Wednesday, 7 March 2012

My Crystal Staircase

When working at the College library many moons ago, professors would oftten put a copy of required material on loan so that students' wouldn't have to buy a whole book to study at school or buy a book for a single piece of poetry.

This is how I came across Langston Hughes. 

Mr. Hughes was an African American poet. That by itself meant he was not widely read. He was read by me however. The professor dropped off a piece titled "Mother to Son" and I read it on my break.

The poem is as follows:

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It was a nice poem, soft and well written so I made a xerox of it where I stored it until I had forgotten I even had the thing. Then one day Dahy Kelly, a fine Northern Irishman from Belfast, entered my life.

Dahy didn't need to know this poem, he had lived it most of his life. A child of Catholic parents, growing up as a member of the minority of the people who inhabited his country, Northern Ireland, Dahy spoke a different language (Gaelic), and considered himself a separate unrecognized citizen which even had its own paramilitary force (The Provos). By the time Dahy was about eight years old the first of the hunger strikers, Bobby Sands, had died. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral mass alone.

Political leaders on both sides of the conflict died. Military and political groups would change agendas and sometimes even names. In single years 500 people would be killed, the majority civilians.

When Jane first met Dahy, she could not believe what he told her. This simply doesn't happen in the western world. We are talking about a country that shared two borders with the Republic of Ireland and near to England, not a Middle Eastern country in a faraway land as Lebanon.

So one day he brought her a small simple pamphlet (Dahy and I may have been friends but we didn't  share the same hobbies). This pamphlet he felt would explain to Jane exactly what  life was like where he grew up. It was titled "They Kill Children, Don't They?" and it documented with photographic illustrations the results of the so-called peaceful rubber bullets the British soldiers would use to disperse small crowds of children and teenagers. You read me correctly, it had photos of dead kids, killed by the British Army in power.

The world lost Dahy at the end of last week from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, surrounded by his family. He was 38 years old, a loving husband and father of two beautiful 7 year old twins, one boy and one girl  (they had their birthday the 3rd of March).

In lieu of flowers, Dahy asked for the money you would have spent on flowers, not a penny more or less, to be donated to a charity of your choice. If you do not have a specific charity in mind, please consider

MusicCares MAP Fund.
3030 Olympic Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404.

In addition, a brief visit to see if you are eligible to give another the gift of life through stem cell transplantation was also requested. This free and painless test can be ordered at

Finally, before you judge a fellow man, ask yourself if you have climbed up the crystal or wooden stairs? For someone once told me the wooden ones are made up of torn boards and have tacks. They aren't a place where you can sit down while you take a break from living your life.

Thank you from the Kellys, Paul and  Jane Ware. 

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post. I love Langston Hughes. This is my favorite poem of his, A Dream Deferred:

    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore--
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over--
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?