Spread your wings (MLS 1)

(My Life’s Soundtrack – Part One)

Ever had moments in your life when a particular song has powerfully and poignantly reflected your life experience at that time?

Music, like storylines on TV or in books, has a way of vicariously expressing our emotions and experiences in a way that transcends our own ability, providing a kind of therapeutic benefit or affirmation of what we’re going through.

The first record I ever bought was Spread Your Wings, one of Queen’s less famous singles – only reaching No.34 in the charts – but a superb, moving song all the same, finishing with a wonderful, plaintive guitar solo (and the fabulous, fast & furious Sheer Heart Attack on the B-side).

I recommend the official Queen video for the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyd6OLyhPJo

At the tender age of 12, with precious little money for records, and music so much dearer in real terms back then in 1978, my first venture into purchasing records was to buy ex-chart singles at reduced prices from our local record shop. Spread Your Wings was the first of these.

Sammy was low
Just watching the show
Over and over again
Knew it was time
He’d made up his mind
To leave his dead life behind

For years, the lyrics seemed to confirm a sense of my life being futile, and my longing to leave it all behind. I didn’t consider suicide – except once, a couple of years later: neither an expression of depression nor a cry for help, but a cold, calculated plan to end it all simply because life was meaningless and why bother to go through all the hassle of a life fraught with challenges and difficulties? That was how I saw things. My suicide plan was thwarted by hearing that a girl I fancied also fancied me! A temporary reason for living, at least. Would I have really gone through with the plan otherwise? I don’t know – I suspect not – I don’t think I’d have had the bottle. And what I really wanted was to escape.

Spread your wings and fly away
Fly away far away
Spread your little wings and fly away
Fly away far away

The words of this chorus echoed my longing to simply escape – to travel. Escape from the rat race, responsibilities, worries, and to just ‘bum around the world’ with my only few possessions on my back.

Why such disillusioned thoughts and feelings at such a young age? Teenage angst? Disenchantment with the Thatcherite society in the grip of recession and high unemployment? I’m not sure how aware I was of the country’s socio-economic climate at the time, although I did grow to hate England and wanted to be anywhere and everywhere else, and I’m sure adolescent changes also played a part.

But other factors in my life were far more significant.

No doubt the constant acrimony in my family scarred me heavily. I’ve heard it said that boys tend to be more deeply affected by divorce than girls. However true this theory is (and it probably was, in the case of me and my sister), my parents ‘stayed together for the sake of the kids’ for many years, unwittingly inflicting avoidable damage on the two of us till they finally separated and divorced about the time I left school, well after the damage had been done.

Years of bitterness and stress in the family home meant that home was not ‘home’. It was not where I wanted to be. I grew into a very insecure and immature young man with poor social skills and low motivation. Generally messed-up.

He spends his evenings alone in his hotel room
Keeping his thoughts to himself he’d be leaving soon
Wishing he was miles and miles away
Nothing in this world nothing would make him stay

At the same time, I baulked at the ‘rat race’ (a term used more in those days than now, probably), as I witnessed the apparent pointlessness of modern life’s treadmill and the unhappiness of materialism, at least in my own close-at-hand, family experience. In my late teens, The Specials put it across well for me:

Working for the rat race
You know you’re wasting your time
Working for the rat race
You’re no friend of mine

Education and exams held no appeal and by the time I reached sixth-form, which offered some of the freedom I’d longed for, I’d virtually given up bothering and I flunked my A-levels.

But back to the Queen song:

Since he was small
Had no luck at all
Nothing came easy to him
Now it was time
He’d made up his mind
‘This could be my last chance’

Some things came easy to me, others seemed really hard. I was assessed as having a high IQ at an early age, and excelled at some subjects, but was also labelled ‘naughty’ at an even younger age. With what we know now, I’m pretty certain I had Dyspraxia – known as Clumsy Child Syndrome years ago, and today often used interchangeably with Development Coordination Disorder.

Signs in my case (mostly ‘grown out of’ now) were general clumsiness, poor fine motor skills – particularly affecting handwriting (my work colleagues would probably say this is one aspect I’ve yet to ‘grow out of’!), inconsistency over which hand I’d write with (not the same as being ambidextrous), and – the one that instigated the ‘naughty’ label from teachers (and today could be mistaken for ADHD in some children) – restlessness. Classroom disruption was, perhaps understandably, construed as deliberate naughtiness.

And of course, as children, we start to believe our labels.

From this combination of childhood experiences emerged a pattern of disruptive, disturbed and difficult behaviour throughout my early years and teens.

My first opportunity to run away came when I’d been caught shoplifting for the umpteenth time. The shop owners were going to tell my parents, and I couldn’t face the shame again. I was now 16, in my first year of a comprehensive sixth-form.

Before this, I’d spent 2 years at a public school, from which I was suspended for a time after selling goods I’d stolen to fellow pupils. I’d received a Junior Criminal Record for this, bringing shame to my father – a lawyer working for the magistrates’ courts. And I was shamed in front of the whole school as someone who’d been awarded a place there on a scholarship and was expected to be one of their higher achieving pupils.

(Fortunately, the discipline of this school, combined with my own abilities, was sufficient to scrape me through enough O-levels for my entry into nursing years later).

Now here I was, unable to face my parents again. The perfect reason to run away.

Now it was time
He’d made up his mind
‘This could be my last chance’

I started to hitch-hike from the small Sussex town where I’d been caught, to London, with no possessions and just a few coins in my pocket. It was getting dark, and hitch-hiking became impossible. I sneaked into a private garden and tried to sleep in a greenhouse. It was a cold night, I had no warm coat, let alone a sleeping-bag, and I froze. Sleep eluded, and I resumed hitch-hiking about 4am, and although still dark, I got a lift and made it to London early morning.

I didn’t know my way round London. I felt hopelessly lost, hungry and tired. I stole a pint of milk off a doorstep and bought a cold meat pie. Before long I’d formed a better plan – head for Brighton, which I knew relatively well, and sleep on the streets there. But pick up a few things from home on the way.

I managed to hitch home. Luckily for me, no one was there and I started to gather a few things into a bag. Now of course, the previous evening my parents had reported me missing to the police and were worried. While I was there at the house that afternoon, the police arrived, hoping to ask my parents some more questions, but instead found me there!

Suffice to say that my escape this time round from home, the rat-race and everything, was short-lived, at a mere 24 hours. The next one is another story, another blog…….

But here’s a wonderful thing:

Some 5 years later, in 1987, when I made that first stumbling prayer to God while travelling, and Jesus began to transform and heal me, one of the very first changes that happened immediately in my heart was a real sense that God was calling me back to England: to come ‘home’, to use the intelligence, energy, good health (and now salvation!) that I’d been given to help others – not only practically, but spiritually too. That sense of vocation has never left me to this day, and is the basis for the work that I do now, more than 25 years later, and also the reason for writing this blog.

The restlessness, the dissatisfaction, the need to be on the move, disappeared immediately. Even now, when people speak of wanting to visit this country or that country, to travel more, I have no huge hankering, and wonder what the fuss is all about. I’m OK where I am.

Here’s another wonderful thing:

In the good book, God is described with maternal as well as paternal qualities, and is sometimes likened to an eagle or hen longing to cover her chicks with her wings to protect and nurture them (e.g. Psalm 91:4 and Luke 13:34). He ‘spreads his wings’ over us, covering us with his love, and enables us to ‘fly’, free from the spiritual, psychological and emotional chains that once held us back. That’s been my incredible experience.

How amazing is the grace of God.

Tagged , , ,

2 thoughts on “Spread your wings (MLS 1)

  1. Blindmouse says:

    Gradually I learn a bit more about you

  2. […] nothing to live for, aim for, strive for, and still had this unfulfilled yearning to escape (see My Life’s Soundtrack – Part One). It was all I could see myself […]

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