Letter from Scotland

May 31, 2011 Michael Kaufman

After four days of heavy rain and battering winds on the west coast of the Highlands, the weather is glorious.  I’m now speaking at a conference outside of Inverness, still in the Highlands, but far from the rugged interior: here the countryside is rolling hills, dotted with prosperous towns and gentle farms.

In spite of the weather, the west coast of the Highlands was stunning.  It’s sparse, dramatic countryside: one lane roads wind up and down rocky hills along dramatic drops to the sea where waves crash against the rocks; heather, grass and jagged rocks are all that cover whole mountains; castles lie in ruins; the peat bogs and moors are forlorn; and field-stone foundations are all that remains of tiny farm communities that were wiped out 200 years ago when people were forced off the land so the landowners could bring in sheep.

It’s a magnificent land with wonderful, welcoming people–and, of course, an astonishing array of malt whisky of which, naturally, I always feel duty bound to try as many as possible out of respect for this national treasure.

But it’s also a land that conjures up not only past hardships in an unforgiving climate, but a cruel history, a man-made history. We drove into the beautiful town of Dornoch with its cared-for houses of cut stone, and discovered this was the last site of the murder of a woman who was branded a witch and dumped into a boiling vat of tar. The history is a story of back-and-forth conquest, of men who can not move on from past injury or anger and carry feuds across generations. It is a story of massacres by one group of men against other men, women, and children all in the name of God.

Even the much loved (and painted) Bonny Prince Charlie, after losing in his attempt to re-capture the throne for his family, returned to France to a life of drink and abuse of his mistresses.

Luckily, though, the past is the past and there are many organizations writing a very different future. I’ve returned here to speak at events organized by the Rape and Abuse Hotline and by Glasgow East Women’s Aid. These women’s groups (which, in the first case also works with boys and men who are survivors of abuse most often as boys) are typical of the organizations that are not only transforming the lives of women, but portend a better future for men.

1 Comment on “Letter from Scotland

  1. The history of every country is surely ‘man-made’ and, for certain, cruel. Is it an illusion? Looking back from our unprecedented time of peace, the past presents a ghastly narrative of massacre and murder piled up high as a mist-shrouded Scottish Ben. Yet watch the TV news tonight and it too will show you war and wickedness sought out in the far corners of the world and satellite transmitted into your home. What is history but the summary of yesterday’s news? And like as not, just as illusory.

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