Writing this blog over the past four and a half months, it has become very clear to me how important my friends are to me. I knew this already, I guess. I’ve been thinking about why it is that even with all the stupid, ridiculous things I’ve ever said and done, I am still lucky enough to have good friends. How lucky I am that when I’ve made a mistake, I’ve been forgiven. My friends they couldn’t have been kinder.
Talking of forgiving someone you love, Bruno bit me on Thursday. The poor little soul has something wrong with him but we don’t know what it is and neither does the vet. He ran back to the house from the fields – off the lead and with me panting furiously a million miles behind. When I tried to explore whether he had an injury, I found a sore spot and he bit me. He has never done that before. I had to get a tetanus jab. Ridiculously, I’ve found it hard to forgive him. Mainly, I’m a bit apprehensive that I’m going to accidentally touch him there again and he will bite me again. Obviously, I do forgive him and I’m sure he did not do it harmfully.
If friends never forgave each other for their mistakes, no one would have any friends. My problem is that I can always forgive but never forget. For example, I once arranged to meet two of my closest friends in a town I’d never been to before so that we could go to a football match. I was driving – they were getting the train. They arrived an hour late, having picked up a strange hanger on. No one knew where the ground was. We drove around for ages until we saw a huge queue on the right. One of them said “Quick, that looks like a football queue – turn right”. I complied and twenty minutes later we were at a supermarket entrance. I can forgive but not forget. Whenever I see a queue of traffic now, I say “that looks like a football queue”. This is ridiculously trivial – I have been much more of an arse towards him in the past and he has always forgiven me – the point is that I don’t forget these things and there’s nothing to forgive.
What about Ben Stokes? He is not my friend but England cricket’s best player. Several years ago he was sent home from Australia for continually breaking the drinking rules in an under-19 tour. Nearly three years ago he was involved in a violent fight outside a night club at 2 a.m. He is clearly not a nice person. One of my friends asked me the other day whether I can still enjoy watching Ben Stokes play cricket when I know he’s such an arse. Can I forgive him?
One of my friends who is also a football fan can never bring himself to watch England play football because of the terrible behaviour of a significant minority of England football supporters. Can the behaviour of the fans of a club mean you dislike them? I would say that most football fans in this country would say yes, you can dislike them. Manchester United are hated for lots of reasons but one of them is that most of their fans live in Kent or Surrey. Millwall fans have a chant “no one likes us and we don’t care”. On one occasion when I went with this friend to see his team play, a supporter standing behind us gave a huge amount of racial abuse to the captain of one of the teams. This was about twenty years ago when this sort of thing was more prevalent. This is the only time I can remember that I’ve ever intervened in this type of thing. Luckily, he didn’t punch me. Should my friend nor stop supporting this team? Another friend’s team had a couple of supporters who flew a banner with “White Lives Matter” over a home fixture a few weeks ago. Should he stop supporting his team? Can he forgive his team’s supporters? Will other clubs forget this has happened?
Michael Holding, the West Indian ex-fast bowler gave a wonderful impassioned monologue before the First Test Match a month ago and one of the things he said was this. “When people say ‘all lives matter’ or ‘white lives matter’, please, we black people know white lives matter. I don’t think you know that black lives matter. Don’t shout back at us that all lives matter. White lives matter, it is obvious, the evidence is clearly there. We want black lives to matter now. Simple as that”. His ex-colleague, Sir Ian Botham was recently quoted as saying that “all lives matter”. I’m sure there’s nothing racist in Ian Botham, just a complete misunderstanding of the zeitgeist. Can we forgive Ian Botham for his naivety?
When I first started teaching at Netteswell in 1976, I taught a boy whose surname was Jackson – I can’t remember his first name. He sat behind a girl of West Indian ethnicity whose first name was Ruby. He would often say her name in a pretend Caribbean accent – Roo – bear. I constantly told him not to do this. I asked him nicely, I talked to him about this, I punished him and it made no difference. A year after I stopped teaching him, I played in a staff-school football match and I was in goal. Behind me stood Jackson, saying “Roo – bear” over and over. He knew it annoyed me and it was good fun to wind me up. I still haven’t forgotten and I certainly haven’t forgiven.
When I was teaching at BHASVIC a couple of years ago, I taught two very intelligent boys of Pakistani ethnicity. They were not well behaved in lessons – they were loud, there were constant hoots of laughter and their work rate was poor. I often talked to them about this and tried to encourage them to become more focused. For about three or four lessons running, I asked them to wait behind so I could talk to them quietly without embarrassing them in front of the rest of the class. After a bit, I worried that either I was being racist or I would be perceived as being racist. Were they really behaving worse than other students? Did I have unreasonably high expectations of them? Did I dislike them? Consciously, I was determined to treat them as I would anyone else but I worried whether my motivations were misguided or could be perceived to be. Did they understand my motivation for trying to get them to work harder?
So far I’ve made a lot of use of two words: “forgive” and “forget”. I think the key word to all this is at the end of that last paragraph: “understand”. If we can all seek to understand other people’s attitudes, motivations, words and actions, maybe the world would be a more peaceful and harmonious place. Who were the people who flew “White Lives Matter” over the football ground? What were their circumstances? Would they have benefitted from more understanding? Are we allowed to forgive people who we think are worthless? Ben Stokes? The racist football supporter? I have forgiven Bruno for biting me.
“Only A Pawn In Their Game” was written by Bob Dylan when he was twenty two. The wisdom on show is incomparable. He had already written a lot of “protest” songs, drawing attention to inequality and injustice. This song takes the form another step forward. Medgar Evers was the leader of the NAACP in Mississippi who was shot and killed in 1963 by a member of the Ku Klux Klan named Byron De La Beckwith who was only convicted of his murder in 1994. The lyrics are very wise. Here is one verse: “From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks and the hoof beats pound in his brain and he’s taught how to walk in a pack, shoot in the back with his fist in a clinch, to hang and to lynch, to hide ‘neath the hood, to kill with no pain like a dog on a chain. He ain’t got no name but it ain’t him to blame. He’s only a pawn in their game”. In other words, it’s “the deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors, the marshals and cops” who hold the power and get impoverished white people to carry out their dirty work for them. Bob Dylan is trying to understand the reason why the shooting took place. This is not to say that he necessarily forgives and he certainly isn’t forgetting but he is trying to make us all understand.
On the other hand “When The Ship Comes In”, which is equally brilliant, is less forgiving. Having been denied a room at a hotel because he looked scruffy, he wrote a vitriolic warning to his foes, explaining that their days are numbered and “like Pharaoh’s tribe they’ll be drownded in the tide and like Goliath, they’ll be conquered”. A good illustration that Bob Dylan’s “Christian period” has existed for his entire career, not just 1979-1982. There’s no forgiveness. You treat me badly and the wrath of God will descend upon you.
“The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” is astounding, describing the death of a black barmaid by a drunken socialite called William Zantzinger. The chorus encourages us not to worry about revenge because justice will prevail but when a minimal sentence is given “now is the time for your tears”. Forgiveness should not be an option here according to Bob Dylan (and I agree).
It can be easily overlooked that during this period Bob Dylan wrote some beautiful love songs. Tim Riley wrote that “One Too Many Mornings ” is “the sound of someone too smitten by love to harbor regrets, grown too independent to consider a reunion”. Bob Dylan is looking for understanding when he sings “It’s a restless hungry feeling that don’t mean no one no good. When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’, you can say it just as good. You’re right from your side and I’m right from mine. We’re both just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind.” There’s no blame, just an understanding of an impossible situation.
“Restless Farewell” was written is response to criticism that he plagiarised some of his lyrics. “The dirt of gossip blows into my face and the dust of rumors covers me”. He is tired of trying to understand this criticism and is determined to go his own way. “I’ll make my stand and remain as I am and bid farewell and not give a damn.”
Understanding seems to be necessary for the older generation in “The Times They Are A-Changing” when Bob Dylan sings “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand”. It wasn’t until he co-wrote “Tears Of Rage” five years later that Bob Dylan produced a song that demonstrated that understanding is a two edged sword.
“Boots Of Spanish Leather” is equally sad and there are no recriminations about the absence of his girlfriend, just acceptance and regret. “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown” is equally bleak and journalistic, describing tragedy and death resulting from poverty. “With God On Our Side” is a brilliant condensed history of American war but is probably one of the songs Bob Dylan had in mind on the next record when he sung “Good and bad, I define these terms. Quite clear, no doubt, somehow”. “North Country Blues” tells of poverty in a mining town and tries to understand the situation from a female perspective.
The on-line Oprah Magazine states that “forgiving can lead to lower levels of anxiety and higher levels of hope, happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem.” Bruno: you are forgiven.