Traveller's tales

Monday, August 07, 2006

Wisdom under our feet: a courtyard in Edinburgh

At 5.05pm, we are, alas, just too late to look around the Writers’ Museum. I had stopped too long in front of the memorial to the Black Watch Regiment – taking photos – reading the inscription – feeling proud of my own grandfather’s contribution, though he lived to return from the World War 1 battlefields, having joined the Canadian Black Watch and then transferring to the Scottish regiment later.

Reading and remembering had taken too long – we were too late to enter the Writers’ Museum just up and across the street. While my wife sat on a form to rest and adjust the straps on her bag, I looked to my feet and saw words – they were upside down – I turned to read – looked around the courtyard and saw that there were many, many more flagstones with words, names and dates chiseled into them.

All showed the wisdom of the ages – some seemed particularly apt to today’s world and its events.

Tom Scott, 1918 – 1995, wrote; ‘Weird hou men maun aye be makin war instead o’ the things they need.’ I walked further and read another by Naomi Mitchison 1897 – 1999; Naomi wrote, ‘Go back far enough and all humankind are cousins.’

More recently, John Buchan, author of many well known tales, and former Canadian Governor General, 1875 – 1940, penned the following words of wisdom; ‘We can only pay our debts to the past by putting the future in debt to us.’

Joining my wife, who had been taking my photograph as I scribbled in my notebook, I sat and thought about the words I had just read, and about the memorial to those gallant soldiers who fell in South Africa, even before my grandfather joined up ‘to do his bit’, as he might have said.

We are certainly indebted to such brave men for keeping our world free from tyranny and hate, and we would do well to maintain that freedom, so dearly bought in two world wars and in numerous campaigns before and since – we put the future in debt to us by doing so, and pay one to our forefathers.

But today, perhaps more than at any other time in recent history, with what is happening in the Levant, we should take heed of Naomi Mitchison’s words, that we are all cousins; in the sense that any study of where and how we originated would illustrate, but more importantly, in the sense that in this shrinking world we inhabit, what happens in one part affects us all.

Who cannot, reading the headlines this week, feel for the dead and injured, for the killed and maimed, as well as for those fleeing from bombardment from all directions? Who that has had a childhood free from pain and anguish cannot feel for those children left orphaned and destroyed by hatred and the war that ensues?

Why does man continue to make war when his needs are so great?

Robert L. Fielding

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