“The true lesson of history was this: that the so-called victims, the poor, the downtrodden, the masses, had always struggled with spears and arrows, with their hands and songs of courage and hope, to end their oppression and exploitation: that they would continue struggling until a human kingdom came: a world in which goodness and beauty and strength and courage would be seen not in how cunning one can be, not in how much power to oppress one possessed, but only in one’s contribution in creating a more humane world.”
– Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Petals of Blood
I’ve been absent lately. I’ve always found that as the velocity of my life increases, the velocity of my writing decreases considerably – a rather worrying imbalance. Thankfully, I have someone in my life who has pushed my, very amicably, back towards this blog. My wonderful friend Stephen consistently sweeps me into his infectious love for literature, for meaningful thought, and for truth, perhaps more importantly, for interesting and inspiring truth. Last week I asked him what I should write and he replied with the following:
For a change from the combative and critical, what do you hold worthy of earnestness that many forget matters? What’s good?
I found this challenge appealing, but unsettlingly difficult. Am I really so at home in the “combative and critical”? Stephen has highlighted for me that while I have no shortage of outrage and righteous aggression, perhaps I have forgotten earnestness. I imagine there are many in my situation.
This week I’ve been listening almost exclusively to an album called “Chimes of Freedom”, a beautifully earnest celebration of what’s good. The album was recently released to celebrate fifty years of Amnesty International and features 86 tracks worth of amazing artists covering Bob Dylan.
The people at Amnesty International spend their days and years grappling with the most horrific betrayals and abuses of human dignity. For fifty years they have had the courage to look at what’s darkest in the human spirit and then see it repeat itself again, and again, and again, and again. The organisation was founded in response to The Forgotten Prisoners, two imprisoned students in Portugal. At the moment, their attentions are focussed on civilians in Syria, teachers and doctors in Bahrain, abuse victims in Ireland, oppressed women across the world and all those who continue to be threatened with the death penalty. This is a tiny sample of the work they do. Simply receiving their emails a few times a week I’m often overwhelmed.
And yet, out of this devastation they can produce a collection of music that is a real tribute to what is brightest in the human spirit; the innocents in Homs who continue to fight for a freedom that must seem unattainable, the women in Iran at the centre of the human rights struggle, the amazing Lady in Burma who endured twenty years of house arrest and now stands again for election.
It takes great strength to look at the horror of the world and then to look harder, find the good and sing about it. A lot of the time, as I realised of myself, it’s easier to focus on the negative. Hope is a risk. When we hope we get hurt, we’re disappointed.
There’s one song in particular, performed breathtakingly by Adele, which I’ve listened to over and over, like the lovelorn teenager I am at heart.
I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue
No, there’s nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.
Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regrets
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet.
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love.
Maybe this is what we should give to all those suffering in the world, the destitute and desolate, who endure attacks on their rights and dignity. We fight the darkest and most frightening things in the world not because it’s easy, but because we love humans we have never met, as we love the ones we have met.
This week Amnesty International, Bob Dylan, Stephen, and a host of great artists have reminded me that outrage isn’t all we have to offer. We also have a pretty exceptional capacity to love, and should try to feel that love and make others feel it with us.
Consider buying the album. If nothing else, the music is terrific.