(For some, the ultimate journey)
This poem is about challenge; about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. But most particularly, it is about not bearing life’s burden on your own, but rather learning how to ask for help, how to share concern or worry. For some things in life, you cannot just ‘tough it out’. However strong you think you may be, there are some challenges in life that you cannot, nay should not tackle alone, because everyone has their limits; there is always a barrier, either physical or emotional or both, that will inhibit the progress of any man or woman; will put a stop to their journeys.
Perhaps this is because, once you show your vulnerability, far from becoming prey to vultures and demons, you will also attract the support of true human beings, those who are true team players, those who care. And anybody who endeavours to achieve things that not everyone would attempt, has that spirit. It is often a spirit born of near death experience, but may also be a response to physical and emotional pain.
It is both these things that four men from the British armed forces set out to overcome in a seemingly impossible challenge. These four servicemen, who were all injured in combat in Afghanistan, set out to enter the record books as the first disabled team to walk unassisted to the North Pole. It involved a great deal of preparation and training for all of them.
The men are: Capt Martin Hewitt, 30, whose right arm is paralysed after being shot; Capt Guy Disney, 29, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG); Sgt Stephen Young, 28, who suffered a broken back in a roadside bombing; Pte Jaco Van Gass, 24, who had his left arm amputated and suffered significant tissue loss to his left leg after being hit by an RPG.
For the first few days of their trek, they were also accompanied by Prince Harry, who supported their campaign both before and after it was completed. The documentary, shown on BBC1 in the summer of 2011, was called “Harry’s Arctic Heroes“.
In this expedition, these four men represented every soldier, airman and sailor who is ever injured in conflicts, but particularly those who lose their faculties in some way, be it the loss of a limb or sight.
The poem also has a ‘dark’ side, as it shakes a metaphor at dealing with our mortality, not least by reference to ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. The journey ‘North’, in this sense, is figurative and is my way of demonstrating that metaphor to the ultimate journey that we and all animals make as an integral part of our lives. “Looking South” represents the looking back on ones life, which in the case of these four injured servicemen, was their life so far. And for a majority of those, who deal with life’s challenges, some significant moments also represent a looking back on our lives… so far.
(Read the Poem)