Monday, 03 July 2017 15:35

Prison to Prism: A Journey Home

‘Border’!   The word stands glaring at me as I scan the ‘Irish Times’. My platelets of perception do a quick realignment.

         I live temporarily near the ‘Border’ of which they speak in Ireland but there is no resonance with, no recognition of, that word in this context.   It strikes no chord within but this ‘border’ has been generationally true for many Irish. For me here, in that word, there is nothing of fear, broken hopes, dismembered families, of brother against brother; of bomb blasts, terror, of sectarianism - nothing.   I feel nothing but apathy.   No partisanship, no sympathy, no hate, no empathy. There is a void.   I keep feeling imprisoned.

         The ‘Border’ word that ripped at me lies at the other end of the globe somewhere about the latitude and longitude of 32 degrees south and 27 degrees east. That is where my tears fell, my heart tore, my mind raced or screamed.   That ‘Border’ I know.   I can tell you of that ‘Border’ but not of this one.  

         Of this one I can tell nothing beyond the speckled mountains, rippled lakes, silver rivers, peaty streams, tearing winds, sleeting rain, demure sunlight, purple-blue evening clouds hanging heavy as a backdrop to the black silhouettes of Scots pines, ancient demesne trees.

         I can tell of stone-wall circled fields, rampant hedges, soaked bogs, ruined places of worship; of crannogs, standing stones and cursing stones, broken lintels, weathered tombstones and Celtic crosses; of grass waving high on the dunes at the edge of stone churned beaches, long stretches of golden sand and gentian hills defined against a pearl-grey sky.

         I can tell of tumbled cottages, derelict Palladian facades, of round towers and ancient legends; of reed encroached meadows, cow parsley and meadow sweet, thistles and king cups; cuckoo calls … a corncrake maybe … linnets, woodcock and snipe; herring and salmon fishers and robust little boats sheltering in small harbours from Mullaghmore to Killala. And I can tell of islands lying low in the ocean.   This ‘Border’ place I know only by depth of vision, acute listening and, for a short two and a half years past, the sweet scent of sanctuary for me in my brokenness.

         My life and that of seven generations knows deeply by long osmotic process of absorption, analysis, experience that other ‘Border’. That one is all within the folds and confines of me.   Here away from that ‘Border’ my sensibilities have slithered little by little into some kind of vacuous-ness.   Life here for me is yet a great empty cavern of unseen possibility echoing about the stalagmites and stalactites of time, past and future. The now a vacuum place, a cavern, with only the gentlest slither of light probing its recess, bringing in this new freedom a new vision but only a miniscule part of its depth, its height, its breadth.

         But the way of light is to shift or we perceive it to shift as the angle of our concreteness turns to its fixed source. In doing so no matter how small the beam sooner or later the cavern of our beings, inch by careful inch, can flicker in the warmth of illumination; can highlight a future wholeness emblazoned on the retentive retina of creation’s memory. Even if at first perhaps only for a moment.

         Let me tell of that other ‘Border’.   It will be possible as I allow feeling to burst shackles and flee the prison.   Feeling for place has had to be shut away and become faith in Person, un-encapsulated other place, other ‘border’ that has no border, no division, no separateness. Safely within such an embrace is the cavern of selfhood waiting to be fully illumined. That cavern is truly my life. My life in its extension and interaction within the fullness of its humanness, its soul space within eternity, the spotlight of my perception its span or portion in time.

         One hopes that as the probe of Light is allowed to travel the dark of deep innerness a flash of brilliant incandescence will be ignited in the warmth of its beam.

         I traverse the scope of memory. I ponder the concept of cavern and its imagery. For one fleeting moment, flashed on the screen of my mind, there are school books of poetry and Grey’s, ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ and lines remembered from decades ago:

‘Full many a gem or purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bare:’

         Remembered, too, emotively, the tragedy, conflict, scars of sorrow in Matthew Arnold’s ‘Sohrab and Rustum’.

         It seems that the ‘Border’ I know shaped me by printed words as well as landscape. Yet it was the landscape experience in which I grew that proved to be litmus paper. It taught me to test the acidity or alkalinity of the written word and later, more so, spoken word, deed.   A most obvious thing is that fruit does not fall far from the tree. It is merely a matter of time before one can discern whether that fruit is good or not.  

         The process of fully understanding what is being learnt takes place through long observation, experience, within the field of focus. That is the reason I have great respect for men who responded to a call upon their lives. Many spent fifty years or more in and about the area I call ‘Border’ without the comfort of leave. They were more often than not without deeply committed, like-minded companions. They planted faith and began schools of practical teaching with purpose.

         So I peel back the layers on the area I call ‘Border’ to a time when some good of my race interacted there in such ways with men of other race.   These stalwart trees of dedication rooted in wilderness places produced via circumvented path, acknowledged or not, the matured fruit of, among others, a Mandela melded with the best also of his people’s tradition.

         The great Ntsikana’s too had God given comprehension for the future of his people. He taught a way other than the war drums of military and tribal destruction instigated by false prophets on both sides. People who advocated Godless assaults and rebounding incursions in on-going flux for generations. His understanding instead was for a meld of the best of cultures and teachings with the best.

         The first of my people from Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany who went to that ‘Border’ place also benefited from the schools established. The faith of their founders combined with a grounded sense of work ethic scattered far from their own shores, continued to teach all races who initially chose to hear. Just as others were reached via river ways and seas in vulnerable little coracles that ventured back into the darkness of Europe more than one and a half thousand years before.

         Among men of faith who went to Southern Africa in the nineteenth century was an Englishman, William Shaw. His Wesleyan Missions planted learning among the tribes and clans of that ‘Border’ I know and so began the long journey of softening harsh existence as others called to the task had done throughout the Isles and Europe for those who received them..   Shaw did so in a line stretching through what became Ciskei and Transkei and on into Natal. But he and his denomination were by no means the first, only, or last. These at first were people of English, Scots, Irish, German, French, Dutch nationality. And some among them were sufficiently anointed to bring to that land faith in heart as well as in book, hand and head. It continues to bare good fruit.   Good fruit because some of them understood the universality of ‘Ubuntu’, the need for all to re connect with one another through the source of shared life. The source that eschews mindless destruction and endeavours in order to propagate sustenance and growth in all goodly ways.

         The best of these, like fellowmen and women among many peoples beyond the African Continent also, learnt and recorded the hitherto unwritten languages. Now archived the records of such of them who were just people of faith, who stood true and above the jaundiced, the bad, are beacons aloof from mountains of inflammatory misconception, aloof from the misuse of their intent by the avaricious. Just as happens now. Their records are sometimes mingled cries of heart ache and hope for the people they served, far above and apart from records of destruction wrought by ill intent, misunderstanding, provocation, repressions and repercussions down through history.

         There had previously been no written word in the language either of the tribes of the ‘Border’ where I grew to adulthood. There had been ceremony, sacrifice and story-telling. One tribe’s story tells how far back in time, over generations their people had travelled from the Sea of Reeds down the length of that great continent.   As they wended and warred their way, they herded their cattle and kept the tradition of circumcising their sons. They sacrificed livestock to their ancestors not people to ideology as happened later in the name of freedom -

         A time when a Godless party political thought entrenched itself in a movement for justice and some of whose members did not blanche at inciting acts no less merciless than the worst of other systems of perceived ‘justice’. Violence increasingly became the accepted tool forged by opposing political agendas against the powerless as well as indiscriminate targeting of non-combatants. Repression from within and manipulation from abroad drowned the heart cries of the God faring. Where all people had had an opportunity to hear the better way for more than a century at the ‘Border’ I know, rampant barbarous acts became excused and rife. We conveniently forget this included ‘necklacing’ the politically non-compliant. The lighted petrol filled rubber tires placed around the necks of those who fell victim to the desire for political reform and the stench of burning human flesh remains a scar on the memory of a cause which arose to seek freedom for all. Freedom and dignity for a land in bondage to another man made ideology with its escalating acts of brutality in order to maintain control of the masses.

         Now, across age and race, in the bruised hope of a post-apartheid new dawn, irresponsible oratory and worse again instigates the easily manipulated, the desperate, to acts of unspeakable destruction and barbarity. And incitement to revenge.

         At the very foundational levels, disregard by educational platforms of the Ten Laws for a just society of mixed multitude and the Two that incorporate all, as well as departure by the detribalized and urbanized populace from the good in their own societal norms (without sufficient effective nonviolent replacement constraints), has led to rampant moral degeneration for all races in the country. Such is the fruit of misused conciliatory constitutional intents perpetrated in the name of ‘freedom’. Such is the root of our pain. Such is the root of dysfunction as individuals, hence of many communities and therefore shame for the Nation.  

         I am deeply conscious as I sit here at The Observatory, Markree, of how threads of faith woven in this region of Connaught (more than 1500 years ago) are part of the same skein of hope for the human soul to reach its full potential of fruitful freedom as that taken to the Southern African shore of my land. Tragically, often there too, as elsewhere down the centuries, it became a hope dashed by divisions, opportunism, misunderstandings and evil opposition which eventually misrepresented and eroded the good and left bitter heritages rather than peace of place and personhood. Too often ‘the baby was thrown out with the bathwater’. Too often The Spirit of Life in all its fullness was replaced by stultifying ‘Religion’ with constraints that control beyond the value of good order.

         Yet where ever one may find oneself, if followed carefully back to its source, even the darkest recesses of the human cavern can blaze with the Light that heals all things of past and present. In its wholeness that prism of Life through its multi facets allows devolvement of scintillating essence. Diversity becomes unified in the brilliance of its Source.   The Constitution of Creation has in no part inferior or superior facets of humanity. Those aberrations are the product of limited consciousness, distrust or fear of ‘other’.

         In order to eschew such fear of ‘other’, that child of prison, should not education’s springboard be to engender recognition, awareness of self as part of ‘other’? A deconstruct of barriers, divisions?   If the intent is constructive should education not be far more than a covert instrument of indoctrination, that god of manipulation whose use of a cacophony of wrongs and blames and promises of unsustainable utopian futures, keep victims in covert perpetual bondage.  Should not nation building education have as its foundation and fulfillment displacement of hate, fear and suspicion? Displacement by an inner awareness of realizable self-worth no greater nor less than the ‘others’ worth, different as each may be.

         Education’s purpose is not to merely impart knowledge necessary to fill workplaces. Nor to entrench non - life sustaining vanities. The visibly attainable parameter needed is to try to continue to bring life filled order out of humanities increasing spiral toward a world in chaos. Educated freedom of being precludes the dross of destructive rebellion against the greater Created rhythms of Life.

         Freed from imposed tyrannies of ideology, and despite the now much despised some good that existed and ensued through the interfacing with settler tribes, (the new political correctness) despite all, I know that because of what was and is learnt from the people who understood the ‘borderless ness’ within prism, despite my ‘whiteness’ filled too with the love of our African homeland, there is yet place and purpose in it to gainsay whatever and wherever mental prisons of ‘border’ may raise their heads above the urgent need for unity in diversity.

         So before I begin my journey home, I allow myself to face the scars and wounds of memory. I begin to see such as a measure of growth.   Filling my emptiness (that vacuous-ness of displacement), there begins instead to reign within me forgiveness for betrayed trust. Forgiveness for the destruction of generations of good seed bearing endeavor by party political constructs that have feet of clay.

         Most importantly there is a refreshing new awareness of the ‘border’ places in my own heart that yet need honest attention on this life’s journey from Prison to Prism.  

Thoughts on my homeland South Africa from my unpublished Irish Notebooks: date Saturday 2nd August 2003

Edited after return to my permanent residence in the Eastern Cape in 2004.
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Denise Y. Fielding

My initial formal education was in the Eastern Cape where I am now permanently resident. Deep love of its people and places has repeatedly ensured my return to my roots of growth from 'foreign' sojourns of varied lengths. I continue to write new work (illustrating some) and editing for publication much written over tumultuous decades of frontline situations.