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Making a difference

My father, now in his late eighties, is a pillar of
society. Respectable and respectful. Kind, caring,
polite and honest. An upstanding citizen in every
way. Though he lost an eye as a young boy, like
so many of his generation, he played his part
in World War II, going to Europe 3-days after
D-Day. As a Royal Signals engineer his role
was one of communications and, again
like so many others, he has his own
stories he could tell of bravery and
heroism ... if he chose to do so.
It is hard with such a person to
single out just one event that
conjures up the essence of the
man. Acts of generosity and
caring do not display the courage
he possesses. Brave deeds during
wartime do not depict his caring
nature. However, there is one event
that occurred to which I bore witness
that does, in my very biased opinion,
define the man most completely.

I was about 11 or 12 perhaps. My parents, my sister and I were on holiday at a popular seaside resort ... possibly Blackpool. We were strolling aimlessly along the beach enjoying the sea air and thinking of nothing in particular. I was half aware that there were Donkey rides on the sand and only semi-consciously aware of small clusters of people around the get on/get off point. Then my attention was grabbed by a group of youths laughing and pointing. My eyes followed their gesticulations as I became aware of more and more people turning and laughing. My eyes rested on a donkey with a problem.

To appreciate the laughter and the comicalness of the scene it is necessary for me to describe a young man. I do so to aid both my story and his and not from any point of disrespect or ridicule. The young man was of indeterminate age. He was clearly mentally retarded and I can only guess at his real age. Let us say twenty. He was very tall, certainly over six foot six and conceivably six foot nine inches. He was as thin as could be which made him exceptionally lanky and very matchstick man in appearance. Because of his mental age he had wanted to ride on a donkey and his mother had allowed it. Perched atop the donkey, with his feet in stirrups set to the right length for your average 7 or 8 year old, he looked a spectacle. Given the way the donkey's back was bending under his weight, the spectacle was an extremely funny thing to see ... but that was before he started to slide.

The boy's weight had caused the saddle to twist. He was doing his best to hang on to the donkey's neck with one leg hooked over the donkey's back and the other caught in the stirrup under the donkey's belly, he had only the desperate pushing of his small and frail mother between him and the sand. The fall of two or three feet wouldn't have hurt him, but he didn't know that ... and he was afraid. Shouting "Mummy, mummy" at the top of his very masculine voice only added to the immense amusement of all those watching. All those bar one.

Almost before I had fully realised what was happening, my father was running across the sand. Round to the far side of the donkey, where the lad was hanging, he pushed his head under the boy's armpit, pulled his arm around his shoulder, took the boy's weight, and dragged him from the donkey allowing him to put his feet down on the sand. As my father wrestled this large ungainly stick insect of a human puppet he himself became the subject of the crowds increasing amusement. As the boy finally stood, towering above my father's meagre 5 foot 8 frame, he was crying hysterically and threw his arms around his mother to sob uncontrollably on her shoulder. The mother comforted her son, the son cried out loud, the crowds continued to laugh, my father walked away ... the donkey sighed.

I was ashamed that day. Ashamed to be part of a 'civilised' society. Ashamed at the conduct of my fellow man. That day, one of our less fortunate citizens found himself in a situation that, for him, was terrifying. We, the general public laughed. What greater goal is there for our time on this earth than to make a difference ... to let our existence count for something. That day, on that beach, hundreds of people had the opportunity to make a difference. Only one did. My Dad.