Recognising the Need to Soldier-On
by Gordon Kinghorn
I suspected for a couple of years that ‘things’ within me were not too good, a once-enjoyable job had transformed itself in a chore of almost Herculean proportion, my thirty-plus year marriage had entered a stage of wane and any sense of accomplishment – well, that was reserved for those who could adroitly scale K2 or negotiate the rodent-race on a daily basis and come out of it relatively unscathed.
I sensed that what aided and abetted my mental decline; lay with the fact that I had been a military man for three and half decades – the potpourri of activity and challenges which this occupation threw-up, did not lend itself to coping adequately with the travails of civilian life.
About a year ago, a female relative, one who had entered the ‘darkness’, as she so articulately coined her one-time sense of depression, informed me that there existed considerable and unforeseen opportunities to arise from gloom, the same which had affected us both in the identical manner, including the way in which our sleeping and eating cycles were affected, to say nothing of our respective sense of low esteem.
She found liberty and a long-term panacea from what ailed through love, something she never discovered throughout the first thirty-one years of adult life, I on the other hand, although disenchanted with a beyond-sell-by-date marriage, contemplated that it may take something more to alleviate the negativity and despair I was experiencing.
On a whim, I opted to return to the city of my Birth – Edinburgh, to re-trace the steps of my youth.
Whilst there, I popped down to the district of Leith, an old teenage stomping ground of the 1960s. In these days it was a pretty grim area, made up of docks, forbidding pubs and many houses of ill-repute. As a teenager, both my friends and I used to frequent the vicinity as it had a club that played nothing but black American Blues, this genre of music remaining a passion of mine till this day.
After walking for some hours and clearing my head, it came to me that nowadays, Leith is very much at the forefront of everything Avant-garde, completely cleaned-up - with the docks now long gone, along with the likes of the ladies who plied there trades on the windy street corners around the quayside, some who were unflatteringly referred to as; Pru the Pro - Wendy (Pay before you enter) McIntosh - and Limp-along Lisa, (she had a wooden right leg).
Now it’s all small state-of-the art theatres, fine restaurants and extremely expensive apartments owned by show business personnel, bankers and who knows, maybe some modern-day equivalents of the afore-mentioned gals of days gone by.
Feeling suitably refreshed after my saunter down memory-lane, I invited my cousin Rose to join me for a meal in this once destitute part of town, the very next day,
La Favorita proved to be a wise choice, we intimately imbibed and eat and talked incessantly of days gone. Some three hours later, we left the restaurant and headed for home, As we sauntered cheerily along one of Leith’s busy thoroughfares on that chilly Wednesday evening, we passed a group of three to four down- and-outs, all male and not looking too good, either waiting for a Salvation Army Soup Wagon or the local constabulary to move them on.
As we passed, I heard a voice saying, “Good evening sir, nice to see you again”. On looking round, I was greeted by a somewhat dishevelled male wearing something akin to a cheery smile, I was shocked to discover that the character in question was one of my former corporal’s who had fought alongside me in Northern Ireland – one who was always affectionately known as ‘Spider’.
‘Spider’ completed twenty-two years a soldier and a damn fine one he was too, yet he succumbed to ‘Flashback’ and then the ‘bottle’. With that, his marriage hit-the-wall and he in turn, hit-the- streets, that appalling void at the end-of-the-world and a point of no return for many.
We talked for a while and I offered to get him accommodation and a hot meal, he said he was quite content to stay with his ‘friends’ and see the night out, as all other nights - on the streets – and therefore not to worry about him. I felt quite pathetic when I slipped a twenty into his hand, this man had been one of the bravest and fittest I knew when the troubles were at their height, yet, here he was, on Skid Row with nowhere to go.
We couldn’t exchange address because he doesn’t have one, or email or telephone numbers. He exists on God’s tolerance and a paltry pension from the Armed Forces in which he once thrived.
Since that moment, I have given my time to former soldiers such as ‘Spider’ and subsequently, never looked back. The moody melancholy I experienced has now long since gone and thinking about ‘me’ has taken second-place to thinking of others.
People experience far worse than my cousin or I indeed did, however, if one senses an outlet through mixing with and/or enabling others…then go for it!
I shall never look back to the grimmer times – too many others have much worse to endure than me.
© 2102 Gordon G Kinghorn
Wendy: Gordon, I just experienced a week of volunteering at church for an Emergency Homeless Shelter for 20 women and 10 children. These homeless folks move from church to church every week, volunteers provide their meals, drive them to work and the kids to school. I pray these ladies follow through and find new lives.. not on the streets.
We are so blessed....