(The higher you climb…)
was the title I bestowed
upon my insulting brand of arrogance when,
though sweating from the ache of bearing too much weight,
I refused generously proffered aid from a stranger.
was the title I bestowed
upon my cold refusal to engage when,
though risking a soaking from a downpour of freezing rain
I spurned an offer to share an umbrella.
Even when family and friends offered to help
with some big or little thing
and I wanted to accept their assistance
I would shake my head, say
thanks, but I’m OK, and turn away instead
(the further you fall)
Years later, when all my money was stolen,
I had to borrow to cover the bills.
Through that rimy winter
I was often hungry
In my damp home
I shivered under a green blanket,
its fibres too arctic to comfort my chilled bones.
And still my drug-befuddled son pursued me for more money. I would try to spend any money I had before he found me, but he was like a hound, sniffing the air, smelling the money and my blood wherever I scurried, hunting me down for the money, always the money, and when he found me he got the money in any way he could. Sometimes, when he was unlucky enough to turn up too late, I would have spent the money on food. When that was the case, he ate it and tried to bully me into getting more money from somewhere, anywhere, he didn’t care. More money, always more money.
Hedley Davey is a man of humour and secret suffering
whose presence would melt a heart of lead.
I knew his gentle reputation, and most of his history,
as I had known him for many years.
Perhaps we were no more than aquaintances,
or maybe we were friends;
but at Oxfam we were colleagues as well.
Hedley’s the thin guy you may see
standing outside the shop in Boutport Street.
Smoking a cigarette, chillin’,
dressed like a weathered cowboy in an old western movie.
Hedley Davey, talking about boats, thinking his ship has come in because he has at least as much as the poorest man on the river or off it, feeling like a king whenever he has food in his fridge, but forever wishing that he had someone to share it with. Hedley Davey who they said was half crazy, but is one of the sanest men I have met. Forget the medication. These days everybody who’s anybody has a mental health issue or two; he was just ahead of the rest – and who wouldn’t be affected by being buried alive while saving a couple of kids from almost certain death? They said he was a hero, gave him a medal, but they couldn’t mend the bit that had been broken, so he hid it beneath a poem, a song, a joke, any magic trick that would turn a poker face into a happy grin.
If my son was a hound, Hedley was a dog of a different breed.
He had no greed for money, but he could sniff out need,
and he recognised it in me.
The day that he came to the back of the shop after his casually-rolled smoke, took my hand and pressed a twenty-pound note into it, I was embarrassed, and my instant reaction was to shake my head, and try to give it back – even though I had need of it – but he told me it wasn’t his, that he had rescued it from the pavement, and when I looked in his eyes I saw two things; the first was that he was lying, and the second? He wanted me to let him help me. It’s true he was a hero, and in his humility, he didn’t even see it.
I haven’t yet told him that he gave me more than the money. He gave me something that had been missing all my life. Hedley Davey gave me twenty pounds that day, and in the sweetest way, he gave me the precious gift of humility.
Independence was the title
I had always bestowed on my self-obsessed pride.
Hedley Davey gave me money so I wouldn’t go hungry,
and he taught me to be humble.
Written for Soulgifts’ Circle of Friends Week 3: Friendship and Gifting.
©Jane Paterson Basil