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I Changed My Name

The old man sat on a low wall at the edge of a pine forest, staring into the trees, apparently searching.

“Don’t worry about me, my young friend. Tell your story, I’m listening.”

The younger man didn’t look so sure. Such was the look of concentration on his old friends’ face. Still, he joined him on the wall and told his story.

“Pre-teens, I thought my childhood was no different to my peers. But it was, and I didn’t realize until my teenage years; why would I? Yes, a few things showed during our childhood but nothing of great note, at least nothing I understood. All that changed as I matured. My parents were not so careful with their words and I saw things myself. It’s a pity that the version of events around me originated on supposition, hearsay and even the church people followed. My inherited world view was not right, and I set about fixing it with limited tools.

My best childhood friend and his siblings lived in the dark, to thrive or not. Mum gave them no attention I ever saw, only orders to leave the house, “go out and play.” Dad was never there, he worked at British Aerospace. a respectable and well-paid place of employment. They split up and mum moved away with the children. My best friend disappeared from my life. It hurt.

I saw him again ten years later. Stood at a bar drinking alone. I didn’t recognize him at first. When I did, he had little to say except, “I’m a bin man, I collect the garbage.” I think that was true in more ways than his employment situation. He had an older sister by exactly one year. They shared the same birthday on the last day of October. Estranged from his younger brother who I remembered as the kid who always yearned for kindness. He put his arm in a wasp nest to get our attention one day. A few years later he took his life.

Where was my friend? He was the one with joy and hope in his heart. Not there at that bar with a beer in his hand. That was somebody else.

A few years earlier and a rare occasion, he invited me to dinner. We had sausages and chips. I think I was seven or eight. That meal was the best, and I was excited to tell my family all about it when I got home. Mum and nana were not impressed. I was a catholic and had eaten meat on a Friday. I sinned and would have to go to confession the next day. I didn’t understand why my friend, a protestant could eat meat and I couldn’t. That’s just the way it was.

Filled with dread at attending confession, and petrified of priests and nuns. They could sentence me to hell if they chose. “Thou shalt not, thou shalt not,” still echoes through my mind when I think about them.

Christmas day was a time of great joy. Home was like a toy store. At least until we turned thirteen when toys became new clothes. The time for play stopped, and the focus turned to the future. “What will you be when you grow up? British Aerospace pays well, and it’s a great place to work. You should aim for that. It won’t be difficult to get a mortgage on the wages they pay.”

I didn’t much like the sound of that, but I did what they said and got the dream job. I didn’t like it and after five years, I quit to go travelling. I planned to leave on the first of September and found myself homeless and living in a spare room at a friend of a friend’s house two months before the planned start of my new life. Nobody at home would speak; they said I had let them down. That was a tough pill to swallow.

A few short years before I bought the plane ticket to my freedom, late in my final year at school, I watched as a man, dead from a heart attack was carried off the train I waited to board. I can’t explain why I experienced such a wonderful explosion of light and joy as I watched. Then there was a switch. Listening to other people gossiping about how sad the situation was, I heard somebody say the mans’ name was Stephen. He was fifty years old and had worked at British Aerospace.

Following that, I insisted people called me Steve and vowed that my fate would not follow Stephen’s. No disrespect intended.

I became a volunteer youth worker. OK, I was only sixteen so, I worked with pre-teens. I loved that work and knew it would play a huge part in my future. Excited about this, I took the idea I should go to college to my parents. To prepare for a university degree. They said, “no.” I had a job at Aerospace and I would take it.

The trade union rescued me a year after I started when I became the youngest ever representative. Responsible for looking after protecting the rights of my colleagues. That didn’t go so well with the management. I was ‘advised’ to quit voluntary youth work and the union if I wanted to realise a bright future with the company.

I left to travel after my twenty-first birthday and couldn’t believe the well wishes, gifts and tears given openly by my colleagues. It still brings a lump to my throat when I think about it. What happened during my travels is another story and you know my friend that I went to university. I became a qualified community and youth worker and the first in my family to get a university degree. Even though it was not supposed to be for the likes of us.”

The old man pulled his attention away from the forest and a beautiful bright smile beamed.

“You challenged many familial models of reality that had passed through the generations and paved the way for others to follow similar paths. Look at you now, you did what people thought impossible. You have grown beyond recognition and all because you had the courage and conviction to follow your heart.

Don’t be complacent though. You never know when one of those outdated models of reality will come back into your life. Be vigilant my young friend and always follow your intuition. It knows where you need to go.

Modern Appliances

“Do you remember that scene in the kitchen at your home when you were seven years old?”

“Funny you should mention that my friend. It came in a dream a few days ago. I had forgotten it until then. Now I remember it as though it were yesterday; fifty years ago yesterday.”

“Don’t keep me waiting my young friend.”

The younger man laughed and looked back into his past to the scene featuring his mother and younger sisters. Just tall enough to lean on the ‘twin-tub’ washing machine. He stared out of the window at the blue sky and sunshine reflecting from the windows of the houses on the new estate. Mother was laying down rules, rules that would become integral to his being.

“I can’t remember those rules, but I know they are in here somewhere.” He tapped his chest. “The problem is, the world has changed and most of those rules have become obsolete. They became so many years ago and I know I deleted a few because doing so brought about conflict and ill-feeling. Mother, I’m afraid, took things personally, she didn’t see the big picture that became my life and the path I had to follow.”

“Such as?”

“Oh, my belief going to confession was an unnecessary ritual. I used to invent sins I’d committed, so I had something to offer the priest. Also, I objected going to High Mass on a Sunday. Delivered in Latin, I didn’t understand a word.”

“So, you didn’t like the church?”

“It wasn’t as simple as that. The priests and nuns frightened me; they wielded terrible power to strike me down to the depths of hell for my blasphemous thoughts. Thoughts that left an indelible stain on my soul.”

“Do you still feel that way?”

The young man laughed again, with much humour.

“No, no, far from it. I see every place of worship as a sanctuary where we can reach out to our higher selves. I know my childhood thoughts have left no permanent marks on my soul. I am as I am.”

“What are these other rules you mentioned?”

“There lies a problem. I remember adult discussions about work that no longer hold true. Debate about how life should run. You know? Get a good education, work for a local employer, get married, have children, work more, retire, die.

People still live this way because they don’t want to question the status quo. It’s not how we’re supposed to live. There is no individual blueprint globally available.”

“That’s a bold statement.”

“Perhaps, but only for those who follow the path of another rather than the path of their soul.”

“Please continue my young friend.”

“Sorry, I’m looking forward to getting back to my work. Later perhaps.

The young man walked through the light, whistling a joyful tune, sending waves of love and gratitude in his wake.

Competition

Walking across a vast grassy plain at the height of summer, a young man met his old friend.

“You look tired my young companion.”

“Yes, I am. Work is difficult. I want promotion because it would pay for the new car.”

“So, chase the promotion.”

“That is precisely what I’m doing, but the competition is great.”

“There is no competition my young friend.”

“Yes, there is. As far as I know, I am one of five internal candidates and I don’t know how many externals.”

“No, you are the only competition. What do you wish to prove?”

The young man glanced at his friend. “Is it not obvious? I have to show them I am the best.”

“Indeed, you can show them that you are great at what you do. But, what if they seek to expand the team with somebody who has complimentary skills to yours? Or, they want a woman instead of a man. These are things outside your control. As I said, you are the competition, and that is only if you aim to be better. Then I agree, there is much competition.”

“Other people who want the job see me as their competition.”

“Yes, I am sure they do and that is because you make them feel insecure. They wish to eclipse your sun because they’re jealous of your daylight. They compare themselves to you, but you are not their competition, nor them yours.”

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