Misty wanderings

The other day Sigoth and I went Christmas shopping. It’s a little early for us, but I had an unexpected day off work, and time is galloping by in the run up to seasonal festivities. Mostly I have placed orders on-line, hoping that the pictures of the products do not lie. However, where stocking fillers are concerned nothing beats a trip to town.

That’s not what I want to tell you about though, you will be pleased to read. It was the journey back that I wanted to share, although to no great purpose.

North Yorkshire landscapeI live in a small village in North Yorkshire, and I love the peace and quiet we enjoy for most of the year. I particularly like the serious quietness of winter, when the earth settles down for a snooze and the cold freezes all the frantic activity of nature to let things take a rest. At this time of year, in our northern hemisphere, the light is relatively brief. So as Sigoth and I were driving home at about 3.30 it was already getting dark.

Sigoth remarked that it was only 3 weeks until mid-winter after which the days would start to get longer again. He is a creature of the sun and light and warmth, and he is looking forward to spring.

I sat and stared out of the window at the hills around us. There were no lights along the road, or across the fields. Everything was grey and there was a slight mist forming. It was ancient. This was the experience of our forebears, as they too prepared for a feast to shut out the worst of winter. I was glad I did not have to worry about wolves.

The hills rolled onwards forever, smudged in grey. Briefly I did see a light in a distant farmhouse but soon it was hidden by the trees. The road was unusually quiet so there were not too many headlights coming towards us.

Sigoth said he didn’t remember it getting dark quite so early.  I disagreed.

I thought back to 3.30 on winter afternoons when I was at school, cycling home in darkness and sleet, my knees blue and my hands frozen into position on the handle bars, my books dragging me back. When I got into the house I made tea and toast, or hot chocolate and a bacon sandwich, trying to thaw my unresponsive fingers as I waited for the kettle to boil.

At the top of Golden Hill we saw the local market town spread out ahead of us. The lights glowed in the fuzzy air, each with its own perfect halo. We carried on past town and headed for our village. There’s a point along the main road where you can see the houses on the ridge like a line of lanterns showing us how much further we need to go.

Our house was dark, except for the annexe where my mother sat with her electric coal fire and chatty television, dozing in her chair. We unloaded the car and gave thanks for the ancient Aga warming the kitchen. Of course we made tea.

The garden was invisible now as the mist and dark grew heavier. The house enfolded us against the cold and wolves, and I drew the curtains.

Sigoth planned when he was going to go and get the Christmas Tree. I put the shopping away and together we made chowder.

On Thursday night the pub is having a curry night, so we’ll walk through the village, stumbling in the dark and slipping on the old fallen leaves and the mud, while we look for constellations in the sky (unless it’s cloudy).

The dark and misty hills reminded me of Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” partly because of the opening lines, but also because it ends on an uncharacteristically cheerful note for Hardy.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

And so, in darkness and in light, may we all sing joyfully.

Namaste.

 

B4peace: The Enemy Within

Every month I try to post an entry on Bloggers for Peace. It is an interesting challenge, and certainly has produced some fantastic reading for me as I consume the outpourings of other contributors. I want to thank Kozo for this idea, because I think it has been a fantastic exercise, and one I hope will continue beyond December. But in November we are ramping up and facing an even tougher gauntlet:

This month, I want you to open your arms to your enemies. Think of a person, a place, a nation, a culture, a religion, a gender, or an ideology that you view as a enemy.

Well, I think any of you who have been with me a while will know that this particular writer has her own challenges and frustrations in this area. Your EBL displays only too human an outburst when provoked. I try to rise above it, I really do, but it just doesn’t happen very often.

But to call these people enemies… To think of the queue jumpers and crazy drivers and tabloid journalists and royal family sychophants and yes, even paedophiles and mass murderers and abusers of the vulnerable as enemies feels like a tall order. It has been to my amazement that actually I really do feel like loving the sinner while hating the sin, albeit in my very own, EBL-esque way.

Don’t get me wrong: most of them need locking up for the good of society. Such as the ones who risk my and Sigoth’s lives as they hurtle past us on a blind bend because they just have to be the car in front, regardless of speed limit, driving conditions or visibility, or the drunken lorry driver who crashed across the central reservation of the M1 and killed my friend, her husband and two small girls.

And don’t get me started on the notable deliberate evil-doers, such as Joseph Kony, Kim Jong-Il, Than Shwe, and so on – I’m not even starting on the list of consensually agreed “bad guys” from the 20th century or earlier. Frankly, their mothers are ashamed of them and they all need to sit in their rooms for a long time to think about what they have done, While they are there the rest of us need to make sure those doors are secured so they do not come out again to do more and worse.

Let’s not forget the inexplicably anonymous folk either. For the terrible things done on a personal level to friends and acquaintances, it is better for them to comment, but I want to be here for you if you need me.

So all in all, I can see a whole shed load of bad, but I just can’t get to the enemy part. I see danger because of their actions, and I believe we need to respond, without sentimentality, to it. Tough love means making people confront the consequences of their actions. If they ever do, it may destroy them; if they do not, then they must remain apart, unfit to join the bulk of humanity, which for all its petty flaws can pretty much agree on what is beyond the pale, when you get right down to it. If these villains really can’t get there, then they are damaged or sick and need to be mended. In my opinion violent criminals are by definition insane and should be placed in Broadmoor until either they are treated successfully for their ailment or until they die; either they can be fixed, in which case we rejoice, or they can’t in which case they are contained. Whichever.

Then we come to politicians who provoke mean-spiritedness and stigmatisation and several –isms. They need a sharp talking to, and I’m the one for it, let me tell you. People who follow their lazy ideology need some bringing up to speed on treating others as they would like to be treated. Journalists of the same water are included in this category, for the sake of completeness. Honestly, the effect of their rabid headline son the likes of my poor old mother is frankly in contravention of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights (in this case to live without fear).

But enemies… not so much.

I admit to being surprised at myself. I can rant for England about people who think wrong thoughts (in my opinion) or do stupid / bad / hurtful things. You will know EBL has Opinions and may venture to enlighten you on occasions.

But enemies…

The shock of it came a couple of days after I started thinking about this challenge, when I finally realised who the True Enemy was, the one person I despise and loathe above all else, whom I never forgive for their mistakes or cut any slack or excuse. It was a painful moment to understand I did have an enemy. It was me.

You see, my dears, I really don’t like me very much. I may not be alone in this, but nevertheless, this week I realised I actually like myself less than those people I have just listed for you. At first I disliked myself more for being so stupid as to think that. I am reasonably certain I have done somewhat less harm in the world than they. But still they evoke less visceral reaction that when I think of my own mistakes. I blame myself for everything. And I wonder why I suffer depression! How stupid of me! (See what I mean?)

Well now, that clever Kozo has made me confront my unreasonable behaviour, and I need to think more about this, in the quiet of my own head. Enemies are exhausting. All that hating helps neither of us. I can’t try to be better if all I get is kicks and sneers. I can’t expect myself to improve if I keep demonising and demeaning me.

“You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Buddha

So while I go away and lie down in a darkened room, I suggest you read what others have written more memorably and poignantly in response to Kozo’s challenge. It’s going to be quite a ride!

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/10/31/monthly-peace-challenge-love-thy-enemy/

http://fishofgold.net/2013/11/06/to-my-enemy/

http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/november-post-for-peace/

http://cardcastlesinthesky.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/a-happier-thanksgiving/

http://lauriesnotes.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/b4peace-monthly-challenge-a-quiet-prayer-of-thanks/

Namaste

B4Peace: Imaginings

So says Kozo:

Let’s visualize what a peaceful world will look like. For this month’s peace challenge, I challenge you to publish what your dream of peace looks like.

So then:

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

Can you really? Because I find it really difficult and that is a depressing thought to start this month’s B4Peace Challenge. Kozo, in his infinite wisdom, has reminded us that we can dream peace if we choose to, and asked us to write about what that dream looks like.

Faced with the task of day-dreaming for a good cause I girded my neurons for the challenge and sat back expectantly. My brain stalled.

Describing a world at peace is like describing an alien spaceship; if one actually came along we probably wouldn’t recognise it and think it was a meteorite instead, or at least something within our experience. And there, my dears, is the rub. Within our experience.

When I was young and green in the spring time of the world I studied philosophy at university. My parents nearly died of shame but that is another story. I studied philosophy, which turned out to be rather less exciting than I had anticipated. However, one lecture I do recall was interesting, because the learned professor talked about Flash Gordon. The film was just out in the cinemas, and he had been to see it. Ah, happy memories of Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, booming out his lines…

Anyway.

The point the learned professor was making, and he made it well if I can still recall it more than 30 years later, was that when we make up a “new” idea, that idea is actually two or more old ideas stuck together. Prince Vultan? A man and a bird. A unicorn? A horse and a rhino. His argument was that anything we invent is actually old stuff recycled.

So, back to the new idea of what the World at Peace would look like.

I might think of it as an old idea (eg the world) minus something  (eg war). But that leaves me with a gap and so the idea is rather flat and dull. It also begs the question of “what is peace?”, and I would jump right back and say peace is not an absence, it is a presence.

Still with me? Good show!

Sometimes being at peace is calm and quiet and reflective, but sometimes it’s a moment of transcendence. This brings us into the territory of Jung, but fear not, fellow travellers, we shall overcome.

The world at peace will contain both kinds of experience on a continuinuinuum, or possibly a long line.

A-B

Sometimes we will dance and sing and fill the skies with our joyful noise, and sometimes we will sit and wait quietly in the certainty of calm. We will still have sadness, I am sorry to say, and loss and grief, but we will have the strength and capacity to manage them. When we lose a loved one, we will know that they and we have lived good lives. Our children will grow up being loved. They will be happy and confident. Those of us who love book-ish things will enjoy the creative explosion that peace will allow; those who love sports will enjoy the Olympic Spirit at every event, roaring their team on to win, full of excitement and drama, but without the shadow of hooliganism or violence, because it really is just a game. We’ll play and work and live and die to the fullest extent of our human condition because war is crippling and peace heals us all.

A world at peace, for my money, means we ditch those inconvenient and brutish emotions of fear and anger and disgust, and turn instead to positive and life affirming ones. Our children grow up secure and therefore confident. There may be mental illness or sickness, but we will know how to manage them, and support those who suffer, because suffering will not end so long as there are toes to stub and death to mourn.

There was an episode of the original Star Trek series where poor old Kirk fell through a wormhole of some description and ended up split into an aggressive and a passive version of himself. It was all enjoyable hokum, but even as a child I didn’t understand why the non-aggressive version had no drive or energy. I still don’t. I am motivated by more positive emotions too, by joy and a wish to do well, and by the desire to produce something beautiful, by art perhaps. There is a confusion between energy, or vitality, and aggression. We need to separate them out.

In a way the world will look much the same but inexplicabley different, like an image in the mirror, or a TV show dubbed into another language.

So, allons-y, mes braves, vers paix!

Namaste

B4Peace: When I’m weary…

Every month, Bloggers for Peace sets us a challenge to post for peace using a theme or topic. This month, rather than wordify peace to perdition, Kozo has suggested we find a shorter, inspirational quote.

I love reading an in-depth post on peace, but sometimes I need a quick fix. At these times I love seeing an inspirational quotation posted in an artistic manner. For this month’s Peace Challenge, I challenge you to post a quotation that will bring peace to the world.

Well, my first three choices were snapped up pretty quickly by smarter, faster bloggers than yours truly, so I sat down and thought really hard about the kinds of quotes that keep me going in the face of adversity, be it clever-clogs bloggers or otherwise. I tried to think of a quote that I might mutter under my breath when I needed to feel peaceful, of calm, or just less murderous.

We all want peace, right? Well, OK, maybe some people don’t. But you and me, we do, don’t we?

There are days, though, when I get tired. When all my efforts are rebuffed by the mean old world and his wife. When no matter how hard I try, it seems I am getting nowhere. And when I am working for peace, doubly so. I mean, just look at the mess in the world right now. I can feel the ache in my heart because I can’t fix it. I’m a fixer, you see, and I just can’t bear it when I can’t find a way to fix something. I fall apart with frustration and misery.

What about you? Do you have those days too, or is it just me?

Well, one of the poems that most sends shivers down my spine is Wordsworth’s Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon. I’m not a huge Wordsworth fan. Daffodils are all very well, but let’s not get carried away with them. This poem is different though. It’s a triumph of hope over despair. When Wordsworth moved away from the river he wrote this farewell, and declared his belief that no matter how frail and insignificant we seem (cue Carl Sagan here!), we can still make a difference. In fact, we can be greater than we know and what we do can live on after us.

 

It reminds me that perhaps my feeble efforts will provide a glimmer of light to someone, one day, in a surprising way. Perhaps it is not all in vain.

So when you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, Wordsworth will dry them all, like a bridge over the River Duddon.

Other bloggers have written more movingly, amusingly or just plain eloquently than I, and you can soothe your minds with their offerings:

http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/september-post-for-peace/

http://rarasaur.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/kind-of-a-stupid-game/

http://fishofgold.net/2013/09/02/peace-through-insignificance/

http://fecthis.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/bloggers-for-peace-monthly-peace-challenge-quote-this/

http://lauriesnotes.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/18811/

http://publictransituser.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/monthly-peace-challenge-quote-this/

Namaste.

 

My Syrian tantrum

I have been struggling since I learned of the chemical attack in Damascus. Struggling with the images and the rhetoric and the desire in myself to do something violent and pain-inducing and retributive to whoever made that attack happen. I wanted to see deadly force used against those responsible.

It’s easy being a pacifist when the biggest challenge is dealing with the supermarket running out of my preferred yoghurt, or a colleague disagreeing about how to resolve a problem or a n able-bodied individual sitting in the disabled seat on the train leaving a wobbly, walking-sticked pensioner to stand. Then I can take a deep breath and try to contain my irritation and think loving thoughts until everything falls into perspective. (I’m not saying I always manage to do it, but I try.)

Chemical weapons, any weapons, are not a source of irritation though. They are far more. They are unforgivable.

No, wait, aren’t I supposed to forgive?

It makes my brain hurt to try and understand why people would use them. And I certainly wanted to go storming over to Syria and send them to their room to think about what they had done.I tworked with our children who have become sensible adults.

Yet these are people who have very clearly thought long and hard about what they planned to do, and then did it. In fact they are dangerous, mad-as-a-bag-of-frogs bullies. Bullies need to be removed from the situation and dealt with, patiently and exhaustingly, but crucially removed until they are safe to be around others.

Then I realised I was being sucked in to all the nonsense about crossing lines and standing up for whatever good word came to mind: freedom, justice, peace.

If before I thought it was wrong to kill people, why was I even giving it time of day now? Because the cold, hard truth is that pacifism is not easy. It means dealing in the long term, not the immediate, knee-jerk present.

In my primitive brain I had a fight or flight response to danger: shall I kill someone or run away and hide? I want to be a more sophisticated life form than that. I want to use thoughtfulness, and compassion. Yet that means not rushing in to save the day as if I know best. It means, with awful certainty, waiting. Waiting for more deaths but working to remove the cause of future deaths, rather than stepping in and introducing new reasons to hate and fight and murder other people. It means being unfashionable and unpopular with those suffering. It means taking the hard path.

Today in meeting for worship at my local Quaker meeting we shared our pain and sense of powerlessness and, indeed, our joint struggle to adhere to our core values. This is what our corporate response to the crisis says; it was published last week just ahead of the Commons vote.

Today in meeting for worship we shared that statement and also asked ourselves through our Advices and Queries to think about how we respond as individuals. Advices and Queries is a document used by Quakers and Quaker meetings in Britain as guidance, prompts and challenges to the issues we confront in the wider world. They are not a call to increased activity by each individual Friend but a reminder of the insights of the Society. We are all asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies.

The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Advices & queries.

The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Advices & queries.

I know I have to take the hard path. I hope to have your company along the way.

Namaste.

B4Peace: Music and the brain

Each month I try to contribute to the Bloggers for Peace topic, and this month we are asked to think about music.

Let me start with the death of a brain.

My mother has dementia. I have mentioned this before so some of you will be nodding along at this point, thinking, “Oh yes, that’s right, EBL’s mother is the one with dementia” and so on.

To be fair she is not as far gone yet as she will be, but further along than anyone would really like. This means she knows roughly where she is, who we are (although on her bad days it takes a moment or two), and how to do some knitting. She likes to look at the pictures in the newspaper and read out the headlines to whoever is there. She likes to read books, although several at a time because she can’t really follow the story and forgets which book she was reading last. She likes to have the TV on so there is light and movement in the room, and to have the light on the electric fire on, so it looks like coals are burning in a friendly, comforting way, even in the heat wave we have just had.

The other thing she likes to do I have also mentioned before; she likes to sing. She sings to herself throughout the day, usually “Que sera, sera” over and over. It was a favourite song of hers when I was little. When she is singing it I know she is feeling OK.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, I am led to understand, that a dementia sufferer who becomes distressed can be calmed and soothed by music. There is a growing body of research to indicate that music therapy may be helpful in overcoming the loss of language production and comprehension in advancing dementia. Google it – there are lots of studies out there.

According to one researcher:

‘We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.’

Music is with us throughout our lives and plays an important role in maintaining our mental health and well-being. It can reach the lizard brain, by-passing the logical bits that get in the way of feeling and experiencing the world. We hear a tune and we are absorbed, sometimes in a memory, sometimes in the joy of the moment.

The other week I watched the BBC Prom with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as well as his Coriolan Overture.

I like a bit of Prom on a Friday evening to finish off the week and settle down for the weekend.  I like Beethoven, in part because I grew up listening to a lot of it. My father loved Beethoven and played him frequently. I could identify the Symphonies before I knew who the Beatles were. I liked Beethoven because he was deaf but still wrote incredible symphonies.

My dad would have loved the modern world. He was a geek of the first water. He would have loved computers and digital TV and streaming radio and downloadable music and digital cameras and Netflix and Skype. He would have loved the Proms on BBC4 on Friday evening. We would have sat and watched them together in some kind of cosy family cocoon. We always watched Last Night of the Proms; it was the only time I was allowed to stay up late when I was little, and we both conducted furiously to the Sea Shanties and Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory. It was better than Eurovision.

So as I sat and watched the Prom the other week I felt a great sadness because there was Beethoven’s music and I wanted to turn to dad and ask what he thought of this conductor, Runnicles. Dad was a big fan of von Karajan until he discovered Barenboim; he was always open to new versions.

I felt such a sense of loss as I realised I couldn’t have that conversation, yet the music made my dad feel so close to me, twenty years after he died. I suspect he may have retained his allegiance to Barenboim, but he would have enjoyed the performance nonetheless, especially the Coriolan Overture.

Thinking about dad brought home to me why music is such a comfort for my mother. That effect of reaching into your heart and soul means it is connecting to pretty much the only thing left when dementia has taken away the superficial veneer of speech and rationality. In this way it brings her peace.

May music bring peace to you and those you love, wherever they find themselves.

Other blogs on music and peace include:

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/08/01/monthly-peace-challenge-one-good-thing-about-music/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/

http://mylittlespacebook.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/a-joyful-noise/

http://sarahneeve.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/august-b4peace-i-dedicate-to-my-dad/

http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/august-post-for-peace/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Namaste.

Anniversaries

So it’s Hiroshima memorial day today and one of the Offsprings’ birthdays. We have never linked the two but you might excuse me if I do not treat the day with perhaps its full reverence, being as I want to celebrate the birth of one of my children.

That’s the way it is, isn’t it? The phenomenon described by WH Auden in his poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

We live very egocentric lives. When we mourn we want the world to stop and mourn with us. When we rejoice, we don’t have time for others’ sorrow. Every day people suffer grief and joy. Similarly we celebrate the anniversaries that mean something to us and forget the rest; yet still we expect the world to remember with us.

If we want to bring about peace in the world we have to acknowledge those other memories, the ones we don’t even know about. Those are the memories and feelings which affect how people respond to us, and often we don’t even know what they are. Often we cannot ever know what they are, perhaps the person we are interacting with doesn’t consciously know either.

With all this baggage all we can do is accept it exists, in some kind of other dimension, and try to let it go. We can only ask others to try the same.

This month Kozo asks us to think about Music and Peace as the monthly Bloggers for Peace topic. Music is a major trigger for memory, so it’s a powerful force in our lives. This post is not about music but it feels to me like there is a connection there somewhere. Don’t hold your breath – I may return to this in due course.

Meanwhile, try and let your baggage go, and have a lovely, peaceful and burden-free day.

Namaste.

 

B4Peace: Hey Nick!

Dear Father Christmas

I have been a very good and helpful girl this year and my Mum says that she is proud of me. Well, actually, she asked me what the weather was like, but she meant she was proud of me.

Christmas candles

I know it’s a bit early to be writing but I saw some Christmas candles in a shop today and they made me think of you. Then I thought that because I was going to ask for a really Big Thing, perhaps it would help if I let you know early. So you can gearing up the elves and extending the workshops and so on.

You might be thinking that just because I have been a good girl I expect to be treated like something special. Well, mon Père, we both know it doesn’t work that way and that it really only counts when you are good anyway and not just for Christmas. I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you that my being good was not with this ultimate request in mind; I have only thought of it today when looking at those candles.

This is a gift for myself but also for my friends, for Kozo who put it in my head, and for everyone on B4peace; for my family and friends in meatspace and colleagues and neighbours; for the people of my country and every country; for the people I don’t like and the people I am rude about and even for the politicians and bankers, whom I really am not at all keen on.

No, really, I mean it, mein liebe Nikolaus, even them. Perhaps especially them because it seems they need it most of all.

It’s this thing that is something and nothing. You can’t touch it with your fingers unless you close your eyes, and then, sometimes, it is there. You can’t build it with your hands, only with your heart. You can’t wrap it in tinsel or paper, but you can wrap it in love, which is the best of all.

At the risk of sounding like Rolf Harris, do you know what it is yet?

Well, here we go. My mouth is a little dry and my hands are a little wet and sweaty. But I’m going to ask you, Father C, can you give me Peace in the world?

If anyone can do it, you can. You can break all kinds of Laws of Physics, visiting every part of the globe (except maybe Antarctica – although there too if there were children waiting for you) faster than the world spins. You can make reindeer fly, which is quite a clever trick. You can fit down chimneys even in houses that don’t have one. You can eat endless mince pies and drink endless glasses of sherry without losing control of your sleigh or your good humour due to indigestion or intoxication.

Can you? Can you?

Anxiously awaiting your reply…

EBL (51 years and 2 months)

This letter is part of July’s Bloggers for Peace and you can read other thoughts here:

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/06/27/monthly-peace-challenge-peace-begins-with-a-letter/

http://sarahneeve.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/julys-b4peace-peace-begins-with-a-letter/

http://yaussiechick.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/dear-dianna/

http://lauriesnotes.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/b4peace-monthly-peace-challenge-a-letter/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Namaste

Together we are stronger

This month’s Bloggers for Peace topic asks us to consider our relationships. My brain ferments such questions. Today I uncork for you some early brewings.

You know how it goes: one minute in the privacy of your head you are thinking deep and meaningful thoughts; the next, someone else, outside your bony skull echoes them in public. It happened today.

To start at the very beginning: I am reading a book. I know, who’d have thought it? It’s about the Civil War, by which I mean the English Civil War in the 17th century. The book itself is a peculiar mix of history text book and historic fiction. It’s a bit peculiar but fascinating.

As you will no doubt be aware, there is nothing civil about a Civil War, and the English variety was no exception. It tore apart the country, respecting no person, destroying trade, harvests and cities, families and friendships. It was as uncivilised as war can get, with civilians being used as human shields or hostages, or just target practice. Your immediate neighbours, with whom you had lived cheek by jowl all your life, might suddenly mutate into the Opposition. One man was for the King, his brother for Parliament, and they were followed for better or worse by daughters, wives and children. Both armies, and their camp followers, slogged through ice and snow, rain, sun and mud, starved, died of fever, disease and trench foot (this war was fought in trenches in some cases, just like the calamity in the Somme in the early 20th century), as well as wounds and quaint medical practice.

At the end of it all we, the people, killed the King for treason. We had a contract, you see, where in return for his life of privilege and riches, we could expect his service through good governance and a dedication to our collective welfare. He believed he had a Divine Right, but it turned out he was mistaken, fatally so.

The execution of the reigning monarch would have sent shock waves through an already fractured society and across the Channel throughout Europe. As everyone returned wearily from the years of war to try and rebuild their lives, it would have been hard to trust their neighbours again. During this period a number of extravagant and radical religious groups flourished, in part by offering to replace the lost trust and sense of community desired by a shocked and stricken populace. Among them were Quakers.

It didn’t last, of course. In the end we brought back the king, a new one, whom we held to account. Well, it was that or give up Christmas, and as Narnians will tell you, that is not much fun. The English reserve as their inalienable right the opportunity to celebrate a mid-winter festival. It’s the long, dark nights, you see. You have to take your mind off them, preferably with alcohol.

In my more old-fogeyish moments I sometimes feel we are experiencing similar upheaval today, as communities fracture under the pressures of modern life. There seems to be a lack of connectedness which, I think, can result in the total lack of love for others evidenced by bankers, care workers and certain celebrities. Obviously, many bankers, care workers and celebrities are kind, nurturing people; it’s just we hear about the others. Equally these behaviours are not new.

Whatever the causes, or not, and whether it’s true, or not, people do like to feel part of a community. Some communities may be closer than others, but no one likes to feel alone always and forever.

So there I was, sitting in Quaker meeting and thinking about how we are the same as those distant forebears of the 17th century, when someone stood up and said:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Well now! There’s a thing. Because I had been brooding over Isaac Penington’s letter from 1667, which begins like this:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall

Isaac lived through a terrible period of history and he, like others, wanted to leave behind all war and occasion for war. He was a religious man, and saw love and peace and tenderness as a calling from God.

These times are not as religious as then, although it seems superstition is rife instead. We have learned so much and most of it is magnificent, as Professor Brian Cox likes to point out in excited tones.

Reason is a mighty instrument, but reason without love is empty. Reason does not soothe tears or smooth away bad dreams. Compassion and wisdom, as some might say, are the way to enlightenment. Or as Bill and / or Ted would have it:

Be excellent to one another

Namaste.

 

Bloggers for Peace: Better to have loved and lost…

Can you have a relationship with someone you have never met? Can you have a relationship with a favourite author? Certainly in the Age of Celebrity there appear to be many people who think they have a relationship with characters from TV programmes or films, or with actors, whom they never can meet.

I am fairly confident in assuming that many of you are avid readers. Certainly I believe it to be so when you are such great writers. It does not follow that if I read I can also write; however, I am certain that if you write well, you must read broadly too.  So regardless of any pretensions to writing well, I will admit I do read broadly and will further assume that this is true for you as well.

I love certain authors. I never interact with them directly – well, almost never. Recently I felt very daring and left a message on a top author’s blog expressing gratitude for his books and letting him know how much they had meant to me over the very many years I had been reading him, since the 1984 in fact.

Do you have a favourite genre? I have probably said before that I am a big science fiction fan. I may be repeating myself (I’m too lazy to check) but one of the reasons I fell into a long term relationship with a number of science fiction authors, in my devil-may-care, the-more-the-merrier, I-read-around-a-bit way, was that I read an essay/article by someone erudite. It may have been Brian Aldiss, I’m not sure, but what he said was that the reason science fiction was an interesting, even essential, genre was that it gave you space to explore really big and difficult questions in new ways without the baggage. You could look at relationships and society and history and science and politics and elitism and autocrats and racism and human rights and, when you get right down to it, what it means to be a human being, with freedom and honesty and integrity. If you wanted. He suggested that when you were writing in the real world, you were constrained by real world limitations and expectations and the status quo. Actually he might not have said any of that, but it’s what I took away from whatever it was I read.

Science fiction was exciting at an intellectual level, not just a boys’-toys (excuse me, chaps), Flash Gordon, shoot-the-aliens kind of way. It had a weight and heft that mattered. Plus I learned all my science from Star Trek (and my history from Jean Plaidy but that’s another story, quite literally).

Within the honoured throng of writers there is one to whom I was devoted, because he wrote about really positive possibilities. He confronted difficulties and he didn’t fall into some kind of dystopian nightmare, framed by Ridley Scott in rain and darkness (yes, I do mean Bladerunner – as if Philip K Dick wasn’t depressing enough in print). He saw people overcoming our current idiocies and taking science and prodding serious buttock with it until we had a society worth living in. There was also pain and despair and very dark humour, and exciting spaceship fights begging to be screened at an IMAX, and artificial intelligence that was cool and clever and actually quite human at the same time.

Obviously a humble purchaser of his books such as myself would never dream of crossing his shadow. He was too clever and cool and brilliant for the likes of me. I bought everything he published, science fiction or not, and it was all amazing (well, maybe one dud if I am truthful).

On 3rd April Iain Banks announced that he was unwell; that in fact he had been diagnosed with late stage gall bladder cancer.  I signed his message board to express my sorrow and appreciation.

On Sunday, 9th June, he died.

Can we have relationships with people we have never met. I’m not sure. Do we need reciprocity? Does his writing books and my consuming books represent more than symbiosis? And is symbiosis a relationship of a kind?

I don’t know, but I feel a loss, and am sad to think I will never read new books by him. There are fantastic new writers to meet yet, but each writer is unique and so cannot be replaced. Iain Banks’ warmth and humour and challenge will be hard to follow. He railed against stupidity and promoted compassion. He helped me think about what it means to be human. He wrote many wonderful things, but in summary they all come to this:

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.”
Iain Banks, Against a Dark Background

Meanwhile, read other blogs participating in this month’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge:

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/05/28/monthly-peace-challenge-peace-at-home/

http://mylittlespacebook.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/what-do-duck-fights-have-to-do-with-peace/

http://cpgutierrez.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/accepting-the-challenge/#comment-2568

http://retiredruth.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/monthly-peace-challenge/

http://ponderingspawned.com/2013/06/11/sing-sweet-nightingale/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Namaste.