In deference to Maya Angelou, that superbly magnificent woman poet who wrote from where she stood, square and proud, inside her life, I write today on Rising. We all have to be able to do it, weak or strong, man or woman, adult or child, for, if we stay down we just get squashed underfoot as Life tramps on without us.
What is ‘Down’? As everyone nowadays is quick to say whenever they hear something they don’t agree with, the definition of Down it is all a matter of perspective. I only use that irritating and conversation-stopping cliche because it fits. I suspect that, were I to spend time inventing a new phrase to ‘fit’ it would become a cliche itself and, therefore, just as irritating.
Down is the opposite to Up and, in this life we lead, someone else’s down might be another’s up and vice versa. I guess Down is when life isn’t how we would ideally choose it to be, when the edges of our very self become wavy lines, vulnerable to weather and cliches, to cold and doubt. Down is when we hit the ground…….not running.
Yesterday, we watched the Mill Girls on tour at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow. Woman were legion in the ticket queue, men, like black pepper, scattered among them, among us. Many women were there because they had been Mill Girls themselves and were here to walk down memory lane, to resurrect together that powerful energy that kept the line tight through wars and hardship and paltry earnings. 65 pence per week was their wage and yet still they laughed and danced, loved and really lived through their days in damp and draughty homes all lined up together like street soldiers, their little paths sticking out like cheeky tongues. They moved as one. They bonded and banded together, they lifted up the Down and stood strong against those who expected everything from them, as if it was their due.
Their song is still here today, even if the mills are long gone, turning themselves into smart appartments for folk who will never know such unity in their lives, who live as islands, alone, lonely, the new way to live, if living is the right word. The fabric they wove together is musical, strong, flowing, always flowing, beautiful to behold, fashioned with love and care. Every morning they rose and not just out of bed.
If Down is considered a poor relation to Up, then it’s a shame; a shame, because, in this world, where everyone changes colour just because it’s raining, I feel we might have forgotten our historical roots from which we grow tall, able to move and bend, to flower and fruit, offering shade and shelter to our fellow beings. From hardship grow heroes, never from ease. Who needs to call on anything other than a taxi when times are easy? And yet, the memory of what was, of how it was or is for those less warm and safe than I, is not enough, nor is it the whole truth, because every one of us faces Down at some point. When I turn to look at it, Down can look like a wet lump of coal. As I shake its hand, say hallo, sit with it for a while, I begin to notice it has many facets and some of them are reflecting the sunlight. We rise and walk together each morning, and with each dawning I see new light, new opportunity. It doesn’t look like coal any more. It looks like the beginning of a diamond.