Today, as my husband slinked into the sitting room to eat his dinner in peace, something unusual happened. Within thirty seconds he’d come back out into the kitchen and said in a casual tone certainly unfitting to the matter at hand, ‘There’s a bird flying around the sitting room.’
I closed my eyes as I imagined our black leather couch now covered in those trademark yellow and white stains. ‘You’re not bloody serious?’
‘Afraid so. We shouldn’t have left the front door open.’
Now, if you asked me if I was afraid of birds, I’d normally say no. But you’d need to contextualise. For example, I have no problem watching autumn migrations or gatherings of birds in the garden. Hell, because my daughter is a nature fanatic, I often have to follow them around the park, driving my wheelchair as slowly as possible so that it doesn’t ‘click’ and frighten them away. But the thought of one trapped in our sitting room, flying frantically, trying to escape, filled me with trepidation.
Walking softly towards the sitting room I peered in to see a little robin, with a fiercely red breast, casually exploring our sitting room. My husband and I looked at each other and smiled slightly, and I recognised something in him I wasn’t expecting, a softness. Normally, we would both be sort of like get that bird out of our sitting room before he shites everywhere, but this was different. It felt like a presence, like an unexpected but welcome visitor. One of our mothers, perhaps, or Maisie, my mum’s friend who, before she closed her eyes for the last time just two months ago, gave me a green card with a little redbreast robin on it. The card simply read Thinking of You.
‘We have to guide him out, before he has a heart attack,’ my husband finally conceded, before gently herding him towards the front door and closing it.
For the superstitious among you, I’m sure you know that a robin is meant to represent a loved one since passed, and its presence symbolises that he/she is thinking of you, that he or she is near. For me, however, robins represent childhood innocence, dependability. Growing up, we had a conservatory at home and one morning, a little robin hopped in through the open doors while we all watched silently. He explored a little, he sang and he left. Soon, that same robin (or so we liked to think at least) came back every morning, let himself into the conservatory and made himself at home. It became routine, a ritual, and when I saw that robin this evening I was instantly reminded of it.
That association with robins is a legacy left to me by my parents. It’s funny how, even though that era is now gone, I remember not so much the robin, but how I felt when we all saw it for the first time, over twenty years ago. The wonder. The quiet respect.
I’ve been thinking about legacies lately, not least because on Saturday, over two hundred activists will come together in Mansion House to remember the influence that disability activists, both past and present, have had over our lives. That space will allow us to reflect on the achievements of the past, and to be thankful for what has been achieved in the name of people with disabilities thus far. But it’s also an acknowledgement that once Saturday’s event is over, we need to continue looking forward, keep striving towards true equality, ensure that our voices are always heard.
Like the robin from my childhood, some of us thought that these people were invincible, that no matter what, they would always be there. My memories of those who I will be remembering on Saturday are sometimes the only fuel that keeps me involved in activism. Sooner or later, we are going to have to look at the future, and it can be scary when someone we looked up to, be that a parent or sibling in the literal or figurative sense, is no longer here to guide us.
When it seems that all the greatness of the world is slowly disappearing, will we be able to find the courage to look within ourselves. to see what we can offer? And if we can’t trust ourselves to do this, who can we trust to educate our legacies to our children? That’s why we need to tell them about the past, the robin. We all need to know where we came from.
And sometimes we need a reminder, so that we may create meaningful legacies for them. We need to remember the past, not to live in it, but rather to use it as a blueprint to make our own mark in history.