Since the weekly tarot card this week is Strength, I thought I would post an excerpt of the card from my book Weegie Tarot: Life of a Foolish Man. The Fool, Eddie Reilly tells his young friend about his son and his wife and about strength and fortitude. I hope you like it. This book is a fictionalised account of the Major Arcana.
I shouldn’t watch the news these days. Especially after I have had a few drinks. There is so much about war and torment and abuse and I sometimes think this world’s a bad place. Today, a British journalist was blown up in Syria. She should have got out but she chose to stay and report so that we would know about the atrocities happening in that part of the world. It seems she had been as good as warned that the bad guys were aiming missiles at the ramshackle house, the place from where the stories were reported to the rest of the world. There was nowhere else for them to go so they hung on in there, sending more and more updates but their time was running out. I think a French photographer was killed too and others badly injured. She had done her job all over the world, reporting from war zones and dangerous places for over 20 years, just because she believed in what she was doing. How stunning is that? I don’t know if I have ever believed in a cause enough that I would risk my life for it. I would for my children, but anyone would do that. Well, this journalist looked into the jaws of danger every day and never flinched in her belief that the world needed to know what was being done to those more unfortunate than ourselves. She must have known that the longer she did it, the shorter her odds of being safe were, but she didn’t give up. How strong must a person be to put personal safety below the need for freedom of speech and communication?
I admire strength in others probably because I have been so weak, at times, myself. It’s hard not to be inspired by heroic stories and we all like a ‘Susan Boyle’ tale of making it against the odds. When you hear of someone who was bullied for being a bit slow or for being different and then winning at something like Britain’s Got Talent, its brilliant! That look of disbelief on Simon Cowell’s face when a wee hairy, fat women from Fife opened her mouth and the voice of an angel came out was one of my favourite moments on TV. What a belter! Susan Boyle never gave up and now she has shown us all that anyone who has a belief in their talent can truly conquer the world.
This whisky makes me maudlin, Claire. Maybe you can delete this later? I don’t want Aileen to know I watch Britain’s Got Talent. She’d start talking about ‘opiates for the masses’ and all that posh stuff.
Everyone has a battle to fight though, and not always in public. Did I tell you about my son Drew? He was my boy and my hero. We didn’t see eye to eye after I did the dirty on his mum. He told me I wasn’t his dad and that he was disgusted at me and would never forgive me. He was a good boy and looked after his mum and my wee Kylie after I was sent packing. He worked hard at school and he never needed to be told right from wrong: he just knew. Stella used to tell me about him occasionally if we bumped into one another in the street. She was delighted the way he was growing up and how he was working hard to learn to be a mechanic. After Stella died in 2004 Drew lost the plot. He joined the army and was sent to Afghanistan. He was a casualty of war. One of many who were all fighting for a belief or for a wage packet or maybe even just for a sense of belonging. I never knew what made him sign up. He told Kylie that he would be able to get his mechanic’s qualification quicker but all that happened was he was handed a gun and told to do our government’s dirty work. I am not bitter, just sad. I think most of all I am proud… not that he was in the army… but of the way he chose to die.
I know he said that I wasn’t his Dad anymore but, to my surprise, he made me his next of kin in case anything happened to him. I think he maybe did it in some way to say if anything happened to him, he forgave me for my sins. But maybe he knew that if it wasn’t me then it would be his darling Kylie and he loved her too much to give her the burden of the news of his death.
The 8th of the 8th, 2008… a lucky date of you are Chinese but not if you are a boy from Glasgow caught up in an ambush in the wilds of a country where most ordinary Glasgow folk don’t even know what the war is about. When the official came to my door the next day, completely immaculate in his army uniform, I knew right away what had happened and so to be honest, did the rest of street. Bad news travels faster than good news here.
It seems that Drew was on some mission to make an area safe for aid, medical supplies and food to be flown in. He was in an armoured car that was blown into the air by a road mine. When he came to, he saw that insurgents were approaching and that his friend and driver, Jimmy Delaney, was trapped under the remains of the car. According to Jimmy he told Drew to run for the car behind and get the hell out of there and leave him, but Drew started firing on the rebels and took most of them out. He then struggled and with all his energy and strength, pulled Jimmy from under the car. Jimmy didn’t realise it at the time but his leg was missing below the knee. He said he didn’t feel any pain. Drew fired off a few more rounds and then carried Jimmy on his back to the other car which had taken a hit but its engine was purring away even though the driver was very dead. More bullets were fired but Drew got Jimmy in the car and drove off at speed to the camp a few miles away. All the way Drew talked to Jimmy about how he was lucky as he would be going home to see his wife and kid while he would just have to go back out and kick a few more Al Qaeda asses. All this time, Drew must have known that he had taken a bullet to his stomach. He was bleeding heavily and when Jimmy was safe in the hands of the medics, he collapsed. His last word was ‘Mum’.
I don’t know why I am telling you this, Claire. I just need you to know that my son was a hero who put himself in danger’s way to rescue his friend. He put friendship and honour above saving his own skin. His strength and determination earned him a posthumous medal for bravery. I keep it on the table beside my bed and it fills me with sadness and pride. Kylie’s son, Andrew, can have it when I am gone.
I am glad Stella died before Drew and didn’t have to suffer the sorrow of losing a child. The fact that he said her name before he died gives me comfort. That one word ‘Mum’ makes me believe that she came to collect him as he died and that they are both together now somewhere where there is no need to keep fighting.
I know Drew got his bravery and strength from his mum, not me. She had shown him how to fight a good fight, even if it resulted in you losing the battle. Her fight was with that disease that eats away at you and makes a mockery of any faith that tells you that if you are a good person nothing bad will happen to you. My Stella was the best: an honest, compassionate person who gave far more than she ever took. God knows she took enough nonsense from me before she gave up on me. You know, Claire, I don’t think she ever really gave up on me completely. When she got ill I had started to paint and draw and had even been allowed back to Barlinnie to teach prisoners how to appreciate art. I was cleaning up my act and was making sure that I not only stayed on the right side of the law, but that I was being nicer to people, including myself. She liked the fact that I was behaving and her smile and praise kept me going when I felt the depression raising its head. I like to think that she still loved me: I will love her forever. I know that.
Stella was pretty and a wee bit vain. Kylie told me recently that when her mum’s hair started to fall out with the chemo, she asked her customers in the salon to sponsor her to have it all shaved off. Two of the staff joined in and had their hair shaved off too in support and they raised nearly £1,000 for breast cancer charity. Stella fought for nearly two years before even she had to admit defeat. She had fought the beast inside her for as long as she could. In the end, it was pneumonia that killed her because her immune system was so low. She left behind a daughter who couldn’t function and a son who went off to war. She also left me behind, an old fool who had never been strong enough to recognise how precious she had been until it was too late.
It’s cold tonight, Claire. February in a Scotland where fuel poverty is killing old folk and weans. It’s like the Seventies again... doom and gloom. I have only known you a few months darlin, but I think I am getting used to you and am pleased I agreed to do this for the university. Telling stories is like opening wounds though, but it is making me stronger. Thank you.