On the shoulders of men is a story that has sat in my drafts folder now for almost two years. It is a story that has played in the back of my mind, churning over, words jumbled and undone. I have tried to write it. Sat down to start and finish the draft. Yet each time it seems I stumble on the words. Stumble on the message. Stumble on the heart.
On the shoulders of men is not a story about religion and it is not a story about race. The only place the story can begin and end is with tradition.
On the tiny island of Gozo, part of the Malta archipelago of islands, exists the village of Fontana. In that village stands a church. The foundation stone of the church was laid on January 29, 1893. The church was consecrated twelve years to that day on January 29, 1905 and was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The spectacular village feast is celebrated each year in the first week of June. The church is considered to be a national sanctuary of the Sacred Heart.
On the foundation of the church starts my story. Fontana is my Dad’s village. It is where he was born, where he grew up and where among the thousand fold population his family still live. As a little girl I ran down the streets of the village. I sat in my Nanna’s balcony. And I am sure on many occasions played in the church.
On the streets of Fontana dance the stories of my Dad’s childhood. The days he spent with his brother decorating the church for the feast. The time he spent as an altar boy. The story of how his father died in a fireworks explosion as he prepared for the feast, when Dad was only eighteen months old.
On most days I love Dad’s stories, but other days the stories render me silent, for part of me is sad when I hear them. I am sad that my boys will only ever hear these stories; they will never feel these stories. Never feel the ache and burn that they beg as my Dad remembers not the stories but those days. I am sad thinking that maybe one day these stories will be lost forever. No story tellers left and the stories only tatters of the life they once had.
On the shoulders of men is where I find hope. For once a year the tradition of the feast in Gozo is celebrated here. Right here, at our local church with our local community. While we pay our respect to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we pay more so our respect to the tradition that the celebration holds.
On the shoulders of men I see the dedication to keeping the stories alive. I see the humility in the faces of those who carry the statue. I see the abandon of ego and the surrender to faith. The weight of the statue though heavy in its strain, is not a burden but an honour.
On the shoulders of men my sons are raised high. Raised high to see the tradition, raised high to be part of the tradition and raised high to carry forward the tradition. Every year there is a chance to tell the stories and a chance to feel the stories. With each tale there is a chance to remember the stories for generations to come.
On the shoulders of men my sons learn the ways of the past. They learn the ways of their great grandfather and their grandfather. Watching the celebrations, being part of the celebrations, my sons learn that if they do not hold onto this as part of their future so much is at risk to be lost.
What family traditions do you hold close to your heart?