they shall not grow old

The title is taken from a poem written during World War I. It was eventually set to music by Karl Jenkins. The somber rendition in the link, would have made a great sound track for my history lesson this week as I taught my students about the death toll at Verdun (700,000 men) and the Somme (over 1 million men). As we worked through the imagery of incessant shelling, gas bombs, artillery bombardments and the trenches, the words of the poem came to mind. Those who survived must have lived it over and over and over.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon, FOR THE FALLEN

World War I seems like ages ago but not death. Each time, I receive a notification about a peer who has passed on, it’s very jarring. Jarring because I guess I was sold a lie about growing up.

When you grow up, you shall be able to do whatever you want. You can do that when you are older. Be patient, your time will come. What once seemed like sage advice now rings hollow. Hollow and shallow platitudes.

Because some do not grow old. In my senior six vacation, just before, we joined campus, to study our desired courses….I received the news that a dear friend, Gordon Mulinzi had been in an accident with his family. Some members had passed away but he was still in a coma. Even after his brave fight, he passed away. What?! After the hustle of reading for our A’levels, the discussions, the winter, the jubilation over being admitted to Makerere University on government sponsorship…he will always be a vacist, never a graduate.

‘Annet has died,’ were the few words my distraught friend managed to choke out as we packed our bags to leave at the end of our university. Annet had told me about her plans to go conclude with her fieldwork supervisor. She did not return. A boda boda knocked her down. It was Annet who held my hand when I despaired of learning, she faithfully took down her notes neatly and dropped off her books for me to copy. She made sure I was always in her discussion groups so she could ensure my name got onto the assignment. She carried me to meet lecturers, so they would put a face to my name. Annet will always be a student.

Gloria, very vibrant with such wise and subtle cracks, lay on her sick bed. A shadow of her former self. Cancer. She had a baby girl and a dotting husband. She managed to get us all to laugh again, even though she herself could only manage a weak smile. A few weeks later, I woke up to a notification, ‘Gloria has gone to be with the Lord’. There will be no reunions for her. No baptisms. No graduations. No firsts for her baby. Gloria will always be a bride.

Simon, recently succumbed to COVID-19. We were appointed as managers together to lead a new imitative. I fluked his honeymoon, cause we had to go and study and he decided to carry his young bride with him. It was fun. It was exciting. There were challenges but we always cracked solutions. He loved his work. He loved taking pictures. He loved people. Ever early. Ever reliable. I retired. Simon remained. Simon will always be working.

I remember them. We remember them. More as we age. They shall never grow old.

Photo credit: Pinterest

And maybe neither shall we, in the end we are The Fallen. Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe diem.

The Author of Wonder

“I don’t believe that the child has yet been born who didn’t look at the world around it with those fresh eyes and wonder.

“If you lose that first wonder, you’ve lost one of the most greatest sources of delight and pleasure and beauty in the whole of the universe. Caring for that brings a joy and enlightenment which is irreplaceable. That is one of the great pleasures of life.”

Sir David Attenborough

I shall begin my trail of thought with this quote from an adorable naturalist. His documentaries taught me so much about a world and allowed me to visit, unbothered by visa applications, these other worlds. I celebrate his work.

There are huge pipes by our road side and the children in my car, are always happy to stop and look at the huge diggers and caterpillars, lift and place pipes into the ground. They crowd around one window and all scream with glee at the diggers!! I, on the other hand, am miffed about the delay in traffic. I sit there wondering when this will all be over and hope none of the pipes falls on my car.

Two kinds of wonder, one full of hope and joy and the other despondent. Growing up, I always thought that hope and joy compounded. Adults, in my view, were the happiest people in the world because they got to do anything they wanted, when they wanted! I hear the loud echoes of laughter fading even as I write that last line.

Time stealers and irrational schemes attack and rob us of hope and joy. They force their way into our memory and cram their bile onto our neural paths. Our wonder is corrupted. It is no longer colorful and cheerful (Tigger) but rather gray and despondent.( Eeyore)

Those honor nature well, who teach she can speak on everything, even on theology.Blaise Pascal

Nature is our gift from God to bring the delight of wonder back. More importantly, to lead us to God.

When I take a moment to consider the different birds, insects and trees in my little village of Kiwanga, I am amazed at the diversity and how they coexist. I recall my biology and science lessons about the different veins in leaves. The different methods of propagation. The different sizes. The different shades of green. The smell of soil after the rain. Our God loves diversity. Our God is an Artist and a Scientist. Our God is beautiful.

One fine day, I found bees buzzing around ,what I thought as, not very impressive flowers. Flowers of one of my palm trees. The bees found these nondescript flowers attractive. Our God is mindful. Our God is the provider.

Bruna, one of our numerous dogs gave birth. The puppies were so different from each other, in appearance and character. Dogs have character. Imagine that. The day we gave away one of the puppies, the rest of the puppies huddled with Bruna, and suckled. Dogs feel. Our God is caring.

Nature will lead us back to God to wonder about Him and His awesomely good and great character. It will cause us to think like the Psalmist,

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?
Psalms 8:3‭-‬4 NKJV

Slow down, like a child, smell the roses. Keep your wonder, it will lead you to God.

Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa

On Saturday, a boat capsized on Lake Victoria and with it a number of young revellers. The media focus on the contrast between Saturday morning and Sunday morning for the 30 ,whose bodies were retrieved by divers, has been disheartening. It was disenchanting to watch body after body towed to shore. Tragic. So young, too soon. Only 26 alive and accounted for, out of over 100 young Ugandans.

Grief is a painful emotion, our red flag when our soul is wounded. Thorns are tiny and their pricks cause angst first to the limb and then to the entire body. Finger pricks are easily treated, we have first aid, we have plaster, we have emergency rooms, we have medics. Salt, we have salt! How does one treat wounds to the soul? How do you know that you are healing and that grief is abating? Sometimes grief tags along with us, slowly seeping into every thing we touch like Midas’ touch or like Elsa’s frost, we recognize it after everything freezes.

Christmas season is my favorite season to binge on my favorite composers. So many concerts, so little time. George Friedric Handel’s music is always a delight to listen to because mostly it is largo. How he brilliantly puts Isaiah’s prophecies to song especially The Young Messiah. This year, I find myself drawn to an aria, (as sang by Cecilia Bartoli), and it is from this aria that my title is drawn. The phrase, translated as leave the thorn, take the rose was written by Cardinal Benedectto Pamphilli in 1707 and put to music by George Handel in his last oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Disillusion).

A rose is a beautiful flower with such soft petals, a sweet fragrance and brilliant colours. But it also has thorns. No one picks a rose because of its thorns, neither does one place it in a vase and admire its thorns. A rose does have thorns though. Life has thorns, leave them. Take the rose.

The Shulamite in Songs of Solomon describes herself as the rose of Sharon.

I am truly his rose, the very theme of his song. I’m overshadowed by his love, growing in the valley!
Song of Songs 2:1 TPT

The Passion Translation describes her as the embodiment of her lovers affection. She is the theme of his song, St.Paul describes this as poema in his letter to the Ephesians . We are, each one of us, God’s poem. His handiwork. A handiwork made for good work. Take the Rose.

God is Love.

Each one of us is a work of love, David says that God knit us together in our mother’s womb. Knitting is a labour of love, it takes time and the finished product is warm and cuddly. Take the Rose.

His love overshadows us. Even in the valley, we grow. Sharon is a very swampy plain, roses would not grow well in this place. David writes about a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. God’s love overshadows us in the valley, in swampy and wrong places. We grow. We bloom, we flourish even in the valley.

Leave the thorn, take the Rose.