Prairie Messenger Header

Lyrics and Life

By Caitlin Ward

11/08/2017


Heaven Help Us All
Ray Charles & Gladys Knight (originally by Stevie Wonder, written by Ron Miller)

Heaven help the boy who never had a home
Heaven help the girl who walks the street alone
And Heaven help the roses if the bombs begin to fall
Lord, won’t you help us all?

Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day
Heaven help the white man if he turns his back away
Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl
Heaven help us all

Heaven help us all, Heaven help us all, help us all
Heaven help us, Lord, hear our call when we call
Oh, yeah

Heaven help the boy who won’t reach 21
And Heaven help the man who gave that child a gun
And Heaven help the people with their backs against the wall
Lord, won’t you help us all?

Heaven help us all, Heaven help us all, help us all
Heaven help us, oh Lord, hear our call when we call

Now I lay me down before I go to sleep
In a troubled world, I pray the Lord, the Lord to keep
Keep hatred from the mighty and the mighty from the small
Heaven help us all, Heaven help us all, help us all
Heaven help us, Lord, hear our call when we call

 

It snowed last night. Not much, mind you. It barely covered the grass in Saskatoon and it melted off the concrete as the sun came up this morning. As we drive north of the city, I can see more brown and yellow stubble covering the ground than white snow.

The prevailing language in the car is Spanish, and the music is a Ray Charles Duets CD that keeps skipping — my colleague Cooper thinks it belongs to his mother. There’s not a lot of piano on the album, or a lot of Ray Charles singing, come to that. At the moment Willie Nelson is talking about it being a very good year, and it’s strange to hear him sing a Sinatra standard.

The whole moment is a lot less strange for me than it is for our companion. He saw snow for the first time this morning. He experienced his first Halloween last night. He tried poutine for the first time a few days ago. He got on a plane for the first time a few days before that. He brought 25 pounds of coffee with him from the Dominican Republic, and tried to give the border agents coffee when he arrived in Toronto because they said it smelled nice.

Through a series of serendipitous events and Cooper’s hard work, we’ve managed to bring Quico, a Dominican campesino and community leader, to Canada for a week and a half. Over the past five years Quico has welcomed my companions and my students into his home at Las Piedras de los Virganos, a village that’s three hours’ walk from the nearest road, and a 40-minute mule ride to the nearest cell reception.

In a small was we can return the favour. I think it’s the first time in 40 years he hasn’t done 10 or 12 hours of manual labour every day. We’ve joked more than once that he must think we’re all terribly soft for how little we work compared to him and his community, although he’d be far too polite to ever say such a thing.

Today we’re driving him to Waskesiu to see the boreal forest and the lakes. Cooper bought him coffee from Tim Horton’s this morning; every time we buy him coffee we apologize that it’s so terrible compared to what he drinks at home. He’s so gracious, though.

Quico and I can’t speak to one another much. He has no English. My Spanish, which was not extensive in the first place, is rusty from lack of use since the summer. He asked what I’m writing about today. I try to tell him I’m writing about Remembrance Day, because it’s coming up, but I don’t know how to say Remembrance Day and, as it turns out, I’m not writing about Remembrance Day, anyway. I’m writing about him.

I haven’t told him that yet, but I will, and he’ll laugh when I do, I’m sure. He doesn’t think he’s that interesting. He doesn’t think the fact that he spearheaded the construction of a hydro-electric dam in his community is amazing, or the fact that he goes out in any weather to fix it when the power goes down is impressive. He doesn’t think much of the fact that he consults on dams in the surrounding area to make sure that other remote communities have access to electricity.

He doesn’t think it’s a big deal that he stayed in his remote village and has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life there so residents don’t have to move to the cities where work is poorly paid and there’s a shortage of reasonable housing.

He doesn’t know we’re humbled by his very existence. He’d be embarrassed if I said so directly to him. And in that sense, he reminds me a bit of my grandfather, who didn’t go in much for people paying attention to him, and definitely didn’t know how to take praise. And also, had a mustache like Quico’s.

But I always think of my grandfather at this time of year because it is near Remembrance Day. I think of the fortitude he and my grandma had to make it through that war, the emotional and psychological price they paid for it, and how much of my life has been shaped by those two things.

If my circumstances were different, I hope I would have had that fortitude, or if I’d been raised in a remote community in the inner mountainous region of the Dominican Republic, I would have been as strong and humble and hardworking as Quico. I’ll never know if that’s true.

I don’t know how much our character is dictated by circumstance and how much of it is uniquely ours at birth. I just know that I am happy I had the opportunity to thank my grandparents for the strength they showed in those moments, and I’m so very grateful that, in some small way, we can repay the kindness Quico has so consistently and selflessly showed not only us, but also the world.

 

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings