For all those cygnets struggling to become swans and Tracey Ford, rather than a cygnet’s or swan’s, your son will ever have angel wings At what age can we speak realistically or even euphemistically about the ‘good old days’? We over 30s and 40s have decades behind us that make retrospection possible. But what about a 20, 17 or 10 year-old – are such portals available to them? I don’t think so; though arguably the 20 year-old is advancing thus. They are within their moment of experiencing what should become their ‘good old days’. But so are we. We are also within their moment of experiencing. The decades behind us do not only offer retrospection but also the maturity that enables introspection. Introspection is an honest, deep ‘examination of our thoughts and feelings’ – a serious (hence ‘examination’) looking within; and not only of our ‘thoughts and feelings’ but also our actions. This looking in for most of us is the most painful and ugly thing we can do, for which reason it’s often avoided. In this Shout I want to consider the cries of disillusionment from our children– or our cygnets, as I like to call them, struggling to earn their swan wings. Why do they cry? Why do they feel, as my 20 year old niece recently told me, that ‘there’s no point’ to their life when this is their moment of experiencing their good old days? Are we hearing them? Are we even listening? Or are we, as my 17 year-old nephew told me, from a generation that can’t understand them? I’m hoping that by giving some thought to the kinds of struggles our children are facing we might realise that despite their feelings of disillusionment this can be their good old days if we’re willing to extend our ears, hearts and hands to help them master their swan wings. This is why that honest examination of our own thoughts is crucial. Avoiding introspection can leave unattended those issues that hinder spiritual maturity. And how can we help our children master their swan wings when we have not found ways to perfect our graceful gliding against the torrents of our own lives. It may not only be a ‘black problem’ but it sometimes feels like it is. Every knife or gun killing is despicable. I am certain most African people have some direct or indirect association with a child who has been the victim of a “knife crime.” “Knife crime” – a term spouted in the news so often, like that other “terrorism” (and the ‘war on it’ – in Afghanistan, in Iraq where lives are being senselessly destroyed every day) that we’ve become desensitised to the absolute and particular trauma each one holds for the families involved. When we see in real time or in a movie someone being shot or otherwise killed, this comes to us as entertainment. Deaths caused by disasters like Haiti are compellingly tragic; we’re truly moved; no longer desensitised – at least momentarily. After the opening disaster scene of Haiti – we return to our numbness, watching the news, hearing that another child has been killed, we ‘tut’ and that’s mostly all we seem able to do. But what if that child is yours or someone you know? What if the child who killed the child is yours or someone you know? Questions abound. Anger and frustration too; a part of you dies. You know that you did the best by and for your child – whether victim or perpetrator; you’ve supported them and loved them. You know too that your child was good, so why?
Tracey Ford, founder JAGS Foundation, set up after her son, below was murdered at an ice rink in Streatham in 2007
No matter how many ways you ask yourself the questions there will never be an answer that explains to you why your child died before you. Whether you support your child, are the best parent/s you can be to them; whether they are good or not, they are living within their moment. And their moment, however much or little it’s spread in the news is one where a life seems valueless; taking it easy. My 17 year old nephew – brilliant, loving, positive (one of those dream children) has repeatedly neared death (and only until writing it, have I admitted that it’s this rather than the ‘bullying’ it might otherwise appear to be) from boys and boy gangs who see him as some kind of easy target. A target of what? Of bottling, knifing, exercise of power and, disgustingly the Ninetendo game style ease of taking another’s life. The martial arts lessons have not prevented the attacks. Although he’s more confident, his smiles mask the very thing he tells me I cannot understand –‘it’s not like your time, aunty.’ I try to reason with him, that I do understand; that in my time we had fights but...” As long as I have to add the ‘but’ his point is better made.What makes him this target? Nothing perhaps; or something – maybe it’s his aura or his positivity? Maybe it’s the way he will say, when you least expect it, ‘love you aunty?’ I can’t say for sure. I feel, however, that enmeshed in his moment of experiencing is the persistent edge of a knife against which he lives. His parents – the most supportive I’ve known – recently bought a knife vest for him because he insists that he must be free to travel wherever he wants without them driving him to and fro. It was a compromise – he didn’t want either – because his parents are also living his experience. His mother prayed, when he was born with a heart defect that threatened his life that he should live; bargained that she would be good if God kept him alive. She continues praying, because he yet does not have his swan wings. And until these extremely dire years of his experiencing are spent, when he has retrospective distance she will be solidly supportive, just there to return back the words of love he needs to hear to know that his world is not as bleak as it seems.
Another nephew, a good boy too - he was one of those round babies born with a big, cheery smile and evident love for life; a young Christian, who loved to write and draw. In his moment of experiencing those traits seemed impossible to sustain. Other things were demanded of him. He stopped the smiles. Not immediately, not obviously, he also wore a mask. But if you were reading him with your heart; if your ears were really opened to what he was saying or not saying you could perhaps intuit his good old days turning into a dodge and haggling for his life. Young Offender’s Prison only confirmed that he was part of his moment, properly living within it. After that ghastly term, the knife that missed his kidneys sharpened his credibility within his gang. They had become his new family, providing him with something we didn’t seem to know how desperately he needed. No amount of imploring could force his introspection (‘why are you doing this to yourself?’) because the retrospective portal is not yet available to him; he’s still within his moment. There is an enemy within his time but he doesn’t know who or what it is. Therefore it – the enemy - might as well be his life; the enemy might as well be himself. ‘This is how it is now, aunty...it’s nothing,’ he told me when I cried, ‘but you nearly lost your life.’ ‘It’s nothing,’ he said without an ounce of emotion. What bitter pill? I had watched his mother in agony- those 18 years ago – bringing him into the world. Her agony soon turned to elation when he made it; we were so happy that this blessed boy was my mother’s first grandson. Questions abound. And introspection, if pursued might lend answers about how and why ‘he turned out like that?’ And more importantly did he do it all by himself?
TO BE CONTINUED... Check out extended TRAILER for the Novel Elijah and The Awakening & Other Poems