2nd January 2015
They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!! In the book I am currently writing about a robbery of the Lewis Chessmen from the British Museum, the radical poet who leads this enterprise sometimes loses touch with where he ends and Braveheart begins. Such are the lines we draw in the sand! This Christmas I watched a documentary called "Man On Wire," about Philippe Petit, an insane French man who had the vision in 1974 of crossing between the Twin Towers on a tight rope with no safety anything to catch him should he slip and fall. The shots of how the pavement on Manhattan looks from that far up resemble pictures of the continents from outer space. On top of the actual feat, Petit and his team of crazy people had to gain illegal access to the top of both buildings - the plan was to shoot an arrow across pulling a fishing line and then the steel cable that would stand between the man on wire and an enormous splat on the pavement below.
As you can imagine, all kinds of things went wrong - but all kinds of things went right. A night watchman? He hadn't thought of that. An easy-going lift operator? That lucky turn of events let them off the unenviable task of walking a quarter of a ton of steel cable up many flights of stairs. Then there was another guard, one who clearly saw them but must have been on something because he didn't see them enough to act on it. And then there was the mist in the early hours of that day that threatened to gum up the works and make everything much more dangerous.
And, good God, he did it! He spent forty-five minutes on his wire fourteen hundred feet above Manhattan, eight crosses, helicopters coming in for a newspaper shot, policemen at either end waiting to arrest him. Is our empathy with him? You bet your lives.
You see the line is very thin. So thin that the protagonist of my book hardly sees it. My name is William Wallace, here in defiance of tyranny. When I was back in Scotland for the Independence Referendum, the line was looking pretty hazy to me, too. The powers that be were looking awfully like tyrants. Civil disobedience was looking quite justifiable. Going to jail for it looked like a page from Braveheart. A friend of mine was hammering "Yes" into coins of the realm. I was forming a plan to take down a large high flying Union flag belonging to the aristocracy.
Lines in the sand. That's why the gods decided to give us hubris. A dangerous little arrow, that. As Philippe Petit puts it, "There something much more supreme than life." It's the ability to laugh in the face of life and everything it throws at us.
Here are some words at the beginning of 2015 from our very own Scottish wordsmith:
Ye see yon berkie called a Lord,
Who struts and stares and all that.
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a fool for all that.
For a' that and a' that.
His ribband star and all that.
The man o' independent mind.
He looks and laughs at all that.
As we move across the line from one year to the next, may you and yours keep this in mind: The ability to keep laughing at a' that is a gift to us from the gods.