There are no words to describe how shockingly bad bread tastes under the influence of R-CHOP chemotherapy, nor how much I have taken it for granted as a staple of life. It is also a shock to discover that it costs at least three times more to feed myself without bread. It is also an additional cost having had so many teeth out to prevent any tooth infection turning life threatening, leaving me with just four opposing teeth for the purpose of eating and the rest merely keeping my face on the outside of my mouth.
Gone is my favourite breakfast of Marmite on toast, lunch time and even dinner time sandwiches, pastries, biscuits, crackers or anything you can put a decent bit of cheese on. I’ve never fully appreciated how much bread is a filler of stomachs, that a starving child yearns for, even whilst I understand very well that child hunger is violence in a rich world.
I recall a brief 10 day period in my life when I was both homeless and hungry and had lost the plot and there was no backup plan. I slept on the floor of an abandoned garage, not knowing what to do, where I could go, as hunger gnawed away at my insides. Eventually I thought to go and see my Father’s youngest sister, a favourite Aunt who’d had the unenviable task of seeing my Father, her precious brother, locked away in a mental institution as a paranoid schizophrenic, when he didn’t even know his own name, when I was around 5 years old. I only saw him once, briefly, a few years after that, when I was junior school age.
I knocked on her door with great trepidation, to beg for food. I’d never seen her angry until that day, the rage in her was terrible. She said something along the lines of, “As long as I breath, don’t you ever go hungry again, don’t you dare not knock on my door!” I can understand her rage, she didn’t just see her nephew, she saw her brother’s son and what she couldn’t prevent in him, my hunger was an insult to what he suffered and she’d suffered with him.
We had many meals together after that, after I put my life back together, most often in a little independent, modern version, of what we used to call a ‘greasy spoon’. Working class eateries that used to cover the length and breadth of Britain, and still exist, though mostly in a more modern guise. I have always felt at home in such places, anywhere where the tea comes in a mug and you can stoke up for the day.
Those meals were a celebration of being alive and an act of love on both sides and, it cannot be doubted, for many and different personal reasons. She took me on something of a pilgrimage to visit my father’s grave, where I met his second wife who lived in a small house in Cape Wrath, far off the beaten tracks and paved roads of Britain.
My Aunt passed onto me my Fathers bible in which I found a typed, presumably by my Father, text and certainly a profoundly meaningful text to him and part of his core beliefs. Looking at a photograph my Aunt gave me, I could see he had faith, not religion, a battle I too have fought and won.
Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
or stumbles along the road,
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
though hidden away from view,
or the burden he bears, placed on your back
might cause you to stumble too.
Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today
unless you have felt the blow
that caused his fall or felt the shame
that only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
that were his if dealt to you,
in the selfsame way, at the selfsame time,
might cause you to stagger too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins
or pelt him with word or stone,
unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,
that you have no sins of your own –
for you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice
should whisper as softly to you
as it did to him when he went astray,
it might cause you to stumble too.
In today’s world that’s an even more radical text than it was when my Father placed it in his bible, in which I am proud to be his son.
KOG. 18 September 2020.