25th January

A Hero of Mine

i.m. Angus Matheson

‘Heroic’, that was a favourite word of his. Anybody or anything that he admired could be heroic: a stoical philosopher, a daring shinty player, some- body managing to survive in extreme poverty, or perhaps a bird or cat that showed resilience, defiance. All these were heroic in his eyes. He was a teacher of history, and history was full of heroes as well as those who did not come up to the mark. But if this was part of his thinking – that he assessed hero- ism from an academic viewpoint – it was neither the beginning nor the end of it.

And although he used the word often, it would be wrong to think that he overused it. When he said it, he meant it. There was weight in the word, and measurement. He came from a place and time that produced heroes, and he recognised and acknowledged them. Against the brutality and dis- honesty of the world and the general failings of humankind, heroism mattered to him. When he remembered a heroic person or witnessed or read of a heroic incident he did not want it to pass unnoticed. Even people with whom he disagreed – staunch adherents of a certain bleak religion, for example – could display heroic tendencies, and he would not see them diminished.

And he was, himself, a hero. He had multiple sclerosis, and he suffered from that cruel disease long enough, and fought it and rode it and swore at it – he was a man of Skye, a Gaelic speaker, and I never heard anyone swear so heroically in English as he could – and it in turn trampled on him yet he was still there after it had done its worst, unbeaten. Gradually the disease wore him down but still he resisted and I think it was he who decided when it was time to go. I remember the last time I saw him, some weeks before he died, and when he said goodbye he said it as if he would not say it to me again.

‘Goodbye,’ he said, and I did not register the tone in which he said it at that moment, but later I did, and I hear it now. ‘Goodbye.’

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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