January 31, 2020

Are we our brothers’ keepers?

Michael Stephenson, 39

Suicide is a major cause of death for men under the age of forty and men are less likely to reach out for the help and support they need. This poem brings together a childhood memory with a more recent experience of depression to highlight the importance of talking about mental health. Although the poem is quite personal, I am also thinking about brotherhood – and sisterhood – in a more general way, about our moral responsibility to show compassion and look after each other. A willingness to be our brothers and sisters’ keepers seems to me to be fundamental to a decent society. I was also writing the poem in the days between Burns night and the UK leaving the EU. I was struck by the moment in the European parliament when MEPS from Scotland and around Europe sang Auld Lang Syne together, joining hands at the lines: And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere And gie’s a hand o’ thine… The values of friendship and brotherhood were in strong evidence, and I’m happy to echo those words of Burns’ in the last line of this poem.