September 2020

Whenever I try and single out one race, nation, religion or gender for their crimes, I am immediately struck by how hopeless such a pursuit really is. What good comes from pointing fingers? Are the people pointing any happier? The people who are pointed at most certainly are not.

I am in Birgu, Malta. I was walking the steep slabs of polished limestone at sunset today looking for somewhere to eat when I heard the sound of voices singing a hymn, timed to the bellowing of a church bell. I followed the music and walked into the dark humidity of an old Norman church, its nave opening cavernously out and above me into a magnificent space, sparsely congregated. I put on my face mask, quickly blessed myself and took a seat at the back, bowing my head. The priest was blessing the Host, praying aloud in Maltese. I did not understand anything except the interjections of “Josef” and “Maria” and “Ġesù”.

I did however hear the language of my Mother, who is some ten thousand miles away in Australia; a land she left this country for when she did not know too much of the world. I thought about my Grandmother and all the other colossal, Maltese women. I thought about how many people have died this year, how many will still die. Suddenly I was crying like a child. Silently, completely and uncontrollably. The mass ended quickly thereafter and I had my soggy eyes closed tight, trying not to make contact with the old ladies I heard shuffling out respectfully beside me. I had the feeling that the man sitting by the door was waiting politely for me to leave so that he could close up. He smiled softly at me as I wiped my eyes.

Outside the sun was almost gone. I walked in a daze in the furiously sultry air. At that moment, a Black man my age who must have been a refugee from Africa walked past me. We made eye contact and I smiled at him. He was shocked and raised his hand in front of his face, not in greeting but meant to keep me away. I saw fear in his eyes. I felt hopeless then and I wanted to hug him because it seemed we needed each other. If he could have seen me but two minutes earlier he would know that he had nothing to fear. If we could all see one another at our most vulnerable, even just once, without our endless masquerading. What we would see is that there is fundamentally nothing different between any one of us. We all know grief and sadness. We all want to laugh. We all want to love and be loved. We all want to swim in the sea. Nobody wants to die alone.

So much damage has been done and everyone plays their part, in turn. I myself have swung like a pendulum between love and hate. The pendulum rarely ever falls still and yet I do know that hate is exhausting our species. It is sucking us utterly dry. Loving is no effort, when we are feeling good! It is as natural and easy as the tides. It drips and revitalises like honey. When I am happy, I hum like an old man meeting his friends down by the water where he trades fish he caught that morning. His friends are so pleased to see him and he is so happy to see them. They all love each other, unconditionally.