Independent Catholic News logo Welcome Visitor
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Text: Jocelyn Hurndall's tribute to Tom at Westminster Cathedral
Comment Email Print
¬†Jocelyn Hurndall gave the following tribute to her son Tom, at his memorial service at Westminster Cathedral last Saturday. What has become clear to me over the last 11 months is that Tom was important to a much larger number of people than any of us in the family knew; an intense observer and listener, a support through illness and anxiety, a calming influence at times of conflict, an adventurer, a provider of words of wisdom. When Tom walked into a room you were aware of a quick wit and quiet intelligence. On top of all that there was that other side, the deeper side that expressed his convictions and compassion, his concern with the seeking truth and questioning injustice, his determination to stand up for the vulnerable. These were in part the reasons that took him to the Middle East. These were the convictions that led him to make that noble gesture on 11th April last year, sacrificing his life so that a young Palestinian child could live. He has come to represent so much more and to so many people, over the world. He has come to represent courage, humanity and decency. Thousands of people who have never met Tom, have written to us expressing how much of a difference he has made to their lives ≠ how they have been inspired by him and how their faith in mankind has been enhanced. A hospital ward, playground and school have been named after him and honours bestowed on him. His name has been echoed in all corners of the globe and in death he has made history. He has become an icon ≠ an icon of hope, justice and peace. But, to his family and friends, who were incredibly important to him, he will always be, Tom. Tom with the sometimes outrageous sense of humour, with his mischievous grin. The Tom who would sit with them for hours listening to their troubles and giving them his support and sharing his thoughts. They will remember the Tom who to their occasional annoyance would break off to see another friend whose needs were greater at that time. As one friend put it: many of us want to be leaders, but some simply are leaders, through their strength of character, moral authority and conviction. As he says, Tom was one of these. As another of his closest friends put it, he will be missed, above all, because he had a zest for life and he was just fun to be with. Ever the anti-materialist, not concerned with the comforts of life, he believed that we in the West had far too much. It was his view that it was not a fair world. So, when friends dedicated a song to him, it was no surprise that it was entitled "Sleeping on the floor". From a young age Tom had listened to and protected those who were vulnerable. In this he had already shown bravery on a number of occasions. On at least two occasions we have accounts of his intervening with muggers determined to rob children of mobile phones. His courage, physical and moral, had already been established. Courage was a quality he consciously worked at and is a recurring theme in his poetry. He would relate easily to people and they to him, whatever their background, culture or language. We have a wonderful photograph of Tom playing chess very intently in the evening light with some Egyptian friends on a small open boat on the Nile. It typifies the pleasure he had in relating to people ≠ no barriers of culture or language just a desire for friendship and communication. And to take people for what they were. He wanted to know people and their views. Where many might be afraid of individuals' differentness Tom believed that to celebrate differentness was a way of respecting humanity. He did not like people to be judgmental or to have closed minds. Throughout his journals he was determined to remain open-minded, to separate out the propaganda from the facts. Tom was examining different religions, he meditated on his prayer mat and had a deeply spiritual nature. He was developing well the ability to use his head and his heart when observing the world. One page of his journals consists of mathematical equations and calculations concerned with land distribution. At the same time his journals are compassionate and insightful. However, it would be doing Tom a great injustice not to see the whole person. Lest you imagine that as his mother I only saw what was positive in him let me just tell you about the areas that drove me to distraction. For a parent, he could be exasperating, because of his incorrigible untidiness. His disorganization had greatly improved but his lack of concern for a healthy diet, as all his friends in north London will vouch, were a constant bane. He had a natural tendency to challenge authority and did not always live by the rules that others thought were normal. The less said about Tom's motorbike the better. We had many a conversation when he was young about the importance of asking questions but the fact that Tom would always question everything could be rather exhausting. It would never have been acceptable to Tom. Then there was the tattoo. When Tom was 16 he had fallen ill with flu at school at Winchester. The family had gone down to spend some time with him in the school sanatorium. To entertain him we decided to retell verbatim a favourite children's story each chipping in where we could remember the words. Tom relaxed into this and put an arm above his head only to reveal a tattoo on his inner wrist. We gazed aghast at what he had done. The story stopped. This was six years ago when tattoos were relatively unusual. All sympathy for his high temperature flew out the window. Silence. There they were, the words, "Defy the stars" , a quote from Romeo and Juliet, etched on his inner wrist. Now when I think of it, those words were simply Tom. These were the words of a person disallowing fate to be the ruler of his life but wanting instead to take command of his own life. An admirable belief that he wanted to be reminded of everyday. From the age of 13 Tom had written a diary. They were his innermost garden of thoughts and feelings. When he was 19, two years ago, he wrote a piece that seems to define so much of what he was ≠ his concern for a greater good. It contained the belief that we are not on this planet for ourselves alone. It represented an understanding of the needs of mankind outside merely his own existence. In November 2001 he wrote: "What do I want from this life? What makes me happy isn't enough; all those things that satisfy our instincts complete only the animal in all of us. I want to be proud. I want something more. I want to look up to myself and when I die I want to be smiling about the things I've done, not crying for what I haven't. I guess I want to be satisfied I know the answer to this question. Everyone wants to be different, make an impact, be remembered." This then was Tom in February 2003 when he left for the Middle East. He knew that many of his friends would not understand why he was going; this was his other side. Tom's journey to the Middle East represented many things. On the face of it, it was a young man's journey to carry out an assignment, a step in a career in photo-journalism ≠ a journey to record a situation through his photography and journals . He had carried out considerable research. He knew the situation, the dangers. Preparations were meticulous with lists, laminated maps, contact numbers and so on. His organization had moved on. It was also a journey of self-development Contrary to what one well-meaning person said Tom was not doing what he loved doing. He forced himself to explore and observe new territory because he believed he had a responsibility to observe and bring the story, the feeling home. Far from being a comfortable process, it was, at times, frightening. That's what a successful foreign correspondent does and I have no doubt that if Tom had decided to take that course, he would have excelled. It involved sleeping in a tent in freezing cold temperatures, not having enough to eat, recording the actions of aggression, being shot at, gassed, photographing injured children in hospital, living with a family in a room peppered with gunshot marks, seeing for himself the effects of war on children. Meanwhile he constantly questioned whether he was achieving anything worthwhile. He pitted himself because he genuinely didn't believe that people should suffer on their own. In the coach to Baghdad he had written about the inner debate that all people such as foreign correspondents who travel to dangerous places in order to report must have. The dilemma of the journey that was looming was that it could mean pain for those he loved. For him there was a greater responsibility. On Tom's penultimate day before he was shot and while staying in Dr. Samir's house with whose children he had played the evening before, he writes that he felt guilty that he wasn't doing enough for the family. He firmly believed that we in the West had far too much in life, that it wasn't fair. He was trying to build a very broad picture. He was deeply aware that it is easy for many to believe the international community has lost the ability to focus with care on them. However, at a deeper level Tom had found a medium through which he could express a greater good, his belief system, a love of mankind, an ardent desire to observe, understand and expose injustice. Tom was observing the world through a metaphorical as well as a physical lens ≠ a moral compass not just a camera lens, an economic lens, a moral lens, an ethical lens. Through his photography and his writing he wanted to crack open the photographers and journalists door, use it as a mirror of life - challenge what was wrong within it. As if still working out for himself why he was there he would write in a self-revelatory way, "Now I know why I'm here", he wrote. Building numberless bridges would have meant more to Tom than building walls ≠ psychological walls, communication walls, religious walls, social and emotional walls, ethnic and cultural walls. To those who knew Tom, his final gesture of love for humanity as he reached out to rescue the little boy Salem Baroum and then the two little girls is no surprise. For Tom in those split seconds there would have been no other action possible. His reaction was simply Tom. Dearest Tom, you had only just begun and you dared to know the unbearable. In your earnest quest for truth and your determination to expose injustice you already achieved far more than many of us and you looked so purposeful. To quote the words of a card written by the mother of a very good friend of Tom's, in affirmation of his vitality, she wrote, "Tom, I shall never forget you. You dared to be brave and you made a difference. Thank you for caring and for listening. You will never again sleep on my floor but the song and you will live on in my head forever. Your beautiful smile is with me ≠ unforgettable. May we all keep our minds open and work for peace everywhere ≠ in honour of you."
Share:  Bookmark and Share
Tags: None

Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: