Tuesday 7 August 2012

#OBSummer #Books - Ford 99 - Excuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out

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Genre - Women's Fiction 
Rating - PG
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October 15, 2010
Dear Dad,
What I share with you today is nothing new, but listen anyway? There is a word tucked away in our vocabulary that has such immense power, it always surprises us. It can have world leaders on their feet for hours in a day in the sun and it can have celebrities dipping their hands in oil or pushing their way through rubble. This word has normal people like you and I giving someone else a smile, even a tired one, no matter how rotten our day may seem. Most of all, it has the power to make the difference between giving up and moving forward. What is this word? It is called, H-O-P-E.
I know we have talked about hope at length, sometimes in a sad reflective way and at other times in a compelling, moving forward manner. I have put together some incidences, which I want to share with you.
The following may be experiences that we have been blessed and fortunate to have avoided in our lifetimes, but it does not make them any less true. Some were started with the worst intentions but in the end have brought out the best of people. There is a saying - There are three versions to every story. Mine, his and the truth. Hence, I will not debate the politics of each incident in length. Instead, let’s take each moment for how they are remembered – the day hope won.
Marching For Peace. In the heat of all that the Irish Republican Army did, one incident stood out more than the rest. On 10th August 1976, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) getaway car was desperate to escape a British Army patrol car that was even more adamant that the IRA car would not succeed in making its getaway. The Maguire children – Joanne aged nine, John aged three, and Andrew aged six weeks died as a result of this exchange. Their mother, Anne Maguire would never be able to overcome this horror and would later commit suicide.
Her sister, Mairead Maguire, alongside Betty Williams who witnessed the incident, responded to this violent act by organising a peace march to the graves of the Maguire children. It was attended by ten thousand Protestant and Catholic women. Members of the IRA disrupted the march, hurled insults at the participants and accused them of being influenced by the British.
They retaliated by organising another peace march the following week. This time, thirty-five thousand people marched with Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams demanding that violence be stopped at all costs in their country. This peace march would in turn be the spark for many other peace demonstrations and would also function as the turning point for both women to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.
Men Do Not Think. Apparently, that is exactly what Adolf Hitler was counting on as he set about his campaign of hate. He openly said, ‘How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.’ In sparking a war that killed approximately seventy million people, Hitler has a strong foothold in the memories of many as the most hated man in the world. He used his ‘leadership’ to carry out crimes as heinous as starving people to death, using human skin to make lampshades and making people feel that death of any kind would be a better option than to be alive within his reach.
As troops fought hard to stay alive and win a war that so few saw any point in, there was a moment in time when all appeared to be lost. The German army had cut off troop movement towards France and Winston Churchill regarded this as one of the greatest military defeats of his time. With very little manoeuvring space available, between 26th May and 4th June 1940, Operation Dynamo fell into place.
More than 338,000 British and French soldiers trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk, France had to be rescued. While the army went all out to do their part, it was the seven hundred private boats that sailed from Ramsgate, England to Dunkirk that created a sensation. They sailed back and forth, scooping up the wounded, dodging air bombs and braving night sails. The event would later be referred to as, ‘The Little Ships of Dunkirk’ but carried with it the very emblem of war - leave no man behind.
The much sought after surrender of Germany and the beginning of the end of World War II came from the surrender of Germany’s Axis powers on 7th May 1945 to Western Allies and the Soviet Union on 8th May 1945. This was about a week after Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
In Asia, Japan managed to hold ground for a few more months resulting in yet another one of the deadliest events the world would remember. Nuclear bombs were ordered to be dropped on Hiroshima, 6th August 1945 and Nagasaki, 9th August 1945. On 2nd September 1945, General Yoshijiro Umezu signed surrender documents aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. World War II was officially declared over by President Truman on 31st December 1946.
The Wall That Came Tumbling Down. On the evening of 8th November 1989, after a much-anticipated international press conference, an announcement on television was made that the East Germans would be allowed to travel abroad freely. No date was given as to when this would come into effect but the announcement was enough confirmation that unification was much closer than before.
For twenty-eight years, the Berlin Wall had become an international symbol not only of a divided country but one of divided families as well. The Berlin Wall stemmed from the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, the Soviet control of East Berlin, which blocked out the West and the fleeing of approximately three million East Germans to the West in 1953. It was largely built on the sentiment that can be likened to ‘this is mine, and no one else can have it.’
Through the night of 8th November 1989, as throngs of people gathered at Unter den Linden in East Berlin, guards did not know how to react. People were demanding that it had become their ‘right’ to travel into West Berlin. Guards attempted crowd control with little rubber stamps on passports but soon gave up when the crowds intensified. As the crowd broke free, so did the wall’s foundations. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down on the night of 9th November 1989, although it was officially demolished on 13th June 1990.
I Have a Dream. On 28th August 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our Nation.’
This would be the beginning of his renowned speech, ‘I Have a Dream’. One of the most compelling statements in this speech is the line, ‘We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.’
This dream, one he would never live to see, came to pass on 20th January 2009 when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. The first African-American to be in such a position. What’s the big deal? In a society that is now so culturally mixed, so culturally coloured and flourishes with diversity, Barack Obama may have seemed to some as just another presidential candidate who had the right components to win his seat at the White House.
To many others, he was a representation of a fight for rights that started centuries ago. A fight that won a small step forward in 1865 with the abolition of slavery; and a bigger step forward when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed which banned discrimination because of a person’s colour, race, national origin, religion or sex. The rights of this law include a person’s right to seek employment, vote and use hotels, parks, restaurants and other public places.
I Sat With God & The Devil. While the Chilean miners who were trapped for sixty-nine days are beyond introduction to some of us, I found their level of faith a force to be reckoned with. It was obvious they believed in God when one rescued miner said, ‘I sat with God and the Devil. God won.’ But it was the inner strength they had in themselves, their strong belief in the people striving for their rescue and the love that they had for their families that will have you questioning, do you have that much faith within you?
Miners are the people we so often perceive as barely educated, low income individuals who do a task that we do not see as important. And yet, they have achieved a feat that has NASA talking about them. If this was a lesson to prove persistence, it was also a lesson in humility.
They showed the world that everybody plays a role, big and small and no task is unimportant. It proved that you may have a nation’s leader waiting to shake your hand but the most important gesture to you will be the embraces of your family.
It is easy to get caught up in the usual overload of information that news channels insist on giving us when one particular issue is so heated up. But if you ever need to remember a lesson in humility and never giving up, then remember this: On 5th August 2010, thirty-three Chilean miners were trapped approximately seven hundred metres underground in a small copper and gold mine. It is only on 22nd August 2010, when a drill attempting to locate the miners comes back with a note that says, ‘The thirty-three of us in the shelter are well.’
I would like to remember that line for as long as I can, Dad. They were trapped for seventeen days with no one knowing if they were dead or alive, they had limited resources to food and water and still they could say, ‘we are well.’
Dad, I know that hope may not be the ultimate answer to our problems and it may not be the end of our journey. In some cases, it opens a door to yet another journey with more questions and daunting tasks. But it does provide us with a sense of freedom that allows us to be free from worry, to become free of ‘excess emotional baggage’ and most of all to stay free so we keep moving forward in our lives.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’

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