Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Remembered by God

“Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty lived here.” It is a modest house, literally just around the corner. It was in darkness this morning, but this evening, the open curtains and bright lights indoors display a carved wooden screen and numerous portraits. The house looks cosy, if cluttered, and quite attractive.

Quite amazing, really. Someone whose name has gone down in history for his brutality to those who served under him, lived in a terraced house almost indistinguishable from those on either side of it. How many of his neighbours would have been able to visualise the creaking wooden ship, the masts with their rigging and the ‘crow’s nest’ for the lookout to perch regardless of the weather? The black waters of the Thames and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean could scarcely be compared.

Life at sea was one of hardship, but apparently Captain Bligh took things to extremes on the Bounty, virtually making rebellion inevitable.

It is a long story, immortalised by the cinema. Yet, although more than a century has passed since that mutiny, time has not erased the fact of today’s hardship for many thousands across the world. A poster fixed to hoardings throughout Rome shows a small boy, perhaps aged about 8 years old, working away at a sewing machine, making luxury goods that he will never enjoy.

Not far away along the Thames Embankment is an exact replica of another ship, the Golden Hinde of Francis Drake. It is tiny, and yet its crew braved the Atlantic, even bringing back the humble potato to England…and therein lies another tale. It is a story of courage and perseverance, admittedly also at cost to others, for thus began some of the plunder of the riches of South America.

How often does it happen that a person achieves greatness on the backs of others? When, for instance, David Livingstone ‘discovered’ so many parts of modern Zambia and the magnificence of the Victoria Falls, his name will be carried from the past into the present and on into the future. Apart from in his own family, was John Mumpa’s name recorded for his achievement in organising Livingstone’s abundant baggage and supplies? Mumpa himself was rewarded for his efforts with an empty and rather battered metal trunk (once it had been emptied of all useful articles, of course).

Some of Captain Bligh’s crew had their names recorded for posterity, but in shame, not in glory, because they rebelled against injustice. The names of Francis Drake’s crew are long forgotten. John Mumpa? Well, I know of him only because his great-grandson told me of his exploits and showed me the trunk, still being used to protect household belongings.

Fortunately, in reality, the little ones are not forgotten. Jesus immortalised them in promising that even the humble sparrow is precious to his Father. It is rather more useful to be remembered by God than by the newspapers!

God bless,
Sr. Janet