And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind .
I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour …
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
If you are wondering about the catalyst that reminded me of a few lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’, it was my teenage son’s request to be allowed to explore the world with his friends. While I maintained a tough exterior, a storm was brewing inside me. I could not deny him the company of his friends as he was fifteen and as we’re not living in a social vacuum I knew, despite my apprehensions, I had to consent to his behest. I was instantaneously plagued by a thousand reasons as to why I should not allow him to leave the safety of our home and step out into a world where pedophiles, miscreants, racists and dangerous gangs roamed freely. I have never seen him in conflict with his friends and hence I am not sure if he is a strong person who could refute when pressured to have alcohol, drugs, smokes etc. Hailing from the South-west area of Sydney, where socio-economic conditions often influence the behaviour of teenagers, it is not uncommon to hear stories about how an unfortunate youth of good reputation was arrested for being in the company of bad friends by the cops for charges such as shop lifting or armed robbery etc.
Memories of 60 minutes, a current affairs program on Channel 9, that came flooding to my mind did not quell the raging storm ravaging my psyche. Jake Bilardi was a normal Australian teenager studying for his Year 12 exams who spent most of his time on the internet and in isolation. A year later the world knew him as Jihad Jake who had become a terrorist after having converted to Islam and who drove a van filled with explosives into Iraqi troops on a suicide bombing mission, which failed. The father of the Melbourne teenager blamed some manipulating forces for having brainwashed his son and used him for militant purposes. Did Jake Bilardi’s father anticipate ill fate to interfere with his son, who having discarded his cocoon of isolation, started spending hours outside his home? Definitely not.
In December 2014,’The Sydney Morning Herald’ reported Taha ElBaf, “a Sydney high school student who liked bodybuilding, rugby league and doing his homework has become the latest Australian believed to be fighting for Islamic State.” Taha ElBaf and his three brothers claimed that they had won a holiday ticket to Thailand, however without the knowledge of their parents they then booked tickets to Turkey from where they headed to Syria to fight for the Islamic state. Could the ElBaf family have foreseen their irrevocable fate in sending their teenage sons for a holiday trip to Thailand? Absolutely not. Would my daring venture of letting my son mingle in social circles end up in unpleasant brawls or fights that would leave him scarred for ever? Fearsome facts provided by media paralysed me for a significant period of time. I had obtained my father’s permission to go to the cinemas with my friends to watch the then popular romance film and he reluctantly allowed me to experience the thrill and fun one has when spreading ones wings. Was he as apprehensive as I am today? I could not tell.
Eventually, I decided to let things take its natural course in the hope that good spirits or God would watch over him. Amit Ray in his book ‘World Peace: The Voice of a Mountain Bird’ was right in his observation ‘A bird is safe in its nest – but that is not what its wings are made for.’