by Anton Wills-Eve

reply to redwrap’s walking with the Sun


I’ve just read ‘Walking with the sun on my Face’ in the blog collection ‘Red’s Wrap’. Like many other insatiable word press users I was greatly moved in many different directions by the thoughts that floated through my own mind as I read her ten thoughts for today. So I shall simply say how they affected my memories of my life and my philosophy about the world I live in. I do hope you don’t mind Red, but why else would you have written what you did if not to stir the stew pans of your readers’ mental worlds?

On 1.Sometimes I miss carrying people but it’s nice to swing my arms when I walk and have no worries.

Well three ideas in the first sentence, that suggests a blog of huge proportions but I’ll try not to. The first image that sticks in my mind is the picture of someone walking and swinging their arms but also suggests that doing this erases worries. If only it did life would be so much easier. I know that when I swing my arms when walking I feel vaguely military and that is something which both worries and disturbs me. I think it all depends on whether you are leisurely enjoying your walk, or striding purposefully towards some goal.

The former is fine and is usually fun. The latter just makes me squirm and wish the object of my march would go away. If you think of it which ever way you walk you must be going somewhere. If it is to a place with no worries associated with it you are very fortunate indeed. If a march to a military end then your worries will be many and it may well be the last walk you ever take.

But the opening line really hits me where it hurts. “I miss carrying people.” Oh, lucky you that you ever had that ultimate joy of parent hood. To lift a little one above your head as you skipped along, both of you laughing. How lucky the parents who have done that. I was blessed with four children but I never once was able to pick them up in joyful play or had the playful joy of walking with them swinging in my tightened grasp. My first wife had not long had our daughter, just seven weeks, and although I had kissed her and rocked her in my arms as a baby the tragedy of that day when a mortar hit the hospital where My gorgeous Anh worked and killed both her and baby Gemma on the spot will never leave me. How could it? That was in Saigon in November 1968 where I was working as a journalist.

Four months later a met an English girl in Singapore and she comforted me and gradually restored my shattered sanity to the point where we married in August 1969. By then I was the company’s chief correspondent in Indo-China and my wife soon became pregnant. I could not take the risk of my first loss and when she was six moinths pregnant she returned to my family in England. There she had our son and when he was three months old he was left with my sister as I only had four months of my posting left.

My wife flew back, but the war had moved seriously into Cambodia and in my last week scheduled to work there I was the sole survivor of a helicopter crash. It took a total of three months to patch me up. I had seriously damaged my back and had a bone graft from hip to spine. Naturally When I finally returned to England and was fit enough to resume work I did not have the strength to lift up my little boy. He could come and sit on my knee to be read a story, but that’s not the same as swinging him over my head. And now I shall close my reflections on your first thought with the greatest sadness of my life for which only I was responsible.

In mid-January 1969 after a couple of Pernod’s too many to help control the agoraphobia from which I have suffered all my life but refused to let limit my work or play, I made love to an American journalist and then never saw her again. As foul fate and deserved ill fortune would have it I received a letter from her eight months later to say she was due to have a child in about a month’s time. I was very much in love with my second wife and showed her the letter. She said she understood and it made no difference to our marriage plans. She has hardly mentioned that letter since, but for a very good reason.

The girl with whom I slept, Kathy, married a flame of long standing almost as soon as she returned to the States that same January and never told him about me. He has always assumed his daughter, Gemma, was his own. Kathy told me she remembered I had told her my tragedy and my daughter’s name. Also that I was a Catholic. She said it was the one thing she could do for me, and became a Catholic herself very soon after returning to America. Her husband was not especially bothered one way or the other. Kathy said a mutual friend whom we could both trust, a fellow journalist, would always keep me informed about my daughter when he could.

Now where does the mourning come in again in this first recollection? Well when Gemma was nineteen she married a marine and only nine months later as she was being driven to hospital in haste to have a baby, her husband’s car was in a crash and both he and his wife, my Gemma, were killed. But paramedics performed a miracle and the baby was saved. She is called Jenny, is a very lovely twenty six year old now and I have heard she is hoping to marry this summer. So I never even got to swing my grandchild either. I told our mutual friend that my wife knew everything and understood and to our great surprise last Chistmas, she, not me, got a letter from Kathy asking her to assure me she was mentally fine and had three more children now and was very grateful to God. My wife broke down in tears and showed me the letter. All she said was, “You have a knack of picking really nice people, haven’t you?” Well let’s look at the rest of Red’s thoughts and find out.

2.I had lost touch with how intensely self-conscious my Nicaraguan children sometimes were in places we went as a white family but I am remembering it now and wish I’d really understood what I was seeing when I was seeing it.

This thought requires some background knowledge on what relationship your ‘Nicaraguan children were to you, but in the sense that you talk about it I don’t think it matters. It reads as the wish that you had understood what children of a diferrent ethnic background felt when forced to mix with whites. If I am right I do have a very strong memory of an episode in my life when I had to cover an insurgance in a French west African country.

I was fresh out of University and on my first overseas assignment for the news agency. We lived in Paris and my French was fluent which was why I was chosen for the assignment. Within a day of arriving in the middle of hell I was introduced to a French nurse, a white girl aged about 23 to my 22 so she said she had a really good story for me. She worked in a hospital for blind orphans and it also took in perfectly healthy children who had no idea who their parents were. Well I wrote a well received piece on the hospital and then found myself playing tennis in the street with a few of the other children. Some were really good.

Now just about every country in the world that used to be a colony, especially British or French, had a sports and games club that was tacitly – some overtly- reserved for whites only. I was not aware of this, but on my second night in the country’s capital I was invited to become an honorary member of the Racing Club. When they discovered I was a member, as was my father, of the founding club in Paris, they were all over me and said I could bring any friends of mine with me to enjoy the facilities.

I didn’t know. I wasn’t American or South African I didn’t know what racial segregation actually was. I just knew it was wrong. I was to learn much worse about this aspect of American life in Vietnam. But I digress. Two days later in the early afternoon I approached the club with three unnaturally worried, as I thought, children with tennis rackets. They were of course native coloured children. The concierge looked at me in amazement and asked why I was accompanied by the kids. I told him they were going to play tennis at the club with me. He asked me to wait.

A few minutes later the vice president of the club came up to me and asked if I had read the rules about coloured people not being allowed in the club.

I asked him why, as I was not aware of this rule. He said it was normal, like women not being allowed in Golf clubs in England. As I began to realise that he was serious I asked him if I could come inside to the committee room and told the children to wait outside. The President and two other bloated colonial do-nothings lounging in the armchairs. I asked if the rule was genuine as I had never come across it before in my life. I was assured it was. I was about to tear up my membership card in front of them when I remembered that the special press facilities room was in the club and I could not work if I was not a member. So I just got up, apologised for not reading their inhumane rules and left.

For the rest of my stay I just dodged bullets, played with the kids and helped at the hospital. On the day I was leaving I went into a filled main bar and tore up my membership card in front of them all telling them exactly what I thought of them. One tall and rather self-important man asked me what the children had thought of my efforts to get them access to the courts. I suddenly realised, to my shame, that I had forgotten to ask the most important question of all. Back at the hospital, though, as a leaving present they had bought me a new tennis racket and the friendliest boy said to me” Thank you for trying to help us, monsieur. I fear, however, that you were about fifty years too early.” He understood all right.

3.If there is a God, I think he or she frequently gives people more than they can handle but they survive mostly because they decide to focus on what’s going to happen in the next five minutes.

A lovely idea this one and of course 100 per cent correct. I am a believing, devoutly practising Catholic, but the idea that I focus more on the next five minutes than anything else is spot on. But where I love the underlying idea in this is because ‘I have too much to handle’ is a long way from how I see my faith. Yes I do attend to the immediate, it’s only natural, but if anything were to threaten my religion, like say, military persecution, then that would become my next five minutes. I would attend to it at once.

This is the whole point of my way of viewing God. If you know Him and love Him as I do, then of course he is the most important part of my life. If, however, one finds it impossible to believe in a creator God then he is not so important and other things take precedence. But the lovely bit is never forgetting to pray for people who cannot believe because they have no idea just how much joy and pleasure can be derived from participating in spiritual love.

4. I will never fully understand the concept of forgiveness although I do understand reaching a point of letting go of one’s rage before it becomes lethal.

Well to start with if one does not know what it feels like to love God or even a particular saint, then the feeling you need in order to forgive must be terribly hard to understand. People have often asked me, do you forgive Hitler?. I would much prefer ‘have you forgiven Hitler’, but leave that. Yes I have. It is not my business to forgive or withhold forgiveness from anyone. What I should do is condemn the sin but leave forgiving the sinner to God.But where I can see that this is really hard is when you feel very strongly about something, mass shootings are usually good examples, when you want the perpetrator to be punished but you dont want to forgive them either. Now, if you haven’t got a God to pass the forgiving buck on to then it is up to you. Your solution of not letting your feeling reach the stage where you could hurt some one else is quite correct. You have to draw the line there. But I do think you should also try to see whatever has been done from the point of view of the malfaissant because only then can you start to work out what made them do what they did. And it is important to society to try to find a reason or you won’t stop the next one.

5 Martin Niemoller’s caution still rings true even though we like to see it as historical, an artifact of another time, not this one.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Very famous, I know, very clever but incomplete. He never says why in each case. We are assumed to know, if we know our history, then we can understand the first three, but what about the last one. Who is coming for him and why? I am quite happy to accept that the general idea of the piece is that unless we defend the persecuted and oppressed when they start being oppressed, simply because it’s nothing to do with us, where will persecution end? The simple answer is that depends on who is persecuting and why? But, as I say, in the last line we don’t know so how could we intervene as the writer suggests we should?

The best example in the world today is that of North Korea where the nation is so brain washed everone does everything they are told no matter how insane it may appear.But isn’t that exactly what happens in developped western countries? We’re all free, yippee! Yes we are, to speak our minds, but there democracy ends. And why? Because unless we go along with the financial arrangements put in place by the extreme left and extreme right we could not take home a salary good enough for us to have enjoyable lives. We don’t make or take those decisions we just abide by them.

6 It is a relief not to worry about my children’s happiness but to know that they are happy or happy enough without my planning and tending and that I can fill up that new space with almost anything I choose.

God you’re lucky. No you really are. No matter what age they are if you really no longer have to worry about your children and you are free to spend your time as you like you must be awfully confident that your world is never going to change. There is so much that could be said here, but I’m not going to. If you are as lucky as you say then I’m not going to change it for you. I’ll just pray things stay as good as they are.

7 The boy at the beach on Sunday with long khaki pants and shoes on was like a prisoner I wanted to liberate; I thought why did your parents bring you to this joyous place in a cage?

What an odd thing to think. Your mind is becoming much, much clearer. How do you know that before setting out that afternoon – was it morning? – there was not an almighty row in that household. The boy had just got the latest fashionable, ghastly looking, clothes and could at last ape his friends. He was over the moon at showing off his outfit but his mother told him to change. They went at it hammer and tongs for ages until dad final shouted “We’re wasting the day. For God sake let him go out dressed as Nero if he likes but for heaven’s sake stop this squabbling. The real irony was that he never saw any friends, his parents don’t visit those sort of beaches, and so he was kitted out like an idiot for nothing.

Life is much more interesting in our heads than our eyes.

8 It is wonderful to have someone thank me for a right decision I made about them twenty-five years ago.

What on earth does one say about something that has never happened to them? I was thinking what I was doing 25 years ago, O god yes, got it! Stupid me. On May 7th 1990 I got my wife pregnant. It was more than twenty one years since we’d had a child and I couldn’t believe it. We were both alternately up in the air or down on our knees. We really could not take it in. She was 43 and I was 48 and my mother in law was petrified that I had killed her daughter. My father in law was delighted for us but a bit apprehensive for his daughter. My own parents had both died very young nearly twenty years earlier, so you can imagine it meant so much to me. We had wanted more children but God just never gave us any and then wow! I’ll never forget how I felt that day.

You’re all getting teed up for a tear jerker aren’t you? No, be honest, after my earlier stuff. But this was one of the greatest stories you could make up, except it happened. When my adorable wife was 23 weeks and four days pregnant and all was going swimmingly God gave us a little reminder that things aren’t always as we expect. Given our ages you can see why I knew the exact length of her pregnancy, when she got appendicitis and it burst. The ambulance crew were staggering but got us to the operating theatre in time. It was two pm in the afternoon and all I was allowed to do was get the Catholic chaplain to the operating table to baptise the baby and give my wife the last rights.They’re great. Much better than medication.

Because thirteen weeks later after my wife had had two operations and nearly died, and my son had struggled to breathe – he still holds his hospital record for survival at 23 weeks and four days back in 1990- for months, we all came home on January 6th, Epiphany, and my eldest boy had flown back from university in Australia to help all he could. But the youngest went on to be an academic genius with a lst class BSc. honours in physiology, an MA in Archeology of death and memory, and is heading for a doctorate in a year or two. No, of course I hadn’t forgotten all that, it’s just that I can’t remember if my wife said thank you on May the 7th!

9 ‘I can decide to not let things be more important than the things that are important like working on gun control and racism; there aren’t other people to do this, we are the people’.

Again absolutely spot on. Those are just the sort of things that

the average person should be concerned with and make their voices heard on. I don’t suppose that the Vatican News Service is top of the reading list in your house, but you have almost said exactly the same thing as Pope Francis said in his Letter to the world last week, but he was aimed at preserving the planet and helping the starving and the poor.

He really went for those people who could, and should be doing something about these problems but aren’t for purely selfish reasons. He cited four meetings on global warming and not a thing done. He slammed the countries that let the poor starve in case stopping a civil war might interrupt their oil supply. Then he went for the over fed industrialised countries for ignoring the starving people in the third world. You really should read it it puts the skewer right into the stomachs of the greedy and the lazy.

But the bit I liked best was when he said religious education in catholic scools should be about being the sort of citizens that God needed on this earth rather than just brilliantly clever technocrats and scientists who were destroying the planet instead of preserving it. Great stuff. And as you so rightly say, the sort of document that was not written for the shelf but every school desk.

10 I could not be more grateful for my chance to be on the earth this day and all the days past and maybe tomorrow.

Well taken overall I certainly hope that your days on the earth have still got a long way to go. I have seldom found myself agreeing IN SPIRIT with the ideas of another person who is not known to me, with whom I have never chatted and who wants to do what is right and has the humility to admit that she still has bits to learn to do this. Thanks for the read. It was fun and a great read.

Anton Wills-Eve