A noteworthy remark in support of Scotland’s autonomy recurs again and again in social internet sites, sometimes published in newspaper articles and letters to the editor. It comes from the elderly.
It always follows the same course: ‘I hope to live long enough to see Scotland independent, [or free] the country it once was, and can be again’.
It took on greater meaning when the Referendum was lost by a small anguished margin. After the aged recovered from the stupidity, the craven decision of their peers, (it is said more elderly voted No than Yes mistakenly believing there is safety in Westminster) their heartfelt remark was followed by an expression of profound sadness. ‘I hope I can live that bit longer to see our dream become reality’. Some added, “I forgive my friends”.
Everything in life comes too late: career opportunities, genuine loyalty, the right priorities, unconditional love, a tree planted grown to full splendid height, but especially wisdom.
A novelist friend stuck for a line in his latest book, asked when did people go from old to elderly? I thought about it. “I think it’s when we stop saying so-and-so fell, and instead we say, “He took a fall.” He nodded and smiled. “That’ll about do it”, he said.
Elderly know how the fickle finger of fate can seek them out. Illness and infirmity besets the autumn of life, some brought on by accident or ignorance, some creeping up on you when you thought you were the picture of rude health. It was inside you all the time.
The elderly learn how not to complain but to bless each day they awake from night.
I am reminded of advanced age etching life’s vicissitudes and our mortality by the arrival of my local window cleaner, Ewen, an extremely tall, lanky Scot.
Sixty-five and all of six feet eight inches tall. His immense height is enough to clean second floor windows without using an extended brush. With his simian limbs and long be-speckled Mount Rushmore of a nose he cuts a Dickensian figure amid the Georgian tenements of Auld Reekie, or considering the geographical origins of this essay, I should say he creates an R. L. Stephenson figure.
Sixty-five years of age. He has been cleaning Edinburgh’s windows all his life, self-employed since he was thirty-three, a never-ending job, one of the few Thatcher did not manage to eradicate in order to cause mass insecurity, to make us too engrossed surviving daily life to rebel against cruel, inhuman Right-wing ideology.
Ewen’s presence arrives on the same day as the death of fellow Scot, Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal-Democratic party. Kennedy died at fifty-five. He had just been deposed as an MP by the recent whirlwind of support for the SNP. He stood down with courtesy and good grace. Like Alex Salmond he was one of the few MPs who railed against invading Iraq, a mark in his favour. His opposition to Scotland’s demands for real democracy was less praiseworthy. Sadly, he lived to see his party decimated, rendered irrelevant, it having joined the Tory party imposing savage neo-con policies.
Kennedy had a wry sense of humour. Had he lived he might have said he lived too long.
My heart goes out to the elderly who fought again and again all their lives to see Scotland take its rightful place amongst the nations of the world, only to experience defeat again. I wish them a long life, long enough and longer to join in the celebrations of independence regained when that day comes, as it must and surely will.
Yet for all that, and all that, they have a fine compensation.
Our elderly have seen Scotland send an army of MPs to Westminster. They have seen the opponents of reason swept aside. They must have been surprised as I was at the political authority rising determined and renewed from the disenchantment of the Referendum result. What a triumph. The enemies of democracy are worried their win is Pyrrhic, far too close to take a holiday in celebration.
Ewan’s philosophy is simple, while we have life we should all do something for others so that “the Almighty notices us”. If we don’t, “there’s no hope for us”. I would think that to fight for your country’s rights and the common good is about a noble a cause as exists.
And to round this history of brief time, and how Time treats us, and how it takes so long to make its damn judgment, I should mention Ewen has a son in whom he hopes his energies are appreciated, his work carried on.
“I cannae be sure he will take on mah job, but I hope he does.”
Hope. The one quality no one can take from us. Isn’t that why we all fight for Scotland, for our children’s tomorrow? It is not a cliché. It is the meaning of life.
The sea is where life began and the sea is where it will end. Our life truly is a river. We begin a narrow burn, bubbling up in the hills; we skip and meander down this way and that between rock and heather, swelling in size from trickle to stream as we go; we get deeper and wider and faster until a river in full spate, strong and powerful, swift, sweeping aside embankments, until one day we reach the land’s estuary … and merge with the sea.
To all courageous senior citizens – you have my undying respect.