go on a whale shark tour.

The clean up and repair operation of this beautiful paradise will likely take months, but the emotional scars of the survivors may last forever. When we visit in January it will be a very different Philippines that we find to the one we had expected, but I suspect we will come across individuals and whole communities who have been strengthened in the face of such tragic adversity. I hope we may even be able to help in some small way, perhaps through some form of relief volunteesring.

News like this makes me realise just how charmed a life my peers and I lead. I can’t imagine the shock and horrors those poor people have suffered and seen over the past few days, it’s almost incomprehensible. All I can say is that my thoughts and prayers go out to them all.

 

For Pauly xx

Tomorrow is the funeral of the wonderful Paul Wickerson, who came into my life with his beautiful girlfriend Sarah eight weeks ago at the wedding of our mutual friends Harry and Emma, and who left it a mere two weeks after that.

I’m struggling to find the words to describe how I feel as I sit here and consider all that’s happened in the past few weeks. We only knew Paul for a weekend, and yet he has made a lasting impact on our lives. His gentleness of spirit and sense of fun were plain to see from our first meeting, and I’ll treasure the memory of the four of us spending several cycles in the Jacuzzi (naughty) before launching ourselves down the children’s water slide. I will also always remember the fry up Paul cooked for us before we left that sunny Sunday, sharing the food he’d brought as we hadn’t had the forethought to bring our own.

When I think of Paul it will always be in that beautiful five star lodge besides a lush green golf course, a big smile plastered on his face. And I, in turn, shall make sure I have a big smile plastered on mine.

I wish I could write more eloquently but my sadness prohibits me saying more. Instead I have taken the below picture, which I hope encapsulates Pauly’s love of fancy dress, fun and silliness. And I am posting the following poem which I read at my grandma’s funeral and which, whilst heartbreakingly sad, I believe with all my heart:

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

God bless Pauly. The world’s a less colourful place without you in it.

Fight hate with love

Like many I was shocked and horrified to hear of the bombs that rocked yesterday’s Boston marathon, killing three – among them an 8 year old boy – and injuring many more. When I expressed my outrage at this latest tragic atrocity, however, I was shocked when someone challenged me to explain why it was any more tragic than the almost daily bombings in Iraq or Syria.

Ever since it was asked of me that question’s been playing on my mind in a loop – in much the same way as the video clip of the Boston marathon bombs going off has been played on every network since it happened. Did I feel more sad hearing about the marathon victims than when I heard news reports of innocent civilians being blown apart in Iraq? If so, what did that say about me? Was it possible some form of racism, classism or snobbery had crept into my consciousness without me even noticing its existence? Did I, in truth, value the lives of those people in Iraq less than the lives of the marathon spectators?

After a thorough period of introspection I’m pleased to say the answer to those questions was a resounding no. Whether they lost their lives in Boston or Iraq, I feel the same deep sense of sadness, the same feeling of shame that there are other human beings capable of such terrible acts of malice and hatred against their fellow men, women and children. The Boston bombings aren’t, therefore, more tragic; not at all. But, for those of us in the western world who are fortunate not to live in war torn countries, it is more shocking. Why? Because, quite simply, it’s far less common for a bomb to go off in the middle of a marathon taking place in an American city than it is on a normal day in an Iraqi city.

And there’s another reason. We see so many international news reports featuring the images of bloodied, limbless children’s corpses and wailing men and women beating their chests with grief that we are systematically desensitised to their effects. We’re used to death in Iraq and Syria. What we’re not used to is death in our own communities – or at least not the kind of death we witnessed yesterday in Boston.

No matter where terrorism strikes it sends shockwaves through not only the community whose beating heart it strikes, but also across the world. But whilst each time they strike the terrorists may think that they are winning the fight, what their hate-filled hearts will never comprehend is that through love for our fellow men it is we who will win the war.

I fell completely head over heels with this, a tiny model scene in the wall of a toilet in a Manhattan restaurant. I think it’s quite appropriate given the end of today’s post.

The things that really matter

Yesterday I heard some tragic news about an old friend, and it’s put everything into sharp perspective. So many people (myself sadly included) go through life worrying about things that might not even happen, taking the people they love for granted – taking life itself for granted. But what they are failing to appreciate, or perhaps refusing to acknowledge, is that life is precious, and it’s fragile. So fragile that it can be snuffed out in an instant, without warning.

I’ve always been a big believer in things happening for a reason, but when tragic accidents happen and rob beautiful, young and vibrant people of their lives and futures, I find it hard to fathom what possible reason there could be.

If nothing else perhaps such awful tragedies can help us to appreciate the importance of living life to the full, appreciating every second and taking nothing and no one for granted.

Last night I went to Birmingham for a reunion with some of my closest friends from my university days. I couldn’t have been amongst a more supportive group of people when I found out the sad news. Today three of us went back to our halls of residence and walked around the Vale, literally retracing our steps from all those years ago. It was a stunning day, warm and sunny without a cloud in the sky.

As I stood beside the lake with the sun on my face, watching the swans gracefully float past, I felt acutely aware of every detail of my environment. It felt somehow vital to process everything, log it and consign it to my memory bank lest it be forgotten, lest it be the last time I should ever see it.

If you, like me, take too many things – and people – for granted, why not take a few minutes today to tell those closest to you how much they mean to you. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can say today, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

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Where our university days began..