Letters From Quotidia Episode 197 Meanwhile, My Youngest Son Came Home Today

Quentin Bega
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Letters From Quotidia Episode 197 Meanwhile, My Youngest Song Came Home Today

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 197– a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Adverbs are tricky. They are tricky because they qualify the verb or adjective and can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically. Take, I love you. What a wonderful sentence, what a wonderful sentiment. One I hope you have heard- and often if you are lucky. But suppose we add a qualifier: I love you, occasionally. As opposed to: I love you, forever. Now, you may prefer the former formulation as being truer to your particular way of looking at life or, indeed, your circumstances rather than the aspirational- and, frankly, unverifiable- latter gush-I love you, forever.

The same caveat applies to adverbial phrases, as well. Which formulation fills you with more confidence: I will pay you what I owe OR I will pay you what I owe, in the fulness of time. Why, you may ask, am I wittering on about pedantic issues of grammar and usage- when the whole world is poised upon the precipice of doom? I do not think I am alone in thinking the present crisis in Ukraine truly existential. It reminds me of the climactic scenes in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo looks as though he will fail in his quest to save Middle Earth from an apocalyptic future.

I note that the Russian side have also visited the Tolkien masterpiece. Having been widely lambasted  for trying, unsuccessfully, to stick the label of Nazi on the Jewish President Zelensky, whose grandfather fought the Nazis in World War II, they are now trying to de-humanise a whole country by drawing a parallel between the creature Gollum and Ukrainians- and to capture the attention of the pious, they label as satanic the regime that has so successfully resisted their brutal invasion. And cheering this unholy alliance of trolls, propagandists and sycophantic self-servers who seek to demonise Ukraine and its people is the Russian Orthodox leader, Patriarch Kirill- shame on him!  

So, on Easter Saturday, I was alone in my room, staring at my computer where the cursor was blinking on the blank page in front of me. Were I prone to the excesses of personification, I might say that blinking cursor was mocking me! Nevertheless-which is another adverb, nevertheless- alone in the house, the rest of the family occupied with their own agendas, I was free, for a few hours to mope about the fact that I was unable to write an original song and had been in this desiccated state for the past five weeks. Writer’s block is a phenomenon not unknown to me- as I have related in previous Letters.

But surely, I addressed my recalcitrant muses, surely, the dire situation we are all facing ought to spark something? And my plea- or was it a prayer?- was answered. Meanwhile. That was it. Just that word. Meanwhile. And, do you know, it was enough. Around that adverb, I was able to pull together words to a chord sequence I had written for Letters From Quotidia 192– but which I had failed to deliver on that date. Better later than never, then? Oh, come on! Cliches are OK if they are true, aren’t they? In the meantime, shall we unpack meanwhile? According to my internet dictionary, its meanings are, in the intervening period of time, OR, at the same time, OR, on the other hand.

My failure to write an original song wasn’t the only thing bugging me, though. I also reflected on the fact that we (and I do include myself here) are fickle consumers of news in the West. Was Ukraine the only instance of horror operating in the world? Of course not. Horror manifests its depredations elsewhere today, from Myanmar to Yemen to sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America, to the Middle East. And horror does not neglect the quotidian world either as it drills down into the cosy and supposedly safe domain of the domestic realm to spread misery.

After writing the song, I attended the Easter Vigil at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kingswood, Western Sydney. It starts in the darkness outside, then a fire is lit and the congregation process inside, where, from the Paschal candle the light spreads through the darkened church from person to person holding their own candles; then a series of seven readings and  sung responsorial psalms from the Old and New Testaments lead to a continuous peal of bells as the Gloria is sung, the purple shrouds removed from  the altar statues and  the icon  of Joseph and  the child Jesus. The church is flooded with light. The service was particularly moving this year, and I felt a real connection to those people under attack  because our parish is administered by Polish Dominican priests who have made available to us a series of  letters from Dominicans serving in Ukraine detailing the unfolding tragedy over the past few weeks.

I read and collect poems from the site Poem-a-Day. One of these, by Palestinian poet, Mosab Abu Toha, stopped me in my tracks, because the decades-long agony of his people has not yet been resolved but was driven from my mind by the foregrounding of what was happening in eastern Europe. Yet another reason I am grateful to the poets of the world, past and present. Mosab Abu Toha is the founder of the Edward Said Library, Gaza’s only English-language library, and is a former visiting poet at Harvard’s department of comparative literature. Here is his poem, Mouth Still Open, Someone’s mouth is still open. He hadn’t finished yawning when shrapnel pierced through his chest, stung his heart. No wind could stop the flying pieces of shrapnel. Even the sparrow on the lemon tree nearby wondered how they could move with no wings. I encourage you to visit the site to see the poet’s arrangement of words on the page, which adds significantly to their meaning. But the song I have written for this Letter is focused on what is happening, in front of our eyes, from the TV coverage of events in Ukraine. Here is Meanwhile, [insert song]

This post now returns to the format established previously; that is, an original song and one from the folk tradition. I will close this Letter with a song written by Eric Bogle, one of Australians finest songwriters. Its title, My Youngest Son Came Home Today. From his 1982 album, Scraps of Paper, the song captures the anguish of a parent burying  their young son, killed in the Northern Irish conflict which tore apart Belfast from 1969 to 1998 when the Good Friday agreement was signed, establishing a precarious peace. The song does not specify from which tradition the dead man comes. Over the years it has been co-opted by the Republican side and the lyrics do seem to support this. Wikipedia observes, When Billy Bragg covered the song, he changed the line dreams of freedom unfulfilled (which echoes the language of Nationalists) to dreams of glory unfulfilled. This allows both traditions, Republican and Loyalist, to share in the grief the world of the song generates- and for this reason I have incorporated Bragg’s amended solitary word in my own version.

In times past, representations of grief, such as Michelangelo’s Pieta where Mary holds the body of the dead Jesus across her lap, speaks powerfully of sorrow, compassion, and devotion. Just days ago, the anguish on President Zelensky’s face, captured by a photographer, when he was asked to comment on the video of the woman who found her slain son in a well demonstrates the power of visual imagery in the 21st Century.

Departing from my usual practice, I will not wait until Friday morning to post this letter but will do so when I finish recording this episode of Letters From Quotidia so, I will end with the observation that the Polish Dominican, Jarolsav Krawiec, the provincial vicar, who has written eloquently about the past weeks of conflict in Ukraine,  refers in his letters to the power of poetry, music, art and prayer as the members of his community work to cope with the unfolding challenges in a country changing by the hour. Now for the song My Youngest Son Came Home Today, as so many will from these latest killing fields.[insert song]

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.

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