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Where do we go from here?


You know that line from Paul in Corinthians: When I became a man, I put away childish things? In 1971 we moved to a country most of the maps were still calling British Guyana and there was a lizard living in my toybox.

I remember the lizard more than the toys, but more than either, I remember a handful of other items in the house. Not so much childish things as a personal iconography, a somewhat less than holy trinity. There was an LP, Johnny Cash Sings The Ballads Of The True West, released in 1965 – the year Guyana gained its independence. There was a Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, a crocodilian of the alligator family, stuffed with straw, marbles for eyes, tiny razer teeth. A smiling atrocity. And there was a small wooden carving of the three wise monkeys. (Sometimes in the telling of the story there’s a fourth monkey, hands covering his genitals or nose.) Were it possible to animate that carving, I would ask the mystic apes to help us ponder this question.

Which question?

It was the title of a sermon Dr King gave in Atlanta on 16 August 1967. The day I was born, two years after Guyana became independent, and four before a lizard moved into my toybox. It recurs in popular culture, including songs by Yoko Ono, Radiohead, and Tupac. And this year’s Edinburgh International Festival adopted it as a slogan. It appeared on the sides of buses and trams, on the front of programmes and posters, and above the doors of theatres and venues throughout the city. This question is simple but profound.

This question is: Where do we go from here?

John Berger, an English thinker buried in France, said—

Hope is not a form of guarantee; it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.

It was a speechwriter friend who first told me about the privilege of being a Samaritans listening volunteer. And the trust callers give you in return for the time you give them. The time and attention. The teacher and activist Simone Weil, a French thinker buried in England, said—

To listen to someone is to put oneself in his place while he is speaking. To put oneself in the place of someone whose soul is corroded by affliction, or in near danger of it, is to annihilate oneself.

Another leap in time. April last year. A walk on the promenade in Portobello. The morning sun is in my eyes and I’m as blind as a badger at the best of times. Two young men stop to say hello. Do I know them? I can walk past members of my own family in the street and my daughter now does a little robot dance so that I’ll know it’s her.

Err, hiya.

Turns out I don’t know them but too late.

We’re missionaries they say.


We’re from Utah they say.


Can you spare a minute they say.


Are you interested in God they say.

Not God per se I say.

I start to riff on the way the sunlight glints on the waves just so. And the simple pleasure of watching a dog chase a ball across the beach. I speak about suicide statistics and the talking cure and how I can experience the world differently after I finish a Samaritans shift. Five minutes of this and the Mormons politely take flight.

I guess I ought to confess to having been a music journalist. And I still believe music should dance with life just as life should dance with music. Sound is all about vibration, molecules bumping into molecules, disturbing air and displacing the atmosphere, a chaotic process but one which brings us closer together.

The percussionist and educator Evelyn Glennie, a Scot not buried anywhere – she’s very much alive – is on a mission. She wants to teach the world to listen, I mean really listen, with your whole body. She believes—

…life begins and ends with listening…compassion, patience, inclusion, individuality, and cultural awareness are all forms of social listening. To me, social listening is predominantly what makes us human.

I agree. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. But back to our question – where do we go from here? The three wise monkeys offer no advice. And we can’t ask the fourth for fear he unfolds his hands. Johnny Cash? He watches on inscrutably from that LP cover. And the crocodilian, well, she smiles her smile like a fanged Mona Lisa. In any case I contend where do we go from here is more quest than query and I have my own question.

It comes from a song by a musician once married to Cash’s daughter, Rosanne, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? The lyric is bleak, the melody a thing of beauty, the mood upbeat, the message bittersweet. It speaks to us like a child but Nick Lowe’s song is by no means a childish thing. And the brackets?

The brackets matter but only if you listen, I mean really listen. ■

Rodger Evans


John Berger courtesy of Penguin Random House


‘Hope is not a form of guarantee; it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark’
John Berger


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