So we got to sit and watch the Pride of Britain Awards yesterday. It is something that I have always admired in a way, but tend to wonder how it is that they could possibly make those choices. See I'd want to give that award to everyone that does something special, and heck there are many people that reach out and do remarkable and unusual things.
The judging panel is made up of pretty remarkable people in our society already, a panel chosen by the chief sponsor of the event, the Daily Mirror. I would hate to sit on that panel. How do you decide between who to honour and who to ignore? That process of choosing must be one of the toughest decisions to have to make as an individual seeking out the people that are going to stand before the nation and be honoured for their contribution to our society.
It got me thinking. I wondered through the halls of my memories and began to wonder, if I was made to choose, who out of all the people that have touched my life would I want to honour as someone pretty damn special? How would I go about working out who makes it to the short list in the first place, and then what criteria would I focus in on to set one aside from another.
I am really at a bit of a loss on this one, but as hard as it is to try single out someone, I did become aware of some people that have made a massive impact on my life, and touched me in ways that I had not really fully given an adequate appreciation too until I began this little mental exercises.
I am not here to name names, or point fingers, but I do think it is worth mentioning what each of these have done for me in my time here on earth. Their contribution has been invaluable, profound, and I guess is for me, made of those things that I set out to find when I first asked myself this question.
The first person I'd pay tribute to was a childhood friend that grew up almost at my side. For me, the colour of a persons skin has never been an issue, and I was lucky to grow up in a region of the world that had begun to work out its differences in terms of the prejudices towards skin colour and race. This meant that I was able to grow up with a best mate that was an African lad, a guy that lived next door to our family, and someone that just clicked with me. His older brother and mom were lovely people too boot, and for what must have been close on a decade we were inseparable. What is it about this person that is so profound to me? One simple thing, regardless of who I was, what society suggested I should be, forget pre-conceived perceptions which dictated what someone should feel, he accepted me as me, colour, creed and racial preclusions aside. For me, that friendship was the founding blocks of my view on the world at large, and gave me the ability and tools to look beyond prejudice, see through discrimination and gave me an unwavering sense of fairness and equality between me and my fellow man. I will be eternally grateful for those lessons, and even though we have now lost touch, this persons impact on my life lives on through the loyal friendship he gave me in those important formulative years.
I quickly had to wipe out family members from this process, or I would quite simply have just gone on and on about two very special people to have touched my life in the form of my mom and dad. While I do not wish to trivialise their contribution to my life, it would be unfair to choose them in this instance, so I looked beyond my immediate family members.
However, there is someone within my family circle that really should get special mention. He is a cousin several times removed, and although we only really met in the last ten or so years, he and I have formed a relationship that has had its ups and downs, (we are both stubborn, independently minded people, who love to make our point) yet we are still as close today as we have always been. He is the first person in my family that I openly came out to, and one of only two that know of my homosexuality within the family. Yet in all of that he has never once judged me or thought ill of me for it. He is loyal and loving, has a heart of gold, and such a cheeky personality that I cannot help but adore him for it. He is living in the Middle East, and has met someone that he really loves, and has recently informed his folks of this fact. However, part of this revelation is that this particular person is a man. In a family that I have always considered as modern, accepting and strong, his parents have abruptly and savagely cut him off, yet through it all, as much as I know he is hurting inside, he has stood strong, accepted their decision and moved on with his life. I cannot for the life of me fathom their decision, yet I cannot help but admire and love my cousin even more for his ability to rise above, and remain resolute and strong even in the face of one of the most devastating social errs I could ever imagine.
Cancer is a blight on our world. It is cruel, mean and my god is it heartless. It destroys lives, causes the most horrific suffering and is a scourge of the human race. You may have guessed from these statements that I have no love for this killer. Indeed in the last decade it has ripped a hole right through the centre of my family, and taken people I love in horrible ways. In my life I've had to deal with death on a variety of fronts. Suicide, short, sharp and abrupt. It leaves you with questions you'll never have answers too for the rest of your life, and a guilt that you never quite shake. Murder, just as traumatic in its suddenness and devastating in its aftermath as you seek answers, justice and try in vain to deal with the loss. But all of these pale in comparison with watching someone that you love waste away and know there is nothing you can do to stop it or halt it. Death will come, slowly, in agony, and rob you every day of a little more of the precious person that you love. I recently met a young guy that looked beyond my age, saw beyond the distance, was not bothered by my dark view of the world, didn't care about the normal things other people seem to worry about in getting to know people. He just simply accepted me, reached out to me, and shared with me at a time in my life when I really needed someone to just simply be there.
It might sound crazy, but that simple attentiveness, the lack of big words or fancy speeches the friendship offered regardless of circumstances or perceptions made me reach out far quicker and in a much deeper way that I ever would have normally. Desperate? Yeah! Needy? Yeah! Heck I was at a place in my life where I needed someone that cared and understood, and along he came and plopped himself at the fire in front of my lonely cave and he just listened. So I rapidly became attached to his companionship, and love to hear from him, and chat with him, only to hear he is gravely ill, and it is the cursed blight of cancer that holds him.
I can't truly describe my anger at the world. There are no real words for the pain and hurt I feel. But this is me, my selfish need, my personal pain. It is my desire that is paramount, not to loose another person I love to this epic curse. I have seen it reek havoc with my sister, my niece my mother and it bloody took my father. Enough Already!
Yet, as much as it hurts me, I watch this beautiful young man wake up every day and fight a good fight. He smiles at the world, cherishes every moment, has such a remarkable and gentle caring nature and only wants to enjoy his time here on earth. He deserves so much more. He is a symbol of everything I wish I was. Selfless, alive, happy. He faces the most scary thing in his young life with a smile on his face and a cheerful demeanour. I admire, respect and love him for it, it is through his strength that I struggle on against my own issues, and I am struck by the fact that despite the huge weight of this thing on his shoulders, he has enough time and love and character to carry both of us, and all those around him, through. If that isn't remarkable and special, I don't know what is.
I was not really sure I wanted to share this, but then if I am making time to honour people that have made an impact on my life, I could not leave this next person out. I hope that you can appreciate him as I see him, and understand my reasons for choosing him.
I moved to the UK 13 years ago now, from an African country in serious political strife. I arrived here with little money in my pocket, alone, and basically had to start a life for myself from scratch. It has been a long process and there have been an awful lot of downs, as well as some amazing ups.
In the first few years that I lived here, I was alone, and in this time I struggled a lot with loneliness. It is one of the issues of being a Yettie, I am not really that great at meeting people or making friends. I find I can talk to anyone, but in that process of formulating binding friendships and relationships, I have big issues with trust and rejection.
In those early years, I was very much a loner, and one day someone suggested I should consider getting a pen pal. It was an idea I did give a lot of consideration too, and after spending weeks trawling the internet looking at various different sites, I came across a profile of a guy that made me decide that he was going to be the one I'd try writing too. For the purposes of this blog I am going to use my pen pal's nickname.
Chuggles is not your normal pen pal. Indeed, he is not really what many people would consider a very nice guy. He is rough around the edges, has a mean side to him, and he is on death row. Yes that is right, you read correctly. You see, I actually found Chuggles' profile on a Prison Pen Pals site. I am not sure how I ended up there, but if you go online and search for pen pals, there are hundreds of sites, and I spent ages looking for someone to stand out. His profile was pretty simple really, it just said, "A guy who made a pretty big mistake in life. I don't expect forgiveness, I just want someone to give me a chance."
I don't know, I guess as a foreigner in a new country, trying to establish and prove myself, those words just spoke to me. So I took a chance. Those first six months were a problem. His replies would be filled with sarcasm be short and obscure, never answered anything, but asked an awful lot. He was an angry young man who'd been abandoned and isolated. Don't get me wrong, Chuggles is where he is because of choices he made, and he understands this very well, as well as knows that I understand it too.
But in time, I guess my persistence paid off, and I kinda broke through. What I got to discover was a guy who as a teenager, struggling with a drug problem had made a bad decision and found himself in a world of pain as a result of someone else's choices. A boy that all too late woke up to the fact that actions have consequences, friendships have effects, and decisions can be so terribly wrong just as easily as right. I became a person, willing to listen without judgement, willing to talk without lying, willing to say the hard stuff as well as the easy stuff, and over the years we have established a friendship based entirely on paper, but something that I treasure all the same.
The thing that speaks most to me about this guy, is that after all this time locked in a tiny cell for up to twenty three hours a day, waiting for his day to die, he is alive. His mind is beautiful, quirky, happy. His imagination is unreal. He is funny and serious. He is human. And above all, he has grown up. He just needed a chance to be himself, and out of all that anger, hurt, pain and evil, a wonderful individual is there. He knows he will pay for his decisions and actions and in a way he seems to have accepted that. However, in the time he has, he lives as much as he can, and I find that remarkable. His strength of character has inspired me often. His ability to see beyond his limitations is special, and through his words, one day I hope to be able to tell the world that even when you make the very worst kind of mistake, there is a reason to see beyond the red.
I guess I have learnt in thinking today, that we all have people we will disagree with. People we will intensely dislike, people that we will never see as attractive or special or deserving of our time. But everyone has someone. We are all there for some person that everyone else has given up on. Someone alone and hurting. We can't be everything to everyone, but we can be something to someone. I hope that in sharing these special people that have touched my life, I can encourage you to think about those that touch your life, and never forget to let them know how very important and special they are.
Thought for today - "Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one." - Oscar Wilde
Song for today - Souls by Taylor Ames