Sylvia Shawcross

Sometimes when it is grey and damp and the air is heavy with the taste of a dreary day you can go down to the other side of town where buildings are small and old and cluttered and the cement seems to meld into the houses that crouch along the sidewalks. And there, sandwiched between the dank hotel now closed and the desolate pub loud with the raucous cry of humans is a wide stretch of empty pavement.

It is not something really to go to see but sometimes I just go to see it.

I drive my way down there in the wet to stop to watch the seagulls. I could go to the park of course, or the river but I go there. I could also maybe find a dank field far outside of town where the seagulls mingle with the Canadian geese in the scrubble of harvested land but I don’t.

I go there. To that place.

I never bring anyone else with me because really they’d think me mad as a hatter sitting there in my car watching through the rain at what looks pretty much like nothing.

I used to bring some bread to feed the seagulls but I don’t anymore. I don’t want to encourage them. You can find a seagull now pretty much anywhere there is a cement parking lot. In a sense there is only one thing special about this place and that is at the far end a broken boarded up chip wagon. It’s been that way for years. Closed. And yet. The seagulls still come. They sit in patient clusters in the rain and I sit there watching them.

Because I want to know. I want to know why they are there. Still there after all these years waiting for the chip wagon to open. And it never will. One day they will tear it down and haul it away and will the seagulls still sit there? Waiting for the people to throw them chips?

I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll know but for now it is enough to know they are still littering the pavement like crumpled papers in the wet wind thrown there by a disgruntled writer searching for an opening line.

We are so far inland from the sea here I can’t believe they would have followed the Saint Laurence Seaway. Perhaps their ancestors did. I don’t know. I figure they are there because they don’t know about how it used to be to be wild and free and sweeping feathers in the salty air of the Atlantic Ocean where food is still plentiful.

They couldn’t possibly know this or they would fly free and away from this dark place where the wet is cold and the air is thick and dusty. They just don’t remember it or they never had it.

And that is where we all are now. We won’t remember freedom anymore. And how can we expect the generations growing up with computers to understand that there is an ocean not so far away where they did not have to wait for what they needed? They did not have to beg. They did not have to sit sodden in the grey cities waiting. They did not have to fight amongst themselves for bits of chips that might never come.

If they don’t remember freedom or if they have never had it, how can we expect them to fight for it? Do they even have any freedom left to lose? Is it the idea that freedom means responsibility and they are afraid of that? Afraid of their own shadowed selves? Afraid of what they don’t know?

It is the greatest challenge we have right now to instruct the generations coming up about how wars were fought for the very freedom they are handing over through ignorance or fear. The real freedom. Not the ones they’re being told is fighting for freedom. That the freedom they need to support comes from their very hearts. And that takes a courage they also don’t know. They might not know it but it is there.

History tells us the same thing over and over, that the victors in such battles are the ones who saw and pushed a bright and happy future (Workers of the world unite, the Great Leap Forward, Make Germany Great Again) and so it is the challenge now.

Surely after all that we have learned we have not become gullible again? It seems so.

The truth ultimately will not matter if it is always dark and the ones that may well win may be full of lies and delusion but it is what people have always gravitated towards. The ones that win are almost always selling a utopia. That is the challenge: to make the truth a future worth living.

I don’t know. I just watch the seagulls sitting.

Syl Shawcross lives in the province of Quebec, Canada.


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