My mother died 26 years ago. She was sixty. To be honest it was a devastating loss. We lost our father two years earlier through a long battle with cancer but Mam? Well she simply disappeared one night, or at least that’s how it felt. She had come through a brief enough medical battle which in itself was life threatening. She was on the way back out of that battle all seemed well. Mam went out with her sisters for the first time since her battle began as if to celebrate her return. She dropped dead holding on to her sister’s hand, singing.
Today is her birthday. She would be eighty five. I saw her two days before she died and I never saw her again. I was called to the hospital at two in the morning, but the body that lay on that hospital bed wasn’t Mam. She was gone and it truly broke my heart. Some people have a big influence on your life, some fade in and out without registering a mark. My mother’s love, left an indelible softness in my heart that has shaped all that may be good about me.
When I wrote Little Big Boy, it was Mam that sculpted my tale. Many think the book autobiographical which of course it is not, but there are elements and stories from my life that I called upon, to evoke the emotion needed to make this book something special for me. At the heart of the book is Little Big Boy’s love for his mother and her love for him. It was my mother that I called upon when I needed to find the words to portray the deepest joy and sorrow and as such Little Big Boy was actually a very painful book to write.
People say things like they poured their heart and soul into something. I did something quite different with what has become my readers’ favourite Max Power book. I gave of my pain. I shared a hurt I could never fully describe and I offered a taste of what love means to me. It was neither my heart nor my soul; it was the space in the break of my heart, the gap that had been forged through loss, an unfulfilled lonely pain that no one but you can know in your own terrible darkness when you lose someone you love. Little Big boy is not my story yet it carries the weight of my pain and the lightness of my joy. Perhaps that is why it is so special to me and why so many readers connect with it. I lost my brother nine years ago. Where once we were six now we are three and in writing Little Big Boy, I came close to following Dad, Mam and Brian through my own dice with death which is well documented in my blogs of the time. I miss them all, but today is her birthday so today I think of Mam.
I miss her every day in truth but in a very subjective way. I miss her by her absence, which may sound an obvious thing to say but I mean more than just the obvious in this. In her not being there I have no one to scold me, no one to tell me I’m being foolish or selfish or unkind. I miss her ability to read me like a book and offer direction even when I disagree with her. Her absence left me rudderless. My north star clouded over as I sailed in the dark alone and despairing, wondering if I could ever find my way without her guiding hand.
To be brutally honest, it took me many years to recover the loss, far longer than I either realised or imagined. Now I am a changed man. Perhaps I am just a man. She is not there to take my hand and guide me as I cross new roads in life. I have to make choices without that critical eye watching me with love. There is no doubt I have found love in other places. My heart is filled with my true love’s blessings every day but that is something very different. Now my darling Jo holds my hand and we cross roads together she and I. Over time I have learned not to be afraid of life’s traffic. I have found my own way at last and I can cross most roads safely. But sometimes, I miss her standing at the door watching me as I look left and right. I want to look back to see her smiling at me and then giving me a stern look, telling me to look where I’m going, urging me to walk and not to run.
Looking back is too painful so I look forward and up to stop me feeling down. Mam is with me always anyway. She is in my eyes and in the sallowness of my skin. She is in the words I say, the thoughts I think and most of all in the softness of my heart. But sometimes, just sometimes specially on days like today her birthday, I turn my head to look over my shoulder, to see her smiling back at me. I still seek her approval even in her absence. She never got to see my children grow. She never got to see me grow to finally become a man, whatever that means. I am a man I guess, the one she made, the one she never got to see…
There are two days in the year when we cannot do anything. Yesterday and tomorrow. Forgive me for plagiarising Mahatma Gandhi, but those words are appropriate in these times. It is impossible to ignore the recent events in America. It is unsurprising that George Floyd died in the manner that he did. It is of course shocking, horrible and disgusting that any man, let alone a policeman, could do this to another person. Anyone who saw the video of Mr. Floyd pleading for his life as it ebbed away under the knee of another, cannot be unmoved by the horror of his death. But like I say it is unsurprising, for nothing surprises me now when it comes to a country that has fallen so far from a place to envy, to a place to pity.
Once there were men who spoke up and they spoke up even in dark times, with voices that was reasoned and calm. It is calm that is required now. To quote Martin Luther king “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” But it would appear that the brave men and women of America, are hiding in the shadows these days. There is a deficiency of debate in the United States of America right now and it hasn’t occurred over night. While Donald Trump is all that is not presidential, the rot had set in long before the walls had started to crumble just enough to allow a man like him become president.
That Americans have long denied their vulnerability, that they have become deafened to the truth of what is happening in their own country by soundbite after soundbite, is something every American needs to confront. Cosseted in the illusion that they were the greatest nation on earth, misled by decades of falsehood that the world looked to them as a beacon of democracy, America has in recent years become the butt of a global joke, a contemptable bully and a nation not to be trusted, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Donald Trump calls Catholic priests leftist and Democrats Liberals. Give him five minutes in Europe and he would realise how far right both of these organisations actually are.
Debate in America has become a shouting match of rhetoric. I don’t think I have ever heard as much talk of ‘the left’ as I have in recent days in the American media, yet there is no left in American politics. The American ‘left’ is a fallacy. Used like the unseen monster in M Knight Shyamalan’s The Village, it is nothing more than a device to preserve the status quo for the political elite. That universal health care seems anathema to so many, because it has been depicted as virtually a communist construct in the collective mind of America, is astounding. But it has been a propaganda success for the rich and the power-hungry tycoons who inevitably got one of their own into the Whitehouse. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. That is not the American dream.
There is a place for social democracy in America, but the word social sounds like socialism and socialism sounds like communism, and we all know the history America has in that regard. The fear generated by words has held people back. The polarisation of a 2 party state, limits the opportunity for real, positive change. Provision for social needs in politics, should be a fundamental staple of any government. When a president is more concerned about stock market performance than his people, then he is not a servant of the people as he should be. A president should serve the needs of the people, not dictate to serve his own desires.
In America right now, there is a man at the top thinking only of himself, revelling in photo opportunities like a later day Joseph Stalin, seemingly pleased not to have to answer for his failure to save over 100,000 American lives, lost to the pandemic. One black man murdered by the cops leading to anarchy. It was an easy price for him to pay when it took Covid-19 off the front pages. He is a man of singular focus and that is his personal gratification. Donald trump is the mistake that America is starting to pay for and the debt is huge. Look up the definition of the word Fascism. I am not calling him a fascist but if you look it up, you might be surprised how closely aligned Donald trump’s methods and actions are to the very definition of that ideology.
If you are deficient in debate, you never hear the truth, only the loudest voice. Donald trump has a big mouth. He shouts through his tweets and unfortunately there are enough ears still listening. During the recent riots, I’ve seen posts from white Americans saying they were armed and ready to kill should ‘they’ come to their door. I’ve even seen a police chief say the same in a press conference. We all know the ‘they’ that is referred to are people of colour. There is a whiff of sulphur in the air, the smell of someone lighting a burning cross not so far away, as some are beginning to remember the ‘good ol’ days of lynching and mob rule. It is not a universal bigotry but it’s not unfair to call it out. I have no doubt many Americans would be appalled by such a suggestion, but everyone knows what lurks in the shadows.
In the chaos, whose flames are fanned by the president of the country, that there are criminals and thugs exploiting that chaos, even encouraging it, is not in doubt. That is the nature of mass protest. Sometimes it gets out of hand. When you have been at the wrong end of life, all your life, it isn’t hard to step outside the rule of law and take what you can. A hungry man steals bread; an angry, hungry man steals bread and burns down the bakery afterwards.
But again, as easy as it is for one to say that this is all Donald Trump’s fault, you have to remember, enough people voted for him under the American electoral system. He was no surprise. That he is a racist, a bigot, that he is only interested in self-promotion and growing his own power and wealth above all else, was something a blind, deaf man could have figured out long before a single vote was cast. So why is America surprised. Why did it take this long to wake up to his tricks?
Dictatorship requires complicity and has there ever been a more compliant congress? It requires conspiracy and most of all it requires anarchy. In of the fires of discontent, seeds of malignancy are sown and it is not inconceivable that the man who won’t concede, might corrupt the rule of law to stay in power at all costs. It is a familiar pattern.
So perhaps is this a test. Bring in the troops, or at least make it look like you will and watch to see if anyone tries to stop you. There is no one stopping this man, not yet. He knows now that if he loses the election, he can stir up civil strife quite easily. He can call it a ‘stolen election’ and if needed roll out the troops unopposed. Where there is opposition. It appears the head of the joint chiefs of staff is on board already. The choices are stark, but were he to lose the election, particularly if it is close, is he really going to concede? This is not a man who concedes.
If this were happening in 1970’s central America, no one would be surprised and everyone would be calling it what it looks like, a coup to insert a dictator using the country’s military. Does that sound over the top? Perhaps for the moment, but overthrowing the government is not beyond this man should he lose the next election. Now I suspect, he will hold off a little. Like any good dictator, you always test your enemy’s weakness first.
And what next? It isn’t good enough to say this too shall pass. Doing nothing is a recipe for further unrest. What America needs to see is solidarity. Peaceful, hand in hand, overwhelming protest. It could come in November at the ballot box where it belongs, but it may be too late then.
This man has outsmarted the brightest and bullied the rest. Where is America’s voice? Who can step forward and lead protests tens of thousands strong, to the door of the man who would be king if he is not stopped? It seemed for a while that the voices that matter had all fallen silent. It is good to finally hear some dissent in the last few days. Now I read there will be a mass protest on Saturday. Perhaps we will hear the real voice of America on that day. But how will he respond and what will his cronies do, abandon him or dig in.
Donald Trump has divided his enemies. The disparate groups protesting are unorganised and as yet, nothing more than an ineffectual rabble of annoyance to a man willing to put an army on the streets to quieten his own people. Like a colossus he looms above all those within his circle as they cower beneath his cloak, afraid to come out now for it is already too late for them. Having supported his crazy this long, there is simply no way to step away and try to deny that they weren’t complicit. There is no doubt America has experienced a democratic decline. Again, I must quote a man of peace “civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless or corrupt. And a citizen who barters with such a state, shares in its corruption and lawlessness.”
The wake up call has arrived and it truly is time for the American people to wake up. It is time for men and women of sense, to stand up and stand together. This is not about one black man’s death. This is about inequality, poverty, lack of opportunity, racism, corruption and a deliberate division of society to further the self interest of men like Donald Trump. We are starting to see the response to his abuse of power, the question is, what will happen next?
Americans need to look within themselves and question the throw away phrases that have begun to mean less and less, because they have gone unquestioned. What is country? What is patriotism? I have never known a people so obsessed with the notion of duty and patriotism and allegiance to things that don’t matter. A flag? A president?
Country is a word that defines the boundaries of a nation, but most importantly, its people. A patriot is a person who vigorously defends their country. Patriotism is a falsehood if it isn’t defined by what the culture of a country is, and what it means to belong to that country. A patriot needs to believe in what he or she is defending. A patriot needs to stand for all their fellow countrymen, not just the few. America needs to open the debate again. What does it mean to be American and how can one feel proud to be patriotic unless that patriotism is embedded in the soul of the people?
Does being American mean that racism should prevail? Does being American mean you look out for no-one but yourself? Does being American mean that you should have 2 or 3 or 4 or more classes of Americans? Should being American mean you are a lesser or greater version of the rest of your fellow Americans depending on the colour of your skin, the party that you vote for, how rich or poor you are, or the church you go to? It seems from the outside that one man has come in and hijacked all that most Americans hold dear. Where are the so called checks and balances? When congress abdicates its power to the president, it is up to the people to take a stand.
Most Americans are familiar with the words on the plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Where is that America now? Perhaps being American means something else now? Maybe the plaque should be removed? Perhaps being American now means you build a wall to keep out the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Who knows? When a country divides it stands for nothing. U.S.A. The ‘United’ States of America. It is time to take that union back to the heart of the debate. In unity there is strength.
The fate of America lies in the hands of its people, whether through their actions or inaction. This is perhaps a defining moment in American history and those who choose to look away, may long regret their carelessness. Tomorrow may be too late to change things. Change comes through actively engaging those who would corrupt your society and by challenging corruption. Recent generations have become lazy. Most people have been waiting for someone else to step up, only no one is coming.
The man who has been at the heart of everything that has gone spiralling out of control, grows stronger by the day, testing how far he can push it. When the press is daubed the enemy of the state and all dissenting voices are declared fake news, when a president can say the stupidest of things and deny that he ever said them without breaking a sweat, when almost the entire ruling party cower in their place, afraid to speak up for their constituents for fear of falling out of favour, then it is time to man the barricades.
I hold out hope that good people will prevail, that the genuine heart and soul of America, the people, have finally been stirred, but a question remains. Will they ultimately raise their voices and remould their society into one where division is a stain on the past and community is all that matters? Donald Trump uses triumphalist, silly, egotistical phrases like Make America Great Again. MAGA. It is an insult to the people of America, a cheap trick. I would remind him greatness is never taken, it can only be bestowed and it is only bestowed on the deserving.
This is the time for America to shine, to show the world that it is still a democracy, to shout loud that its people have prevailed in the darkest of circumstances. Now is the time to demonstrate their strength, their unity and their love and compassion for one another. Americans have been separated during the pandemic but they should not be divided by their malignant leader. I believe they will have the next word… and so I leave you with this;
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