"Most of us will go through our lives never truly appreciating how much we have travelled on the backs of others before reaching our final destination. Our parents, family, teachers, employers, neighbours and friends have each, at some stage of our life, been there to help and support us when our need has been greatest and our awareness has been often wanting. Chief among the people who have often led and carried us along the path of truth has been our siblings, friends and parents.
Some of the help we have received will have been 'up front' and we will, therefore, be aware of having received it. However, there will be far more support and help we have received 'in the background' and benefited from on our path of life that we may never know of.
For example, who helps you the most; the friend who gives or loans you some money when you badly need it, or the friend who hears someone speaking badly of you and defends you in your absence?
Would you prefer a friend who is prepared to tell you the truth even if it hurts you to hear it or one who pretends, praises and agrees with you, in order to spare your feelings and preserve your good will? Respect and trust are the two most important ingredients of true friendship. It was Henry David Thoreau. the 19th-century American poet and philosopher who said, 'The language of friendship is not words but meanings'. I recall my mother saying something similar, 'Billy, there's no mistaking true friendship, they know your song and sing it back to you when you lose the tune and have forgotten your words'.
I have always considered having a true friend as one of life's greatest privileges; a sweet responsibility, as opposed to it being an opportunity to receive false praise. I feel sorry for people who have few friends, as life can be awfully lonely without good companionship. Still, it is better to have no friends than to have 'fake' ones (to use Donald Trump's favourite word of the month). Once a fake friend stops talking to you, they're just as likely to start talking about you! In many ways, it is an excuse to think that your friend has 'changed' when they let you down, to the friend they once were. I don't think that people don't really change; they just reveal who they really are the longer you know them!
Two of my old teachers as a growing child helped to carry me in ways that neither could ever imagine. When I was in the hospital for the best part of a year after I was run over by a large lorry and received extensive and life-threatening injuries, it was Mrs Brennan who prayed for me daily and who visited me without fail twice weekly.
It was my sport's teacher Mr McNamara who also visited me in the hospital and presented me with the first book I ever owned,'Treasure of the Quicksand'. Knowing I was a bright child, he even got me Mensa tested and was as pleased as punch when the results came back at 140. He doesn't know how good it felt for a boy who missed schooling for two vital years of his educational life while recuperating from leg and spinal injuries, to know that it's not the end of the world to miss a few hundred class lessons! Or did he? Mr McNamara later went on to join the priesthood and is probably in heaven now, sitting alongside Mrs Brennan. God bless both these good teachers.
The family have carried me farther in my life than I could ever have imagined. While there are seven of us, of whom I'm the oldest, I grew up close to my sisters, Mary and Eileen, who are next in age dependency. While we are all in our seventies now, I'd hate to have either go before me. They were the two siblings who pushed me on a bunker that my father made for me when I couldn't walk for three years after my childhood traffic accident. They let me place an arm around each of their shoulders when I was able to stand and started to improve my hobbling mobility. And when they realised that my full walking mobility had almost returned and that I now only wanted to lean on them to make life easier for myself, they had the sense to suss quickly me out. Their response was to dump me on a low-level wall one mile away from our house on Windybank Estate, before running off home laughing and yelling, 'Get yourself back home, Billy Liar; you don't' need carrying anymore!' My siblings truly are the greatest inheritance my parents left me when they died.
Undoubtedly the persons who carried me more in my life than anyone else have been my parents, my wife, Sheila and my God.
Before my lovely wife and soulmate Sheila came into my life, my mother was the most prominent female influence in my life. She was the mother who chastised me in the absence of my father, the one who pulled me over the coals when she caught me doing wrong, but cuddled me when I did good or needed comforting. She was also the mother who often provide false witness to the local Bobby who might visit the house to see where I was at a certain date or time when some theft had been committed or some damage to property was done by someone fitting my description. Before even being told by the policeman what I might have done, she would offer me an alibi by saying, 'And before you go slandering my son, he was at home at the time!' I was always glad if mum answered the door to a policeman's knock instead of dad. Were my strict father to have been the parent to have opened the door, he too would have addressed the Bobby first. Dad would have said, 'Whatever he's done, Officer, take him away and lock him up for the night.That'll teach him to do wrong!'
Never one day of my childhood went by without my mother failing to tell me that she loved me, and reminding me that having being born the first of seven children, to a mother who was also the firstborn of seven, I was a 'special' child. In fact, I have used this theme of 'a special firstborn of seven' in the current book I am writing. It was mum's daily stories about the Irish folk of Portlaw that led me to write my 'Tales from Portlaw' series of books in memory of her. Indeed, had it not been for mum, I would never have become an author of sixty-seven books. Mum taught me the pleasure of song and dance, and storytelling, along with the warning, 'Never take yourself too seriously, Billy Forde!'
My father was the most humble man I ever knew. He was an international soccer player for Ireland and kept quiet about it for the first eleven years of my life. I, on the other hand, bragged about being so good a budding footballer at the age of 10 years that I played with the 15-year-olds in the 'St. Patrick's Roman Catholic School' eleven, one month before my eleventh birthday. The youngest previous entrant to be picked to play in the senior soccer team had been aged thirteen. Mind you, the sports teacher was Mr McNamara who always had a soft spot for me!I could never match my dad's degree of modesty however hard I tried, but I was able to take on board his other major influences in my life. He advised me to be truthful and honest in my dealings with all people and to always keep my word. His lasting advice was, 'Whatever type of job you performed in life, son, do it to the best of my ability, and never consider any type of work to be beneath you'.
Last but by no means least from the people who have helped carry me through my life is my lovely wife and soul mate, Sheila. She is the one whom despite being the most beautiful, unselfish, loving, generous woman I have ever known; a beautiful woman who could have chosen the finest racehorse for her stables, instead took on this old nag who'd already been put out to grass and was simply biding his time before taking his final journey to the Knacker's Yard! Sheila has given me a spiritual dimension to our relationship, as well as the physical, passionate and emotionally fulfilling one to our marriage. She is my love, my friend, my counsellor and my soul mate in whom I have found my better self, along with peace of mind and a huge chunk of eternal happiness.
The travelling of life's road is never an easy journey and our passage is often made much easier by the good intentions and actions of others; most of which we know and some that we may never learn of.
Not forgetting the most important person of all in my journey through life. This is my God, who has never once forsaken me. Like the footprints in the sand story (Two sets of footprints walking side by side, which eventually merge into one set of heavier footprints in the sand), when I needed His help in my moments of need, He was always there to walk beside me. But when life's accidents and incidents knocked the stuffing out of me and I was in danger of being able to go no farther, He picked me up and put me back on His shoulders. He was always there to carry me!" William Forde: February 20th, 2018.