Less than two weeks ago I wrote The Day the War Came, kind of a poem but really intended
to be a picture book that will spread its message for years to come. It ends like this,
I came to a school.
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanos
And drawing birds and singing.
I went inside. My footsteps echoed in the hall
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn’t smile.
She said, there is no room for you,
you see, there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.
And then I understood that war had got here too.
I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.
The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child’s voice spoke
“I brought you this,” she said “so you can come to school.”
It was a chair.
A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanoes, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.
She smiled and said
“My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school”
Out of every hut a child came and we walked together,
on a road all lined with chairs.
Pushing back the war with every step.
When it was posted on the Guardian website,
with a lovely empty chair from Jackie Morris, other empty chairs began to appear…on twitter, on Jackie’s Facebook, in my in box. Pretty soon I’d lost count, Pretty soon I couldn’t keep up with giving a personal thank you to every one who had drawn, painted, embroidered, felted an empty chair.
I’ve had emails from people in other countries sending chairs, translating the story into other languages. I’ve had emails telling me about empty chair demonstrations – lining up of chairs to protest about the UK governments, and the whole worlds general indifference to refugees.
Something about this story, something about the image of an empty chair touched a deep, deep nerve.
Refugees are not new. The first people to leave African and spread human beings around the world were probably refugees of sorts – from small tribal skirmishes, from famine, from too many big predators. And as soon as there were enough of us we started creating wars.
South Wales where I live received refugees of sorts in the many Italian families who came here in the last century to set up cafes in mining towns.
(Their initial sense of loss and alienation is the subject of my story, now this wonderful theatre production
As I said in my last post. This is not ideal. This is not what we’d chose. But it is the way it is.
And whatever you think, the reality is that only luck stops you and me, our kids, our grandchildren from being refugees. Tomorrow we could be the ones fleeing for our lives with our babies on our backs and the wrong kind of shoes on our feet.
So we need to be kind. We need to share. Because we could be next. Because every person matters. Because that’s what makes us truly human. People talk about ‘human nature’ as a negative. War is ‘human nature’. But if that were the whole story we’d be extinct already. Human nature – the really successful bit – is compassion, is empathy. Remember we have special words for people without those qualities, medical diagnoses.
What a simple and clear symbol of sharing: getting up so someone else can sit down for a minute.
Giving up your chair for someone less able to stand. Offering the spare chair at your table for someone who needs it.
Please, if you haven’t drawn a chair, do it now as a small symbol of our humanity and our ability to share. Its completely irrelevant if you can draw or not. Just do it. And upload it on the guardian witness website. There are far more chairs already a part of #3000chairs than have been put on the site…so if you’ve already done a chair, put it on there. Lets see if we can really get THREE THOUSAND…but work fast.
And if you really can’t draw on (though I can’t see why not..) then log onto the site and recommend chairs…look at them all they’re so lovely…and loveliest are the ones by people who just had a go
To inspire you listen to this while you draw : The utterly wonderful Karine Polwart singing so insightfully about the dual nature of humans.
here are some of Karine’s brilliant lyrics
Ten thousand years of big ideas
Distilled into a million fears
A grand design a shiny rocket
A bullet in a bully’s pocket
So mesmerised by particles
We disregard the articles
The ones we write to keep the peace
Sullied now by blood and greed and grease
Is this the best that we can do?
Oh I can think of better things cant’ you?
We can think of better things, can’t we?