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Around The Sun: Thoughts On Pride And Death

Steve Harrison finds peace and self-awareness in the harsh reality of a market in Vietnam.

I was an arrogant and cocky white boy in a sea of yellow – a member of the supreme race, walking defiantly against the teeming masses. I was taller than any of them, stronger than any of them, far better educated than any of them. And I was English, a one-off in the midst of this boiling herd of a million humans.

Why didn’t they “kowtow” before me?

I was ruled by my own pride, overwhelmed by self importance. I was in the grip if self. Me, me, me!

I could smell flowers. A riot of colour and powerful scents drew me into a narrow side lane. There were bunches of flowers, yellows and reds, greens and blues. These gave way to fruit and vegetables. I was lured onwards. The produce of the land gave way to that of the rivers and seas. Catfish writhed in wicker baskets. There were frogs by the barrel-load, each frog trying to leap in a different direcion to all the others. Fish thicker than a man's thigh lay gasping in two inches of water, gazing with staring eyes for an exit which did not exist.

A beggar with stumps for legs and only one arm grabbed hold of me. I looked down into eyes which I thought were incapable of understanding my elevated position in the world.

At the end of this cul-de-sac were chickens and ducks, cramped and imprisoned in wicker cages, awaiting their destiny. Some of their brothers and sisters had already met it. Their feathers had been plucked out. They lay there, grey or yellowy-white in death. The birds still alive knew the fate that awaited them. Hopelessness was written in their eyes. A rough hand grabbed a healthy hen by the scruff of her neck. Her wings were secured behind her back. Her neck was stretched taut. Red legs clawed frantically at the air. The grip of the human hand was unrelenting. The hen's throat was cut. Blood spurted. Life blood gushed, then the gush became a trickle, like that from an old leaky tap.

The bird's feet still moved, trying to run, running nowhere. The man released his grip. Now the hen really did try to run, but she was in another fateful grip from which there was no escape. Soon she would be a sweet taste in someone's mouth.

I turned to walk away from the drama. My legs felt unsteady. Somehow, while watching the life blood drain from the creature my pride had drained away from me. I seemed to be smaller, deflated, humble.

I said a prayer to the great and powerful one that watches over all things, aware that I shared a common destiny. I was just one among millions, but with a new heart which was filled with peace and wonder at the beauty which surrounds us in every one of our waking moments.

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