Friday, June 13, 2014

Why we will never understand...

"The Hole in the Ground" 

Anjis Beach-head is a wonderful sight,
The shells maybe falling by day and by night
But whenever these whiz-bangs are flying around
We all made a dive for that hole in the ground

The M.E don't seare (??) us we have met them before
They dive from the sun with a menacing roar
So we elevate, and swing, the old gun around
And they all finish up in a hole in the ground...

The first two stanza's of a poem, that my GrandFather sent to my 
my Grandmother as he served in the Light Infantry from 1940-46 across Europe.
(I believe a friend of his wrote it and a number of people copied it to their loved ones).
The Poem goes on for four pages and has 10 stanza's  

So, I will use the usual preface, “I am a little bit drunk”… you know that’s code for the fact I have no inbuilt filters.

I have had a couple of conversations with friends in the UK and US friends on the subject of Gun control. Yes, I know it’s a controversial subject, and yes some –or most of you- will hate me at the end of this post.

Let me state this for the record, I am not an anti-gun or a pro-gun activist as such. I believe that anyone can own a gun as long as reasonable checks and balances can limit the damage that guns can potentially do. Yes, this does mean legislation and restriction. If you don’t understand the damage a gun can have, you aren’t allowed one. If you can’t keep it out of the reach of those that are too young to know the difference then reconsider. Be prepared; you own a weapon of destruction. If you accept you can be pulled over by the traffic cops, then accept a policeman can knock on your door to ensure little Timmy hasn’t used your semi to prop up his lego-tray table. Is this too much to ask of any sane human being?

I am British, and as such I have grown up in a culture where gun crime was infrequent. It didn’t touch me. Even in the times where violence was prevalent in my neighbourhood, guns were not a part of it. I come from a society where gun culture and passion for guns is a rare thing. We even abhor hunting of animals. I respect that I am speaking from inexperience. Have I ever had to protect myself from someone with a gun? Well, no. The likelihood the perpetrators would have a gun is so small, that my need to have one too is so small. Maybe during the zombie apocalypse then yes, but I would rather buy an axe at the hardware store – a lot more efficient I believe.

So my disclaimers are in: I am drunk, I am on the fence (as much as the UK allows, which by US standards is probably very liberal) and I have no experience of gun culture. I also come from Europe – this disclaimer will become apparent later on.

Dragging my drunken brain into working.

I have spent some of the evening –which in social media terms is a life time- trying to understand why guns are so necessary in the USA. It is a hot-topic as I have found out and one you shouldn’t mess with unless you are stupid or well stupid (sums me up pretty well).

The thing is I think (and yes, I am speaking for the whole of a continent, who thereby has a right to shoot me down) Europe, just doesn’t get it.

Regularly, I get posts on my Face Book newsfeed of another shooting in a school, or a college, or a university, or a restaurant. Usually suffixed with the lament of “why?”, and yes, most of us are wondering about that too.

In 1987, in a man climbed into the town clock of Hungerford, UK and killed sixteen people and injured fifteen others using a semi-automatic rifle. I was 14 and I still remember the news program. Our culture, was not equipped to deal with such an incident and who knows how many people would have been saved if someone had shot him on the outset. We don’t and in 1988 (a year after) semi-automatic weapons were banned. Instead of liberalizing gun control to protect ourselves we restricted it. I am glad.

This was a turning point. If we had allowed hand-guns and semi-automatics would the US be our standard now? Would I send my nine year old to school not knowing if he would be one of a number shot in the seven NRA accredited school shootings in eighteen months?

I am thinking, and typing out loud, and not as coherent as I wanted. Did I say I was drunk? Clawing my drunken brain to rambling mode.

I wanted to know if kids where obtaining guns from their parent’s then going to school and shooting kids, then why was it not being stopped? The conversations all began from this article from (I admit) a UK based newspaper. Let’s acknowledge the bias here. Do we all understand the word bias here? I.e. knowing the stance from which our sources are derived and understanding any political and social sway they write to promote their cause? (I am just clarifying, because I don’t- apparently)

The gun debate mainly seemed to centre on people calling me an ideological slave to the government and not wishing to give me information. Probably a role they believe I filled quite well by not agreeing with them. At the time I was intrigued and entertained. Now, a little drunk and tired, I am just a little sad.

(Can you see where my reference to bias come from? Would an ideological slave understand the meaning of bias even if it came and goosed them on a drunken party? The answer is no, which nullifies the idea I am a political sheep)

I want to explain why I think guns are abhorred in Europe. Yes, it is subjective and probably will be flamed.

One of the criticisms (I think) was the fact that I am, not American. I don’t understand the culture or the history; that is true. I don’t. But maybe, Americans don’t understand ours.

I was brought up and now reside in Europe.

In 1914 –one hundred years ago- our country started fighting a war, the likes that had never been seen before. Forget any civil wars, or wars of independence. This isn’t called the ‘World War One’ for nothing. People died. Our families died. Our homelands were wrecked and ravaged.

We still feel the pain, and then twenty years later it started over again.

Two generations of families were destroyed with war. Friends in the US cited that ‘Pearl Harbour was a part of it’. That was 1941. 194 fucking 1. My Grandad had been in a tank for over a year before you came into it, and my Grandad was in a fucking tank two years after you buggered off.

That’s the thing you see. Just as it’s cited that Europe’s issue of comprehension on lack US gun control is determined by a continent and thousands-of-miles, the US lack of comprehension of our liberalism is defined by the same distance.

To us, the tangible feel of a gun is still painfully obvious.

I know Americans lost their lives in World War Two, but we still have veterans who are alive and part of peoples’ family, who go and touch the place where their friends died. We live on streets that were decimated and then rebuilt. There is not a family in this country that was not intimately been touched by war. There was not a person in this continent that doesn’t walk past a ravage of war. We drive, or walk, or live, by old air-fields, or bomb-sites. We have grandparents who were lost, or those that survived. Never anything in-between it seems.

America may have been in our wars, but out of the nine years we were at war, you were only there en-masse for a few. Your families were safe as you battled, ours weren’t.

As we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, I wonder how many American’s feel so intimately touched by the American Civil War. As I pass the war memorials of young soldiers, as I walk my son to school –knowing that every village and town and city has the same- do you have the same? I trace my ancestry, not by when I landed on a continent, but which parents survived a war and why?

Do you have that?

I know that many may say ‘We should get over ourselves. That was years ago’, but as I was challenged by history dating back three hundred or more, I wonder if we should. If Americans feel the need to cite King George III and a war three hundred and fifty years ago, then I think we have a few more years to go.

You can only remember your scars through your history books – we still touch our scars.

We know arming ourselves against the government wouldn’t have helped. That wasn’t the enemy we were fighting. We were fighting oppression through a lack of information and education – would guns have solved that? Oppressors didn’t rule entirely through violence, they ruled by burning books and blinkered ideology. Am I the sheep by ensuring I look at all sides of the argument before deciding? I think not.

I guess we will never understand each other. The US will never understand why we don’t want guns, the Europeans will never understand why the Americans do. However, it’s a shame that the US will have to have every single family in their country define themselves by the death of someone they loved –or could have loved- due to a bullet, or a bomb, or a grenade, before they act.

We have seen the fire –it still lives with us- and we never want to see it again.
We don’t want a gun in our house, or in our street, or in our town.
Not because we are weak, but because we have been strong and we need to be strong never to go there again.

Maybe, even though you don’t want to, you may see that now.

(If you can't agree to protect each other, just please protect the children - speaking as a Mother).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Defeating the black dog with random kindness

Hey, yes... me. *wave* over here!!

I know you had all wondered where I had disappeared to... okay, maybe you hadn't, but I am tipsy, and when I am tipsy I need you guys to step up and listen. Okay?

Life -for any of us- is never easy. Like a good trail run, you have more uphills than down, you are always shattered and you are usually covered in mud -- most of it green and distinctly smelly. It's life and we all have to deal with it in our own unique way.

My life has been no different. Just when I think that life has decided to give me a pass, it comes along and whops me on the arse. I never seem to get my breath back.

It's bizarre that life makes itself known, when in fact I am almost at the top of my game. My running and sense of community has progressed from strength-to-strength over the last few months. In April I ran my first half-marathon in nearly two years -- an achievement in itself, as a year ago I could barely walk. The half-marathon also being trail and a challenge, just adds sauce to the accomplishment. D has also settled into his new school: So well, in fact that he has progressed from P-grades, (the national grading system for children with Special Needs, who cannot even manage the basic levels), to grading on the National Curriculum. In fact he is only a year behind on 1-out-of-3 subjects; the rest he is on target -- not bad for a kid who has only attended full-time school for the last three months. I have also become a 'Parent=governor' for my sons school. This means that I have a very active role on how my sons school is run. A year ago, our school was failing -- it wasn't meeting the basic standards. In a year, myself and my fellow governors have pulled the school from failing to being, in a couple of years, an outstanding school.

This is all a huge achievement.

However, I am plagued by my usual 'black dog'. To those who don't understand the term 'black dog', it means depression.

Yep, I am under my black cloud again. Our current stability, (which is only three months old), has been rocked again by the fact we may have to physically move in the next year or so, to ensure D can be enrolled in a school that meets his needs. I love this house -despite its numerous faults- and I would love to stay here forever. The thought that we have to move has meant M and I have been working hard getting this house sorted -- not for our personal sake, but because we need to make it 'estate-agent ready'. It's not fair! I am getting the house just as I want it, just so I can move!

It's shitty and I hate it.

I have been in a funk, for the last couple of weeks. The realisation that we may have to move, coupled with stress about which school D should attend in two years time, have culminated in what has been a horrible week. Normally, these things don't bother me, but lately it has.

The black dog has come to visit.

Today, as I drove up to our local IKEA, (an hour away), I was feeling it. Despite sleeping for ten hours, I was tired. I ached, I felt lousy and I wanted to climb under the bed. I decided to treat myself to an IKEA breakfast -which only allowed me a choice of three items because of my coeliac, (another story and another post)- and that's when my sense of mood was challenged. By the biggest and most innocent smile on the planet.

He was nineteen months and his Mum was harassed. With, or without kids, we have all been there. You are trying to do your stuff and things getting in your way. For this Mother, it was a toddler in a stroller getting in the way of breakfast.

As I offered to hold her tray, something happened inside of me. My funk disappeared. As I distracted her child, the first honest smile for days came up. By the time we progressed to the till, I had to buy the little family breakfast, just to say thank-you. In the five minutes progressing from the start of the familiar large blue-and-white arrows to the check-out, my 'black dog' had been placed into the kennel. All it had cost me was the five quid (that's five of your UK monetary pounds by-the-way).

When I was thinking of writing a post this morning -in my newly painted and furnished study- it was one of doom and depression. I was going to write about the curse of the 'black dog'. I was going to comment how I should run, (or swim) my depression into the ground, but it was hard. By 10:35 this morning, that post had disappeared. I had discovered the simple way to improve my mood. I didn't need to run ten miles or swim seventy-lengths in the pool, I just needed to reconnect to my place in the universe. I needed to show a moment of compassion and thought to a fellow human being.

In those thirty minutes, the little family of Linda and Cayden had showed me something that my five pounds could never repay. They showed me that the path to rebuilding myself from my low was by small acts of kindness.

In my -still new- hometown, there are a set of 'mini-steps' from the High Street to the new shopping area. They are similar to the steps I have seen on my various trips to my family hometown in Bridgnorth. These small steps in Bridgnorth have a different meaning; they were used by mules to transport coal and supplies from the docks in 'low-town' to the market area of 'high-town' -- Bridgnorth is a town separated by a cliff. The donkeys and mules would have to move heavy loads from the low part of town to the top. The small steps enabled them to do it.

That's the analogy I will take from this. To get to a better state of mind, I need to take small steps.

To lift the heavy loads of life -ones that feel like are pressing into me daily- I need to use the small steps of my fellow man. I need them to participate in mutual random acts of kindness. Then perhaps with their help I will manage to make it to the 'High town' -- which if I remember, has the best donuts on the planet.