Barbed Wire and Fairy Lights

I find it hard to know what to say these days. This last week, watching the new order play out under newly installed president Trump has been a bit like standing in a blizzard. I’ve found it hard to take in, and exhausting; if it’s having this effect on me here in Britain, I can only imagine how it feels on the other side of the Atlantic. When my thoughts are in a tangle, I write; when I can’t think, I draw, and often I discover more that way. 

Barbed wire from the trenches, 1st World War

My local museum has a cabinet with a miscellaneous collection of objects from the first world war and on Thursday, the day Theresa May travelled to Washington as the first world leader to meet Donald Trump I found myself standing in front of this display drawing strands of barbed wire from the trenches on the western front. I don’t have the words to describe how I felt, studying this stuff, thinking about what it means to create barriers of this kind and the horrors of what this did. I stood there drawing and thinking about walls, and fences, and detention centres; about refusing refugees. About people who are now living in increasing uncertainty and fear, and how the whole world is now a more uncertain place for everyone. 

I thought a lot after I’d come home with this drawing about what its opposite would be. Closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep that night I thought about Amnesty International’s symbol of a burning candle surrounded by barbed wire…….. 

Faced with such immediate threats to democracy, to freedom of speech and freedom of movement, being fed lies and witnessing ever more division and racism and hatred – it’s hard to know what to do, what to say, or how to say it. It’s overwhelming and intimidating, and it’s easy to feel that there’s nothing I could do that could possibly make the slightest difference. But neither can I bear to stand by and not do anything. I keep thinking of those words of Edmund Burke’s, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As true today as it was 200 years ago (except that today he would have said men and women). I can’t go on marches, the way thousands did last weekend all around the world. I can support organisations like Amnesty, I can show solidarity and add my signature to petitions and write to my MP. But none of these make me feel as if I’m creating any light in the darkness. 

I spend the first few minutes of every day after waking up simply filling the landscape of my heart and mind with light. I imagine I’m watching the sun rise and I watch it hit the tops of distant mountains and gradually flow down the slopes and into every valley. I consciously try to feel the warmth of the sun, and I greet it with every part of me. If I can start the day filled with light, it makes a difference to the way I read the news, the way I talk over breakfast with my husband, the way I think when I go out shopping, when I drive the car, when I speak to the assistant at the supermarket checkout. I smile more often. I think fewer dark thoughts, I’m less anxious and more relaxed. 

I think this can produce a chain reaction. I think it often does. 

Like a tiny ant, I’m not going to look up at the towering ant-hill above me and think, I can’t do this, building this is beyond me. I can simply be a good ant and do what I can as well as possible – and actually that feels good. And then I realise that there are thousands – millions – of us out there doing the same thing, glowing not terribly brightly but glowing all the same, and together we’re lighting the darkness like a string of fairy lights. 

Then I knew what I had to draw. 


10 thoughts on “Barbed Wire and Fairy Lights

  1. Beautiful writing, beautiful thoughts – expressed beautifully. Lovely drawings too. Thank you for this, I definitely believe in the ‘chain reaction’; I will work to be at least a fairy light…

  2. It was only last night that my bemusement turned to dread, I am realizing that the American people cannot or will not stop him. My dreams were dark. Some of my family live there, and my Canada is in a very tenuous position, though I am so thankful to be here. I couldn’t march either, but I cheered the world on, and when things are counted they know that for every one person who went, 10 people thought about it or couldn’t – I know we were counted too.
    My strategy is to be a voice – online or for a neighbour or my community. I’ll say something if I think I see or hear something wrong. I am a gay white disabled woman – and in younger days stood against the terrible prejudice of the AIDS crisis, and I know from experience, to stand and say to a friend: Don’t speak like that about people, I am one of them – is a powerful and attitude changing thing.
    So I write a letter to my MP when I can. I speak when I hear a wrong or racist thing. I am one small voice, but sometimes one is powerful.

    Thank you for your thoughts… I think that barbed wire must have been very troubling to draw, but it is.. beautiful.

    1. So glad you said that about being a voice. I am learning that there are ways in which I can speak, and to say something when in the past perhaps I might have stayed silent is something I’m finding myself increasingly able to do – and I think that to ‘stand and say to a friend’ is probably one of the most powerful things any of us can do. Thank you!

  3. Thank you for this powerful blog post… I think a lot of us are feeling powerless about what is out there today. But kindness can have a ripple effect and I think if we all show more kindness and not be silent when we see an injustice we can all be part of a sea of change.

    1. Thanks. I know there are many thousands of us who are urgently looking for ways to express solidarity and to protest, and this morning – in fact every morning – it seems we have even more of a need to do so. I agree – love, and not being afraid or u willing to speak out – as you say, we can be part of a sea of change.

  4. Yes, America is making great strides forward, proceeding from its first ever Black president to its first ever Russian president. People who are fearful and selfish enough to vote for a hate-filled demagogue are in no way qualified to think about how their selection will affect the rest of the world. Nor do they care, and I’m so sorry for that. I really like your fairy light drawing, which once again brings a question to mind–is there any way I can acquire one of your drawings? Are they available at a Website? Even a sketch? Over the years I have seen so many that I really like.

    1. Will get back to you on that, Tom – will send you an email. In a bit of a rush just now, off to sketch in the park before the light goes (or the weather changes!)

  5. Dapplegrey, this is beautiful writing. Here, heartbroken and dismayed in America, I see these sparks of possibility and positive action beginning and hope it isn’t too little, too late. Whatever else comes, despite or because of best efforts, this post and the matched artwork help fill me with light each time I revisit it. Thank you for your work.

  6. I think of you as one of these lights, and every time I read one of your poems the light sparkles! I really do feel that there are so many of us holding on to hope and lighting up a connected string of positivity in tiny, individual ways. We just have to keep doing it! It’s so good to hear from you and thank you so much for your lovely words. XXX

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