Dear Inner Circle,
A flash-looking bicycle circled around me and came to a skilful stop at the fence of our front garden. Only when the fellow got off the bike did I recognise a face that has been absent at Wayside for some time. The young man threw his arms around me and then moved to our deck in a gesture that showed he was exhausted. In just a second I made up several stories in my head about where this fellow had been. I looked at his sophisticated bike and began to wonder how he’d obtained such an expensive thing. In two seconds, I’d constructed a story of prison and a bike that had been “borrowed”. Thankfully I didn’t ask any questions before he started to tell me how he’d been working delivering furniture. He told me that it was the heaviest work that he could have ever imagined. He told me of lumping insanely heavy lounges up flights of skinny stairs. Eventually I said, looking at his bike, “Well at least you’ve got something to show for all that hard work.” “Yeah,” he said, “I’ve got jelly legs and a heart attack.”
If I were a rich man, I would have been at the Menin Gate in Belgium this week to remember the hundred-year anniversary of the battle known by most as “Passchendaele” or what some books call, “The Third Battle of Ypres”. In 1917, more rain fell on this battlefield than had fallen for seventy years, creating a version of hell unimagined before this time. Men and horses that fell into the mud could not be pulled out and a slow drowning followed, often as the soldier begged his mates to put a bullet in his head to speed up the process. The rain was so heavy that General Haig noted that it spoiled a tea party he held for his highest-ranking officers. Half a million people died in a fight to take a site of no strategic value, which was abandoned just weeks after it was taken. I stood at the Menin Gate a few years ago and thankfully no one tried to be wise. No one in uniform tried to say that something glorious had happened in this place. Instead two thousand of us stood in silence (it happens every night in this place) and eventually a choir sang Abide with me in French. It brought me undone to the point of feeling most awkward about weeping in public. I attempted to sing in English, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, oh abide with me”.
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