It’s taken me a long time to get round to introducing you, dear Reader, to someone who has always made me feel truly valued as a human being.
Over a lifetime there are remarkably few people who genuinely transmit this. Genuineness is precious.
This summer morning we arranged to meet in a Greenfield cafe for coffee.
I guess I sat quietly for about half an hour, making smiley faces at the sweet toddler two tables away, sitting comfortably on the floor, taking toys out of her bag and checking on me with a shy smile. I cut my fruit scone into Lego squares and buttered each one slowly, tasting each square like some old Buddhist monk.
Raja Miah, who is my found child, climbed the stairs, came across to hug me and ask if I would like another coffee, then disappeared to order them. If you’ve ever been to John Lennon Airport in Liverpool and come across the shining bronze statue of John Lennon, then that is the colour glow that glides into a room with Raj, along with playground hair and twinkly eyes.
There was a time some years ago, when we worked together long enough to recognise we shared a mutual distaste for injustice and a strong belief in the strengths of young people. Since then, we have stayed close.
When I retired, Raj invited me to come and work with him in Peacemaker – a project he was asked to take forward in the aftermath of the riots of 2001, when Oldham flared and the world knew about it. The work was rewarding amidst a young team with a cross-section of ages, where young people from different walks of life could show their strengths as mentors to others and take time to reflect on all they were experiencing and learning about collaboration, listening, challenging, respecting and walking alongside other young people in need of purpose and belonging.
Raj is someone who believes we have to charge our children and young people with listening and love, just as we charge our phones in order to communicate.
Our coffees came and we chatted about our friend Stuart Archer, now living in Barbados and on his sixth cycle of chemotherapy. Raj is flying out next week to sit in the sun and sort out the world with him.
I shall wait for news of Stuart when Raj gets back at the end of the month.
Eve is Raja and Gemma’s four year old daughter, born the day before our own granddaughter and the best thing, he says, that ever happened to him. He had just put her on a plane last evening, bound for California and time with precious uncles out there. Raj was missing her already.
He gets up at six and writes, working on his novel – maybe in several volumes when it’s finished. It’ll be worth a read when published, because he goes where angels fear to tread.
Northern Ireland is fluffing its feathers these days in the usual absence of recognition and valuing of its various voices by the English government. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose… There are some anxious people there.
One of the most positive residentials with Peacemaker was in Belfast, where the Oldham young people stayed in Queens University student rooms and got to know some of the outcomes of a city with divided communities. We saw the high fences, the union jack-daubed pavements, the murals, the museum pieces of war and we had the privilege of meeting some of the activists willing to share what The Troubles meant to them. We met with peoples’ representatives in Stormont – which is still struggling to find the means to collaborate today.
The Scona coffees were good and the wee toddler was ready for her morning sleep and tucked under her mum’s arm as they left. I showed Raj what he was taking to Barbados for us. Stuart has asked him for tomato ketchup and baked beans, just some of the small things Raj can do for his sick friend.
“I’ll come and have a cuppa with you as soon as I’m back”, he said as we parted.
His twinkly eyes softening into a serious gaze before he headed off to meet his friend for lunch in Manchester. We might go to Anfield together in August.