When I was in Mali a few weeks ago, I attended a mini training on what to do if you’re kidnapped. This was important, kidnapping being a major source of income for the armed groups who continue to roam unhindered throughout the north of the country, and from time to time may even move south where I was.
One of the suggestions was that if you were held for a long time, you could go nuts by the fact that you would not have a sense of the time passing, since they would take your watches, most likely, and you might be in the dark or blindfolded. [Going nuts is my loose translation from the French.] So our trainer said we should occupy our minds. If you’re a mathematician, do Pascal’s Triangle he said. Recite poems, or other things you might know by heart.
So what would I do were this to happen, I’ve wondered? I suppose it might depend on who my captors are. Would it do to recite the Nicene Creed if they were not Christian? And it might depend on other variables.
But what things do I know by heart, which I could use, apart from the Nicene Creed? A lot of hymns: ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’, ‘Immortal Invisible’, ‘New every morning’ and good old ‘All things bright and beautiful’ all of the verses of which every student who went to my school knows by heart.
Actually, a lot of Shakespeare too, some of which we also had to learn by heart. ‘The quality of mercy is not strained…’, ‘Friends! Romans! Countrymen! Lend me your ears!’ Some less salubrious stuff too, which the boys delighted in reciting: Ben Johnson’s ‘Come, my Celia, let us prove while we may, the sports of love. Time will not be ours forever…’ and Kipling’s ‘The female of the species’.
Seriously, though, I believe I wouldn’t even think of being frivolous. I don’t suppose I’d even remember Kipling’s ‘If’. I’d probably repeat over and over: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”–the King James Version of Psalm 23. And maybe, “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord…”
So in the end the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer would trump Shakespeare for me. All those years at my grandmother’s knee much more central than school, it seems.
Or maybe it’s simpler: I’m a believer.