Poetry and Pictures from Tyneside by Alan Hartley

tyne poetry headerPhotograph ©Carol Haynes.

What Counts

abbeyThere comes to each of us a thoughtful age
When we start questioning what life's about
And if you've reached this rather painful stage,
Perhaps it's time you took a long hard look
At your past life to find events that count.
Start with the work you've done, perhaps mundane,
But, nonetheless, if you worked honestly,
Gave something of yourself for others' gain, that counts.

There must have been a time you helped someone
Without the hope of any selfish gain.
It may have been a small thing simply done
That didn't cause you any grief or pain,
It’s still a kindness you may justly claim.
But, what about the plausible excuse
You made when you ignored real suffering?
We know you’re sorry now but, all the same, that counts.

Do you remember old friends at your door
To ask a favour that was so much more
Than friendship ties could reasonably claim?
You asked yourself, "Would they do this for me?"
But helped them in their trouble just the same.
If you have ever stood by friends or kin
When they were down and ready to give in;
If you were loyal then to those in need, that counts.

When you fought your own anger, and you won,
And expressed rage with no more than a frown,
Though friends were telling you to strike a blow
Against all those who’d tried to pull you down,
If you forgave, that was a deed well done.
But when you gave your fury its full flow,
Then basked in a self-justifying glow,
That’s also one the record has to show, that counts.

Yes, you may add the times you wished to help
Someone who was in need, in need of you,
When you knew there was nothing you could do
But try to understand their private pain.
You may believe that you did nothing then,
But tender feelings are important too,
And in compassion we may find again
The essence of our own humanity, that counts.

Perhaps you stood your ground once in the past,
Spoke out against the crowd when they were wrong,
Or challenged someone who had power and wealth
When you felt helpless, weak and they seemed strong.
If you can claim this, add it to the list.
But you can't hide the act of shameful stealth
When you thought it was best not to be heard
And justice died for want of a brave word, that counts.

You say you haven't done much with your life,
Too busy caring for the kids and gran,
Just guiding them through squalls of family strife,
Just being there and giving all you can.
If this is true, you have no more to prove,
For caring wins, not only family love,
But all the credit anyone can give.
If you gave of your best, forget the rest, that counts.

"Why be concerned with things long gone?" you say.
Perhaps not for the fear of Dante's hell
Or promise of some heavenly reward,
But to redeem a debt we need to pay
For all that we have gained from human good,
The privilege of walking in man's way,
The opportunity to leave behind
A footprint that will stay for anyone
Who seeks to find God’s image in mankind, that counts.