Writing on Robben Island – 6 November 2001

Prison walls on Robben Island

Random thoughts inspired by this amazing place

Nothing can stop the hand moving once it starts. It makes the line around the world. The line between night and day, the line between beginning and ending and then starts the beginning again while the scratches of the pen are the drumbeats of the present which dance us into the future.

No amount of knowing or not knowing can stop the rhythm of the writing. It connects as it separates and the separation becomes a connection through the ages.

And so I sit on this ancient mountain jutting shallowly out of the sea and think of the millions of people who have read about it all over the world and who by the writing are connected to the first people who sat here close to where I am now and watched the clouds tinged with pink sun’s fire just as they are now separated by thousands of years but joined by these lines I’m writing.

Leaving Cape Town for the Island

They are flesh of my flesh and bones of my bones and the air going in and out of my nostrils passed through theirs also. And so the pen scratches on breathing new life into my and their brains, our hearts connected by the rhythm of life and the breathing of the waves on the rocky shore.

And as the pain of birth is fulfilled by the pain of death, the pain of our separation is fulfilled by the pain of our connection. I can never know what they thought or felt as they looked at the clouds with the sound of the sea in their ears. But I feel their hearts beating in the beat of mine.

Bitter cold and searing heat connect me to them as the stones on the path hurt my feet. And although I cannot know their joys or their pains my tears are their tears, my fears are their fears.

The little cairn of stones in the famous lime quarry. Started by Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990

And I taste the bitter salt of the sea even as I see the glory of the new day’s beginning.

And so night after night has gone by here, season followed season to bring me here to hear again the song of the earth and its people in a new key.

Each generation will grow in the humus of the suffering of the previous one and lives are enriched by hard stone chipped patiently or impatiently away.

The silence of its end

And still the pen keeps moving echoing the sound of the blood in my veins and the cries of the sea birds haggling over their catch. And my hope is to know one thing at a time. To know it in my heart and in the soles of my feet as they touch the rough stones of experience or feel the soft grass of love growing over the place of death.

What is my role in this long chain of experience symbolised by the words roughly scrawled across the page? I think it is to allow the words to flow out with the ink and connect me to all those people who through the ages past have walked here and who in ages to come will walk here again.

Me standing in Mandela’s cell in the Robben Island prison

I can’t know them but I am them. I can’t feel them but I am them. And all I can do is hope that as their words flow onto the page I don’t stop the pen but let it go on until the next one is ready to start here and pick up the rhythm of this song to keep its harmonies ‑­rising to the clouds or echoing across the bay as long as people have breath, until the last heart beat fades and this great music rejoins its source in the spheres.

And the silence of its end is the silence of its beginning again.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2008

~ by Tony McGregor on September 3, 2012.

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