This week we shared our space with a French TV crew (Mel on TV yet again...); several minke whales, which have been cruising up and down the bay regularly for a week now; Manx shearwater, puffins, guillemot...swallows, cuckoos...enthusiastic engineers from Yorkshire and depressed geology students from Edinburgh, who are not happy ("And we're on our own...in a camping cabin...and we don't know anyone...and we have to stay for FOUR WEEKS...and the midges are IN THE CABIN..."). (Oh yes - did I mention sharing space with about 1,000,000,000 midges too? They have no problem making contact with us.) But we've also been privileged to share our own space with Bonnie the dog, whom we were lucky enough to get to look after for a week. And last but not least, Jesus visited...proving that it's not always easy to entertain angels - or would-be angels - unawares.
I spoke too soon about music - we had a rather difficult session when we were unexpectedly joined by a young lad who seemed to have wandered on to the island by accident. With long hair, a beard and bare feet he seemed to be rocking the Jesus look but sadly didn't act like it. He drank way too much at the bar on Saturday night while lighting a trangy fire in the hall entrance to cook dinner, abandoned his obviously distressed and equally young girlfriend in order to "find himself" by overnighting at Harris; and managed to piss off most of the people on the island in an incredibly short space of time in one way or another. Now it was our turn. He joined in our music session, literally elbowing Steve out of the way so that he could display his musical talents and tell us how well he understood "all this stuff". True, he was okay at the guitar - it was people skills he obviously lacked. We all struggled to find the dynamic we'd had as a group before, but couldn't bring ourselves to tell him to leave - we agreed later that "you just can't". Music is not something you want to exclude people from no matter how much they annoy you...The final straw was when he slept on the sofa in the Community Hall, leaving his food unwrapped in a corner and unplugging all the equipment, thereby temporarily wrecking the post office system, so that he could charge his various gadgets, without offering to pay for anything. I came in the next day for the cafe only to find him sat telling one of our regular visitors all about how he was going to come and live on Rum and contribute to the community, because it was so spiritual here...In the shop, everyone was very upset!
Odd how just one person with no sense of community - despite what he was saying - can make such a difference to how people feel. Unable to contain myself any longer I "had words" and explained that all of us were part of a small, struggling community and it's not OK to come and doss for free in a community space, upset non-drinkers by trying to force them to drink whisky or wander round in bare feet in our cafe. Especially as the feet were not very clean...Upon this, he was shocked and said he was sorry, he had intended to offer to pay for stuff...just hadn't got around to it. And he put his boots back on.
I felt sorry too. I recognised in both him and his girlfriend a search for something - the craving to find somewhere that is different from Normalworld and won't judge you in the same way. Clearly, they'd assumed that drinking was the way to people's hearts. But it isn't - not here. Lots of people know the dark side of alcohol all too well and while some of us like a tipple there are few people who actually get drunk in the way that these two lost souls were doing. She was just 19, I put him at not much older. We all felt responsible for them, without really knowing what to do.
But I somehow felt a need to engage with this person who wanted to be so close to our community ("our"? That's not how I would have felt a year ago), yet was so remote from understanding it. I was ashamed of my own lack of empathy, so later on, I spoke to him again, trying to explain why I'd said what I did. The point is, that a community, much like a relationship, isn't something you can judge from the outside, nor can you become part of it just by saying that you want to be. I could tell he genuinely wanted to be part of something better and to do something good - just had no idea how. So I suggested to him, with all my own failings in mind since I got here, that he should really talk to people first, to find out what is needed, what he can do, where he could make a difference. I explained that drink and drugs don't go down too well here - we're a tiny place where anything that gets out of control has a massive impact as we can't contain it.
Strange how I felt I had to leap to the defence of a community I haven't known how to deal with myself much of the time. I had a really strong sense of needing to tell it as it is - not to let people romanticise what life is like here, not to set us up as some kind of antidote to the rest of the world. We are part of that world too. A different part maybe, but still dealing with the same issues as most other people - how to live with other people, how to create our own livelihood here...and what I find most upsetting, the assumption that we all just doss about as we don't live in the Real World. Well, as I explained to one regular Rum visitor who was telling me that the young guy was a "good soul" who had just "never had much money" - none of us have much money, in fact most of us have at least two jobs to make ends meet. He obviously saw me as a rampant capitalist intent on screwing the last cent out of someone who had nothing. I'm not really (even if I don't do free coffee refills!). I just wanted the responsibility we all have for our island, to be shared by the people who visit it.
But it wasn't just that. To be honest, the reason I'd spoken to "Jesus" was more about remembering how lost I was at 19 and how much I desperately needed people's feedback about what I was doing and the effect I had on them, on the world. Did I have any effect at all? I needed to know. But that can be true just as much now as it was then. I've often had the sense here either that you have way too much responsibility, or not enough. I never know how I am affecting the community, though I hope it's more positive than negative. Poor Jesus. He had no idea that his simple "I heart Rum" outlook would meet with such a forceful response and I expect he just wanted people to be nice to him. I will try. But that's a whole new challenge...
|Bridge that gap...dog and me|