You know how when you pick up a paperback book you can tell if anyone has read it or not when you look at the spine. If it’s is pristine and un-crinkled the book hasn’t been read.
I want to ask this; when you are browsing through a secondhand bookshop or an opportunity shop what makes you pick up a book and then go one step further and buy it?
Yesterday I spent the phenomenal amount of $3 and bought a paperback titled The Cellist of Sarajevo. I knew a bit of the story, briefly, that this book must have been based upon. But that is not why I bought the book. I didn’t flip through it before I bought it. I just bought it. Because of the title.
When I got home I did open it and on the inside what this:-
I covered the name of the giver, whom I will call Gary (for giver) and the receiver, Rachel because if on the million to one chance that Gary ever gets to see this he will know that Rachel never ever once read one word but instead just dropped it in a charity box, unopened. And I think that’s a shame.
I bought the book because it might have added a little bit more to Beckie’s story. I suppose I should tell you who Beckie is or was. Some of you will remember because she joined the earliest of us who have been following each other’s blogs for the last ten or more years. Her posts were some of the most moving and emotionally devastating I have read, ever.
Some of Beckie’s posts brought me to tears. Not just lump-in-the-throat tears. Actual falling-out-of-the-eyes tears.
Beckie lived in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia-Serbia-Herzegovina-Montenegro-Croatia etc etc. This war, for those who don’t remember, involved a certain amount of tension between different ethnicities, between different religious affiliations and between different geographical regions. I don’t wish to even try to explain the whole situation. During the whole time that Beckie’s blog – backtowhatever – was current she never said whether she was a Serb, a Croat, a Bosnian or a Catholic, a Muslim or Orthodox and it isn’t relevant.
What she did tell us who read her posts was that in the city she lived in, in the suburb and in the street she and her friends played together as children and socialised as teenagers and went to university together without ever being particularly aware of each others background. “Our differences were irrelevant.”
Beckie described being with friends and then, after the siege began on Sunday, April the 5th 1992 knowing that people who had lived all their lives together would be out there, somewhere, trying to kill each other. I want to quote one short paragraph from Final report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992).
Since the beginning of the siege it is estimated that nearly 10,000 persons have been killed or are missing in the city. This total includes over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 persons have been wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. It has been estimated that over the course of the siege the city has been hit by an average of approximately 329 shell impacts per day, with a high of 3,777 shell impacts on 22 July 1993.
The very worst thing that Beckie described personally was the day that she and her family and hundreds of her friends and neighbours were rounded up and marched to a containment camp. It was necessary for them to walk across a narrow bridge in single file. Beckie was with her mother and just as her mother stepped on the bridge another woman, a friend of her mother, was there and Beckie stood back to let her step onto the bridge between Beckie and her mother. As they walked across the bridge soldiers began firing and shot every second person. That way Beckie was saved.
She wrote that after the war some friends from university went to the mountains that circle Sarajevo and held hands and lit lamps to show that they could have unity again. But for this she was threatened. So she moved to Switzerland to work as a research scientist. And she stopped writing her blog. I wrote to her and asked why she had stopped and she said it was because some people didn’t like her pointing out some of the bad things she had seen but mostly they didn’t like the way she was advocating reconciliation between the warring sides.
I never knew what to say to her, but back then I did write two poems and I am going to print them now. I have posted the second one before.
When the people are forced out of their home by the people who have lived next door for centuries, when you are one of those who forced your neighbours to flee, when your house is destroyed and your whole town has been raped and pillaged and little children died and grandmothers died and friends and neigbbours become enemies then it takes a real amount of courage to return to face you neighbours and your enemies and for your neighbours and your enemies to face you and to hold hands. That takes courage.
The City in the Golden Valley
Around the Rim of Sarajevo
Stand the ones they left behind
Stand the ones who still are standing
Stand the ones who’ll carry on.
Hand in hand they stand together
Hand in hand they venture forth
Forward to a new tomorrow
Holding joy instead of sorrow.
Once they called each other rival
Sons and daughters, old and young
Died without a thought of mercy
Died because their face was wrong
Now their children stand together
Holding hands and holding hearts
Looking forward – never backward
Building for a grand tomorrow
We each and all dream. Often times our dreams are wishes. Daydreams are remembrances or unearned riches. Most of us have dreams as hopes but we do little about it. So I wrote the following poem not for myself; except maybe as an atonement for wasted opportunity. Nor did I write it for the boy I once may have been. Nor did I write it for all the girls who never fell in love with me nor the old women who gave themselves to heroes with feet of clay. Or maybe I did write it for all of these. But in the end I wrote it for Becky who, like a Phoenix, was burned in the fire that was the Balkan wars, and rose, along with others of the same ideal, out of the ashes of Sarajevo and Srebrenitza to preach forgiveness and healing and to lay claim to a new tomorrow. So this is Becky’s poem.
Old men dream dreams
With eyes awake
And open eyed
accept their age.
With cold precision,
they see the days
stretched out before
like lines upon a page.
And boys dream dreams
with eyes half shut
with gallant sword
held out once more.
They see their self as heroes come
With much acclaim.
And at their side
that they dreamed before.
These beauties did not dream of them
They did not dream
of conquering men.
No. if they dreamed
They dreamed at night
Of saving whales
And speaking right
And pleading for imprisoned men
Or tilting at imagines mills.
Old women dreamed when no one knew
Of being young
And loving men
Who also dreamed of loving them.
But sometimes women old and young
And men who sit in blazing sun
Awake and find their dreams are naught
And stones are hard on bended knees
The sun, at day, burns on a back
accepting wrongful kings
or breaks from thrown stones.
And sometimes some women
young or old
See through the pain that others wrought
See through the folly others sought
And see that dreams
were last night dream’t……
……..And waking clearly know
That all todays must start again.