15th May 2009 SCOTLAND
Standing on two feet
I had a good sleep last night… yesterday I woke up in the long grass on the edge of a field… (with strangers walking past when getting dressed… that’s not good). Today I wake up in a Premier Hotel… a proper bed… clean sheets and soft pillows, your own room, a kettle on the side table, your very own shower and knowing there is a cooked breakfast waiting for you downstairs… that is no small thing… it really isn’t… I lived on a farm in southern Brazil for a few years in the early nineties… driving into the local town in an old pickup truck for supplies I would see people living in shacks made of corrugated iron and plastic sheeting… We have all seen images on the TV of young kids in India searching through rubbish dumps for plastic bottles and the like... The times I have spent in Africa, you soon learn you don’t have to drive to far away from the airports and tourist areas to find people living on the edge. I don’t share this stuff to make people feel guilty for what it is they have… I think it is wrong to do that… just as it is wrong to look at those that are far richer than we are and to wish that we too could have what they have... It is not about stuff… it’s about having a heart of gratitude for what it is we do have and a desire not to take from those who have more, but to give to those that have need.
I climb out of bed and on the way to the shower I click the kettle on… yeah, I know I don’t really need a shower… for near on an hour yesterday I was sat in a bathtub full of bubbles… but to have a shower at the start of a new day is always good. I get dressed in the clothes that I had washed in the bathtub the night before and hung over the radiators through the night, then repack my bag while drinking a mug of tea and after, I head down for breakfast. I am clean from head to toe, plus a full set of clean clothes, a full British breakfast in front of me… and full of appreciation for Arthur and the gang that made this hotel happen. I forgot to mention at the end of the meal yesterday evening while sat around the table talking and drinking teas and coffees, they had asked how I planned to get to Ireland… I tell them “The plan is to just turn up… and then see what happens… it’s not the best plan in the world I know, but in my head, I do see myself on a boat… I guess that’s half the battle done… I’m pretty sure something will happen”. Before I have the chance to protest a collection is made and the money put on the table in front of me… I was moved but I also felt a little awkward… the plan was to do this walk without a penny in my pocket… to take the money felt like maybe I was cheating… but to push the money back, I was sure would cause offence… That was last night…
…and now I’m sat at the breakfast table, plate empty and drinking the last of the tea from the teapot… a story comes to mind (a made-up story, that I remembered from years ago). There's this little village and flood waters are coming. The police tell the people to take what they can and leave… and most do… but some don’t, including the priest, he tells the police God will keep him safe. The waters come… the police and a handful of farmers come with Land Rovers to evacuate those that have stayed… most go but again a few stay, including the priest, and again he tells them God will save him. The water gets too high for the Land Rovers… little boats are brought in, the remaining people that had stayed climb out of bedroom windows and into the boats… the priest is on the church roof refusing to get into a dingy “God will save me”. Well, the water keeps rising… the priest scrambles up the steeple… a helicopter is sent in to rescue him… yeah you guessed, the priest waves the helicopter away and over the noise of the rota blades they hear him shouting God will save me…. The water goes over the top of the steeple and the priest is drowned… and later the priest is in heaven and he’s a little bit angry… he finds God and raises his voice “I am a man of God, why did you not save me?” … and God rubs his chin, looks down at the priest and says “I sent the police to warn you flood waters were coming, and then a farmer in a Land Rover… and after that a rubber dingy and then a helicopter… What more did you want me to do?"
Why do I share that story… last night when asked how I would get to Ireland, I had said “something would happen to make the crossing possible” … maybe, the guys making a collection and giving me the money… was that ‘something will happen’ I spoke of over tea and coffee yesterday evening. I think (…no I know) that God does work through people… but still I wonder did I tell the story of the priest refusing help to justify the keeping of the money? I know last night back in my hotel room I didn’t feel great… this morning I feel OK about the money (I say money but, in my head, I see a ferry ticket… not money). Maybe… just maybe, God did step in, and say something like "Don’t worry about getting to Ireland I’ll sort that out, you just do what you're doing and that is, keep putting one foot in front of the other."
Milngavie (pronounced ‘Mull guy’) is an attractive little town, dates back to the 1600s, started life as a small village with a mill… in the second half of the 1700s the place is associated with the textile industry, there are chlorine bleaching works in the now small town… and in the 1800s the wee town is again growing, with the arrival of paper mills and more bleach works all standing alongside the river Allander… Mid 1900s much of the big industries have now gone… today (2000s) Milngavie is a commuter town for those working in Glasgow. For many, the place is known for where the West Highland Way path starts (or in my case finishes) … and in the 2100s the town becomes… hmm I wonder… Yesterday walking along country lanes, I thought about the stories of those that had gone before… What about the places we live… the streets we walk down every day… the old buildings that we pass… a clock tower…an old church… industries that have come and gone… like people, places also have stories… stories worth the telling. The walk into Glasgow takes me through several places, Bearsden, Gilshochill and Wyndford, all with their own ongoing stories and histories created by the lives of people long gone and of those still living… each generation adding a new chapter.
Technology has changed all our lives…less than a hundred and fifty years ago there were no cars (it was in 1886 that Carl Benz first took an auto-mobile powered by an engine, out for a spin… it was only in the 1920s cars became popular)… look at what it is we have now… smart phones, aeroplanes, unimaginable medicines and medical procedures also guys sat in a space rocket with a bag full of moon rocks (longing to be back home). The industrial revolution (that had started around the middle of the eighteenth century) closed one book and opened another… cranking up the story of mankind. It was the science behind these new and developing technologies that pushed religion to one side.
Day three of this walk when I ended the day looking across the plains of Africa, I talked of mankind standing with one foot in the invisible world of faith and the other foot in the physical world of grit (…internal and external… mind and body… religion and science). Prior to the scientific revolution (that took place between the 16th and 17th century) … certainly here in Britain and Europe (and probably in the rest of the world) religion is what ruled the lives of the people. To suggest the Earth moved around the Sun and not the other way around was seen as heresy (you could be thrown in jail or even burnt at the stake). It was as if we were kinda standing on the one leg that stood in the invisible world of faith… arms outstretched trying our best not to fall over. When the scientific revolution came to an end (with the passing of Sir Isaac Newton in 1727) … we changed from one leg to the other… now standing on the leg that stood in the physical world of grit (we had changed our thinking from abstract ideas to scientific ideas). The result… still standing on one leg with arms outstretched trying our best not to fall over. I think in many ways much of the world is still standing on just one leg (for some in the world of faith and others in the world of science) … and the result the same… arms waving around doing their level best to stay upright. I think people know we are more than just physical beings… even those who don’t hold to any religion recognise there is an internal aspect to who it is we are… virtues, morals, the things we hold to be of value, our understanding of what is right and wrong… it is these things that make us who we are, not what we see in the mirror… that is not to dismiss the physical… we need our physical bodies (…and we need to look after them)… what good is it having the thought of wanting to make somebody a cup of tea but not having the physical body to act upon those thoughts (a world without the ability to make tea… is not good at all). If we learn to stand on two feet, we can stop waving our arms around and use them to reach out and to help others.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Glasgow… I think we could walk through any major city from around the world and see what it is I see here. An old man kicking up papers with his worn-out shoes… an up-town boy with a down-town girl… an old lady carrying all she has in two shopping bags… common people in common cars… young men standing on the corner, looking as if they want to put the whole world down… businessmen and bankers in sharp suits… young girls already pushing prams…
Once out of Glasgow I am back on the long winding road. The plan is to finish the days walking in a town called Stewarton. On the way I walk through a small village called Thornliebank and a café called ‘The Village… Tea for Two’… I step inside … explain myself and again shown a table. It is good to sit down, I am given a pot of tea and a couple of scones… thank you so much… I sit for an hour and as the pot runs empty a fresh pot is brought out.
A good few hours later and after a long day I stumble into the town of Stewarton… a pub gives me an evening meal… thank you… and a guy in the pub gives me the use of a sofa for the night… thank you Jim.
In my sleeping bag, on the sofa and hands behind my head, I again think about my time in Brazil… the lives of kids living under corrugated iron, kids searching through rubbish dumps, the many people living on the edge be it in Africa or in the many cities like Glasgow around the world… for many, life is not always easy… for some close to impossible… and some sadly impossible. Kids on rubbish dumps, , kids that don’t see a future, walking lost in the city streets, a little one in a broken buggy… every life unimaginably precious… Today, maybe more than ever we need to overcome our ignorance of both the invisible and the visible…of science and faith… to stand on two feet and reach out to those that are in need.