My dear brother, the Rev. Canon David Partridge, died a few weeks ago and so memories of his immense life as a pastor in his parish, Warblington with Emsworth, and as a committed pacifist and campaigner on many controversial causes like homelessness, anti-apartheid and the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.
Three reflections about him:
First, David loathed injustice and instinctively fought against it wherever it occurred – and he often wrote to The Guardian to voice his views.
When I set up Changing Faces in the early 1990s, it was the injustices which I was touching that enraged him most. Every year before our big reception at the Mall Galleries, I took to going for a short walk into St James’ Park to gather my thoughts but also because I knew he would be there. He called the meeting ‘a rite of passage’… I called it his blessing. He would then wander into the Galleries and his hands went out to people with all sorts of disfigurements who were there. I know they felt his empathy.
Second, I was reminded of him last week when in a busy London tube. I was minding my own business but was the subject to one man’s staring and whispered chat to his fellow travellers. It’s a common experience for anyone whose face stands out. I found myself thinking back to the early years after my car-fire accident when David suggested we go for a pint at the local pub.
It was at a time when I was agonising about every single venture into a public place, learning how cruel and intrusive the reactions I would get were, and trying to work out, test and perfect my response. Everyday problems that most people never have to go through which were to become my daily bread.
As we stood at the bar in the pub, I sensed I had attracted the attention of a small group of drinkers further up the bar. “Hi there” I blurted out, “not looking at my best today”. It had the desired effect as my potential tormentors turned away somewhat chastened. And David was impressed. He often mentioned it. But, inside, I didn’t like the throwaway line because it suggested I should like to look ‘better’ and indeed ought to.
It was a rather weak response and a few years ago, I discussed it with David and we spent a few seconds dreaming up some other lines… like “Happy to tell you more about my injuries if you’d like” or “I’m not Niki Lauda in case you’re wondering” or, more assertively, “Would you mind minding your own business?”.
I soon came to realise that having a facial disfigurement meant that I would probably always lack “the civil inattention everyone takes for granted” as Frances Cooke Macgregor put it. Instead I had to learn how to face up to others’ staring, curiosity, anguish, rudeness, embarrassment and dread – their SCAREDness. I was scared too… self-conscious, clueless, awkward, … and was only just realising that, to be really effective and not belittled, I had to be pro-active in the first few seconds of every single encounter.
Taking the initiative had to become second-nature. Not at all easy. My ‘manual’ of how to do this was in my 1990 Penguin book still available [https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/about-us/jp-book] and forms one part of what Changing Faces Practitioners (CFPs) offer to people who get in touch [https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/adviceandsupport].
What David would be really glad about is that the NHS is starting to recognise that the help of a CFP to learn these skills needs to be part of what is offered to patients with disfigurements – as has been shown this week with this excellent piece from the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board: http://www.nhsggc.org.uk/about-us/health-news/2018/february/stories/changing-faces-changing-lives/
Thirdly, David was so pleased when Changing Faces launched the campaign for face equality in 2008 – see https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/campaigns/face-equality – and he likened it to other campaigns that he was so positive about – for gender equality, race equality and many others.
He knew that we had set out on a long road to familiarise and get imperfect faces valued and respected and so make it unnecessary for people like me to have to endure intrusive attention in so many everyday settings – and at work and in the movies and on social media and…. We agreed there was far to go…
But as I stood in the tube that day deciding whether to sanction the staring, I chuckled… Most of my fellow passengers were not paying me any attention at all. Maybe this was good news! Maybe they were already respecting face equality. In that instance, I chose to hold my head high, keep my body language strong and positive and be on the high moral ground above the intrusive onlooker. I refused to be roused but weathered his attention.
What’s more, I like to think that David, like my fellow passengers, was admiring my choice. Which is not to say I’m always going to let such pesky people off!