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A place where story and song make race and recrimination obsolete

  • 13 November 2006
  As a skinny guy only 178cm tall I was never much of a horse physically, but I did have enough pop to beat up my kid brothers, which I did until they got powerful and I went off to college juuuuust in time. In college, I kept thinking that power had to do with bodies, and that girls were impressed with muscles, and that burliness led to success, and it took forever for me to realise that this was a lie, and that women were really after hearts they could trust.

Plus I started noticing that often the men and women who were most influential, most startling, most amazing—most powerful, really—were, by pretty much every definition of powerful, powerless.

They were skinny penniless guys like Christ and Gandhi, or cheerful brilliant cripples like Franklin Roosevelt and Flannery O’Connor, or stubborn dignified folks like Rosa Parks or Michael Long, or unknown geeky guys with courage coming out of their ears—like the guy who was carrying his grocery bags home one June day in Beijing in 1989, and suddenly had just about enough of army tanks rolling by to smash kids in Tiananmen Square, and he jumped into the street and made 18 tanks stop and he changed the world, didn’t he? And isn’t it cool, almost 20 years later, that no-one knows who he is?

And aren’t there a million acts of incredible power and poetry like that every day?

Like the firefighters who ran up inside the World Trade Centre towers instead of running away, which by all sense, reason and logic they should have. And the teenage boys who patrol terrified but intent through the murk and blood of Baghdad for us. And the million business owners who scratch and kick and wrestle to stay in business because they know that if their companies fail, whole families and clans and towns will suffer.

I think about power all the time as a dad, too. In the old days, when my children were tiny and squirming and peeing on the floor like puppies, I was king, I made the rules, I fed and wiped and bathed. I thundered, I was the last word. (Well, the second-to-last word; as my daughter noted wryly when quite small, “Mom is the boss and you are the second boss.”)

But now that hormone hurricanes have swept through the house and my kids are suddenly supercilious teenagers, I have only the