Forgiveness – Post for Bloggers for Peace

As a proud member of the Bloggers for Peace Anti-Massacree Movement,  I have committed to posting a blog for peace on a monthly basis. Kozo has provided the theme for each month, and this month it’s Forgiveness.

On boy! That’s a challenge to be sure! My dears, EBL is not of a forgiving nature. I emulate the oak and not the reed. When someone hurts me, then I am hurt and they must pay. It takes a long time for that raw, burning sensation to ease sufficiently for me to shrug it away, accept the scars and conclude that life is life, and we all make mistakes, unintentionally or not, and occasionally with far from hilarious consequences.

I can think of two or three examples where I have not yet quite forgiven. On the other hand, where I have been a bit more grown up about things, I know that feeling of relief in letting go. The lightness, the energy released, the gladness, the smug feeling of superiority…wait, that’s not right, is it?

Because, my dears, there is a teensy little bit of me, a small devil inside, that says when I do forgive and let go, it’s for my benefit and no one else’s. I may feel better but if I don’t or can’t pass that on to the forgive, then they may remain outside a state of grace.

I am thinking of when I am the one in need of forgiveness. There are many occasions where that applies, let me tell you. What does being forgiven feel like? Is it equally light and joyous? Well, I’m not really sure, because most of the times I can think of, those times when I have been badly behaved, no one has ever come back to tell me that I am forgiven. I am left hoist on my own shame, dangling in the wind, chained by remorse and fettered by guilt. No one has freed me. I don’t know if they have forgotten and moved on, or if my evil deed still somehow eats at their soul.

The one person I know who forgives me is Sigoth. I am confident in him. We forgive each other as part of the contract between us. We are safe. It’s just as well, because I am horrible sometimes, but he knows it’s no more than a storm thrashing the waves to a tsunami, and that underneath the strong currents of our relationship will continue to carry us through.

Lucky us. An ongoing relationship allows us to be forgiven and forgiving. Many of my interactions are less permanent in nature. They have less foundation and less of a maintenance programme. They are more like a tent than a temple, and so they can be damaged and worn by carelessness, and founder on the rocks of aggression.

Because at the end of the day, it’s aggression that needs forgiveness. A snide remark, bullying, genocide, theft, dishonesty, cheating, hurtful gossip, physical or mental abuse: they are all rooted in some kind of power play stemming from aggression, from the need to be bigger and stronger, to be the car in front, leader of the pack, in control of another’s life in some small, or large, way. To win at all costs.

Why would anyone feel that need. Why do I feel that need? Every time I am mean, that is what I am doing. It may not be possible for the other person to forgive me, either because they are not in that place psychologically, or because they never see me again (a shop assistant, say).

For me to be released from the self-loathing that realisation later brings, I need to forgive myself too. If I do not despise myself I am less likely (I hope!) to do more mean things later. It’s not about letting myself off the hook, it’s about recognising and loving and holding in the light that weakness and human frailty which belongs to us all. It’s about admitting I am like everyone else, prone to mistakes, that we are all made of the same stardust, and we all can try to make it shine.

I find that when I can do that, it is also easier to see that frailty in others, and so to go on and forgive them too.

I am trying to remember that feeling very clearly so that next time, and already I am sorry that there will be a Next Time, I can move past it more quickly and possibly even head it off at the pass.

Other Bloggers for Peace have already written on Forgiveness, including:

Namaste.

Saving the world one book at a time

We were talking about Mali the other day at work. Well, it was that or reading 189 pages of a contract. Our brains cried “Foul!” and even the solicitor agreed.

In particular we talked about the loss of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research (although we said “Library”) in Timbuktu, set on fire by the Islamist Militia as they left. The Institute was a new one designed to house the incredible collection of manuscripts and books dating back 800 years.

Our solicitor is a well-informed person of taste and discernment.

“Never fear!” she declared. “Many books were indeed saved!”

She sent me this link to prove it.

Months of secret planning spared Timbuktu’s manuscripts

by Rukmini Callimachi

This is a story that deserves telling again. The man who had cared for the collection for 40 years removed the books and manuscripts one sack at a time in the night, sending them away to safety. It took him two weeks under the noses of the hard-line militia.

Abba Alhadi took simple steps with great courage to achieve what he needed to do. I am incredibly moved by this story; it tells me that small steps can and do make a difference. It gives me hope. It inspires me.

Rufus Jones memorably said:

I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.

The noise and bustle of larger events, of wars and protests and news conferences and summits, seem so far removed from most of us, so unattainable and unshakeable by our little doings, that we can lose faith. Today we can read about this man and know we too can make a difference, just by doing what is needful.

Other Bloggers for Peace speak more eloquently on their blogs:

Namaste.

 

Boiling Point

When I am at work I often fancy a cup of tea, nectar of the gods, to ease my day. I like tea. If I had not had the fortune to be born British this may have been more problematic, but here tea drinkers are looked on with affection and understanding.

Sometimes. In offices across the land there is a terrible blight and I need to tell you about it. I will not shield you. Prepare to be shocked.

In many offices kettles have been replaced with…hot water taps!

The tap is supposed to dispense boiling water. My dears, the tap lies. The water is not boiling; it is warm but it is not boiling. It cannot brew tea, not even the mass-produced, bagged variety.

Office workers are betrayed, and in their agony they turn to instant coffee or immerse tea bags in the tap’s effluvium to produce a drink inaccurately referred to as tea, but in fact, not tea. No one is clear why the taps are there. ‘Elf and Safety is blamed, but I am not sure. I believe it is a conspiracy to weaken our moral fibre in preparation for the Great Invasion.

Meanwhile, colleagues offer to provide me with the elixir of life.

“Tea?” they ask brightly as they take the round. Some have already turned to the Dark Side and request the granulated coffee option. I can sympathise. We have all been tempted and not always resisted. We are only human after all and these taps are inhuman.

I continue to fight the good fight, today at least. “Yes, please,” I say, heart sinking.

“How do you take it?”

“Like my men, strong, dark and handsome,” I tell them. They remember that better than “Strong please, not too much milk.”

One colleague in particular is excellent at managing to wring flavour from a limp tea bag suspended in warm water. I applaud his ingenuity and am pathetically grateful that he turns his talents to providing me with a drink that is more palatable than the usual alternative. He understands and shares my pain. In fact, he makes it his mission to produce a drink that is recognisably of the tea family. Each time he succeeds it is a little victory against the Dark Forces.

There is a storm coming, possibly in a teacup.

A couple of weeks ago the tap refused to provide water at any temperature. It runs out now and then, as if dribbling luke warm liquid is so exhausting that it cannot be expected to meet our insatiable demands any longer. Drama Queen!

I needed tea. I don’t mean I just fancied a cup. I needed it. Like a junkie. The Want drove me. I knew there was a kettle, hidden away for emergencies. I asked around, wheedling. I found it and got it out and boiled water. God, that tea was good. Oh so good.  I left the kettle out for other people to use until the tap was restored. I became a pusher.

It’s still there. It turns out that I am not alone, that many of us prefer to boil the kettle. We smile and look a bit embarrassed and admit that we prefer to drink tea made that way, as if we should be ashamed of it. This is the evil of the tap, that we do not claim our God-given right to drink tea as free-born English folk. The coffee drinkers use the tap, because instant coffee is fine with less-than-boiling water. To be honest, nothing is going make that stuff OK to drink.

I think it may be too late to put the kettle away again. We know it’s there. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can’t pretend the kettle does not exist, any more than you can claim the earth is the unmoving centre of the universe. “And yet it boils,” you might say, so long as the Inquisition were not around.

If I am remembered for anything, let it be this. I found the kettle and brought it to the oppressed. And if that kettle ever disappears, then I will seek it out again. I will not rest. I will brew.

Namaste.

 

Hopefully

Hopefully, my dears, I will be posting this to you soon. I travel in hope as I write this, as WordPress has decided to block my ability to post because my blog content is causing concern.

Well, how very exciting! I haven’t felt this excited since being phone-tapped in the 1980s for being undesirable. It makes me feel positively young again. The phone tapping thing was because we were caretakers at the local Quaker Meeting House, and I also worked at Friends House in London. I suspect they just listened in automatically. They would have been treated to some very mundane conversations, but obviously it was all code.

“Hello, Someplace Friends Meeting House.”

“I’d like to book the hall for Saturday 5th all day please, in the name of Someplace Embroiderers.”

“Oh, hello, you’ve booked before, haven’t you? That’s fine, it’s free then. Is that all day or just half a day?”

“All day please, with access to the kitchen.”

“OK, that will be an extra £10. Please be aware we do not allow alcohol on the premises.”

And so on. Clearly all a deadly plot against HMG. At no point did we discuss the geese flying south for the winter, or the clouds hanging low over London, although it was tempting.

The Embroiderers are not a joke though. We also hired out meeting rooms at Friends House and the National Front was always trying to book the large hall because it was cheap, capacious and handy for various stations. We had them blacklisted but they remained hopeful too. They booked once as an Embroidery Guild and we only realised when lots of shaven-headed young men in bovver boots arrived for the meeting. Now I don’t mean to be stereotypist here, but generally such sartorial elegance is negatively correlated with a keen interest in artistic sewing. Upon challenge it turned out they were, in fact, not the Embroidery Guild and so were asked to leave.

So here I am, writing to you from the equivalent of Solitary Confinement until WordPress respond to my cries for help. If they take too long there will be a mighty storm of posting to catch me up. I look on it as a way to learn patience. I’m learning as quick as I can! Hopefully.

Namaste.

And thanks to the Kindly Elves at WordPress my account was restored in under 24 hours. Thanks, guys! Although can I say I am slightly disappointed not to be considered a radical threat to society after all…

Three Hundred

My dears, this is my 300th post and I wanted to celebrate my ability to churn out endless drivel with you all. I decided that clearly the best thing to do was to free associate with the number, but of course, I only got as far as that film and then ran into a cul-de-sac. So I am going to write about Leonidas instead, and why he is a banner boy for the peace movement. To be fair, this is also because I realise I have failed to respond to Kozo’s challenge to write about Acts of Kindness this month (I am interpreting a bit liberally here), so if nothing else my 300th post will allow me to meet my commitment and evidence a creative flair for twisting the facts to fit my own agenda.

Specifically I am not going to write just about the film, you understand, although in itself it is a guilty pleasure. Guilty because it is really not very good, and because it promotes a world view that I do not subscribe to. However, I think we miss something important it if we dismiss it altogether. Here, in my circumlocutory way, is why.

As a child I started to learn difficult words like “Spartan” fairly early because I was a prodigious reader. I associated the word in my mind with “spare” (as in “gaunt” or “basic”), because my brain likes to make those kind of links to help it understand.

Later I learned about Leonidas and his army of Three Hundred Spartans, in their bronze armour and red cloaks, and the inspirational story of their courage (the Spartan soldier Dienekes is credited with the response to the news that the enemy archers were so numerous their arrows would block out the sun that then the Spartans would fight in the shade – Herodotus 7.226) and betrayal – the treacherous dog Epialtes who showed the army of Xerxes the way around the mountain to ambush the Greeks.  It’s a great story and all the better for being about real people.

That quote of Dienekes underpins it all, and sounds ridiculously modern and sound-bitey. But the reference is irrefutably Herodotus, reliable or not.

Equally Leonidas was a man for a James Bond quip, almost certainly said with a slow drawl and raised eyebrow. According to Plutarch this time, when invited to surrender his arms by Xerxes, he replied “Come and take them.” You can hear the follow-on “…if you think you’re hard enough.” Who knew Leonidas spoke with a Glaswegian accent?

In short, Spartans admired brevity of word and the term “laconic” derives from their other name – Lacedaemonians. I am sure Twitter would have been more to their tastes than blogging.

The Spartans were unflinching in their dedication to duty and their commitment to military excellence. They understood the psychology of intimidation, and polished their bronze armour until it shone so brightly their opponents were terrified (being more familiar with leather than metal war gear). They had a rigid hierarchy and rigid rules; in a sense they were utterly egalitarian within clearly defined and enforced social strata. When their Three Hundred died at Thermopylae, the Greeks remembered them with a specially dedicated inscription (apart from the many other Greeks who died there, about 4,000 in all – never forget in real life they were not alone by a long way).

“Stranger, report this word, we pray, to the Spartans, that lying
Here in this spot we remain, faithfully keeping their laws.”

Those laws, so beloved by the Spartans, were fierce, and bred fierceness. Spartans were required to put the state above all else, including family. They exposed weak babies on the mountainside to die. They rationed food to teach children to survive by stealing, punishing any who were caught for carelessness. Both boys and girls had to participate in the education programme, but the boys went onto the military lifestyle, through a rigorous and dangerous series of competitions which not all survived. It was a Spartan woman who is credited (Plutarch again) with telling her departing son to return from war either with his shield or on it. Failure was never an option. The rest of the Greek states thought they were insane.

They would not have had much time for Bloggers for Peace or other such wordy tree-huggers. Their culture was founded on the antithesis of what we moderns call kindness.

Would kindness have made them stronger? Might it have allowed them to forge tighter links with the other, quarrelling Greek states and so present a stronger face to the Persians? The Persians were allegedly defeated because of the Spartan stand – not because the Spartans won the battle, but because it gave the rest of the Greeks time and encouragement to make their own more united defence, a bit like Chamberlain was credited with buying time for Britain to re-arm to fight Hitler. (The Persians also lost because of geography – crossing the Hellespont – and the complex logistics of keeping such a vast army fed and watered so far from home, maintaining incredibly extended supply lines over enormous distance. But who’s counting? The Persians were amazing; but we remember the Spartans, in part because they are better documented.)

And yet, and yet, the peace movement can still learn from them. We can learn as much about kindness by its absence, and the consequences of that absence, as we can by its demonstration. A friend of mine, now sadly no longer with us, used to talk about the need to study and understand war if we are to be harbingers of true peace. As a committed Quaker and refugee from Germany in the 1930s, he became an influential Reader in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. He saw it as his best opportunity to work towards peace in the world.

So, back to that film. Apart from the undeniable enjoyment of watching graphically enhanced chaps running around in leather kilts and being tewwibly tewwibly macho (bless them), what can it teach us as a peaceful people? The inherent cultural norms in the film are not dissimilar to key Spartan values of freedom (as a justification for war) and military prowess as the pinnacle of achievement. Although the cultural practices of the Spartans have been softened in the film to make them acceptable and therefore sympathetic to a modern audience, the messages are recognisable across the millennia. Leonidas remains the hero. He does not flinch from what he sees as his duty. The story we continue to tell our youth is that we admire courage against the odds, in a very specific sense of going to war.

Be not downhearted though! We can redeem this story and make it shine. We can take back the narrative. We can oppose armies and the need for armies with our bodies and minds and hearts.  We can learn to stand firm and throw back a light hearted quip as we continue to deliver our message, no matter how unpopular or risky that may feel. If some of us are not up to the task, and I am often not, then we can hope that there remain at least three hundred who will not relent. We can hope that while they stand firm, unlike the Spartans, they can show the rest of us some kindness in our frailty.

Being asked why the best of men prefer a glorious death to an inglorious life, Leonidas said

“Because they believe the one to be Nature’s gift but the other to be within their own control.”

Let us take control and lead glorious, peaceful lives.

Other bloggers taking control include:

Mindmindful

Walking No Line

and everyone on The List

 

Namaste.

 

A fighting opponent

“A fighting opponent” (8 letters).

I was working on a crossword yesterday before settling down to plan a post as part of Bloggers for peace, and this clue was giving me some trouble. Then I got it (it was the last one to do, that’s how slow I was!). I’m sure cryptic crossword fans will be sighing heavily at how obtuse I am, and those of you not cryptically inclined will be looking blankly at the page and wondering what is EBL on today?

The answer to the clue, in case you want to know, was “pacifist”, ie an opponent of fighting.  Geddit? I know, cryptic crosswords are a bit, er, cryptic…

So that was an interesting piece of synchronicity, or coincidence, and got me nowhere in terms of a blog post. Not unless I wanted to do something on favourite cryptic crossword clues. Such as “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters), or “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters).

So I settled down to watch the wondrous Borgen, as planned, and tried to let go of bloggery.

Wouldn’t you know it though? Not only did those delightful Danes live up to my wildly inflated expectations, and pull off not one, but two, absolutely cracking episodes; not only that, but also the first episode was about the war in Afghanistan.

EBL wears a serious face…

The show encapsulated a dilemma that I face as a pacifist. Once a violent set of actions have commenced, the next conundrum is whether to support further actions to try to reduce and minimise future harm, or whether to withdraw in order to resist collusion with opposing principles and actions. In the Borgen episode, the broadly left-leaning prime minister, who was trying to remove Danish troops from Helmand, had to deal with the fallout of a fresh attack by the Taliban which resulted in the loss of a number of Danish troops.

I am aware at this point that I am about to introduce spoilers for anyone who is planning to watch this episode, but has not yet done so. So if that is you, go watch it first!

In summary, due to public and media responses to the loss of life, she was unable to keep to the plan for a phased and managed troop withdrawal. She had either to withdraw immediately, allow the Taliban to claim a moral and actual victory and face the consequences (difficult but do-able for her), or she could respond by increasing the amount of equipment, resource and troop levels in Helmand (not what she wanted to do at all but an obvious choice for a number of others).

She was put under pressure by Afghani activists who begged her to support their country in promoting democracy. She faced down political opponents who wanted to pursue a more military (and macho) goal. She dealt with her own supporters who wanted to stick to the original plan (political suicide). Then she was faced by the father of one of the dead soldiers, who was himself opposed to the war, but who shared his son’s farewell letter with her. In it his son tried to explain to his anti-war father why he had joined up and served in Afghanistan.

It was a complex, emotional and brilliantly written story. The acting, as always, was superb. God, I love Borgen, even though political dramas generally are absolutely not my thing.

Maybe I won’t tell you what she did in the end. Did she change her approach, or did she stick to her principles and take the consequences? Just watch it already!

Actually what she chose is not important because (a) Borgen is fiction, and (b) the dilemma is always there, regardless of a specific choice at a specific time. What the show did was allow the audience to work out their own solution and agree or not with the way chosen by the character.

This dilemma is familiar to peace activists. It can split groups apart who should be working together. It causes loss of peace in itself, just by existing.

The Friends Ambulance Unit was initially set up in the First World War to provide conscientious objectors with a role in the conflict that did not violate their opposition to fighting, but allowed them to support and help those wounded in it. Again, this was not unilaterally supported by all Friends. Some preferred to go to prison rather than support the war effort in any way. It also operated in the Second World War.

Once we are committed to acts of aggression, it seems inevitable that there are innocent bystanders. In the 1980s I could not bring myself to support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland because I felt the vacuum that would have left would have caused greater harm and violence. It was a difficult decision. I opposed the troops being there in the first place, but given that they were, I felt I had to take that into account.

My dears, EBL is a pragmatist, first and foremost. I manage projects, which means most of my time is spent finding ways around things which don’t go to plan. Life is messy and doesn’t read my critical path, unbelievable though that is. I wash it all up at the end in an evaluation to try and avoid making the same mistakes, but in the heat of project delivery (and it can get heated, and much of that heat may well be generated by yours truly if someone defaults on their commitment, I can tell you! You don’t want to make me angry.) I ignore the why, and focus on the “if … then…” option of sorting it out.

It does not sit easy. Sometimes I feel I have sold my soul, and not just on projects.

I said “No” to sending troops to Afghanistan. They went. I won’t celebrate it, and even though there are examples of good being done, I am not sure I can condone it. While I am not comfortable with asserting that my ethical squeamishness is more important than, say, Malala Yousafzai’s right to an education, nevertheless, in my bones I feel that there is still some moral weight to my viewpoint. If we accept, as I think we must, Malala’s right to an education (and if you don’t, then that is another matter to be discussed elsewhere), then using this agreement as a basis for violent intervention and conflict does not necessarily follow. Trying to link the secondary actions as a necessary outcome of the first (Girls should have education; girls’ education can only be achieved by killing the Taliban; therefore we must kill the Taliban) is both flawed and lazy. There are other ways to ensure the education of girls. Nor am I trying to imply this was the given reason for the war, of course! The given reason was just as muddled.

If we fail to stand firm on this, we contribute to a single-minded, unthinking and inherently dangerous world view that whoever has the biggest gun gets to decide whether girls go to school, or whatever the issue is that is being fought over. There needs to be constant challenge and discussion and reflection on all important ethical issues to ensure that we do not simply fall back lazily on what seems the easiest answer.

And if we should have learned anything by now, it is this: the long-term effects of such “obvious” solutions demonstrate that violent interventions merely result in generations of future conflict even if for a while some girls get to go to school. This is true of the rest of the world as much as Afghanistan. The UK is still trying to deal with the impact of its colonial past. Other examples abound; feel free to <insert your example here>.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..

My dears, I appreciate your time in reading this rambling and poorly constructed brain dump. I am not agile of word or fleet of keyboard when ruminating seriously. I beg your indulgence.

Other bloggers for peace who are more able and beautiful than I include:

And really, go and watch Borgen!

The light in me salutes the light in you. Namaste.

P.S. “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters). Bark.

P.P.S. “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters). Pontoon.

Peace Testimony

My dears, I need to share something with you.

I don’t feel comfortable with New Year Resolutions. For me there is an implied double standard, a bit like the implied double standard of swearing an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. What this means, to me, is that the rest of the time I might not do that.  How very dare you!

The other day I wrote a piece about a blog I enjoy reading, so today I am going to tell you about another one, written by Fish of Gold.

There are many great reasons to enjoy the blog: witty stories, great quality writing and provocative articles. FOG also occasionally shares difficult and demanding issues and experiences, and in my opinion this is what contributes to turning the blog into a fully-rounded expression of being human (or piscine, if you will).

Recently FOG wrote about Bloggers for Peace, and it caught my eye in particular because I think peace is a good idea.

If you are interested in reading more about it, then you can click the badge on this blog or follow this link to Bloggers for peace. Just imagine – if just 100 bloggers commit to blogging once a month in 2013 about peace and what it means to them, we will have a great conversation with more than a post a day. All the How-to-do-it is there too.

I am a pacifist. I said I think peace is a good idea, but I don’t think it’s is an easy or simple idea. Crucially I find the some people equate it with passivity, but I am here to tell you that is not the case.  Pacifism is not passive surrender, it is an active obedience. That can mean upholding a difficult and unpopular point of view, and even facing persecution for it. It can (and does) mean that we oppose the use of force no matter what, even, for example, in 1939 against the Nazi threat. We uphold the essential humanity of evil-doers, while detesting and opposing their evil. We demand that they are dealt with another way, even though we might not know what it is, or how it can be done.

Many war-mongers try to validate their actions by claiming they are required in order to bring about peace. I can’t hold with this. To explain why I am now going to quote to you from the original Quaker Peace Testimony, so prepare yourself for some righteous 17th century olde English.

the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, & again to move unto it; And we do certainly know, & so testify to the World, that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth, wil never move us to fight and war against any man with outward Weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the Kingdoms of this World.

The Testimony was addressed to Charles II in 1660 to demonstrate that Quakers, a heavily persecuted religious group, were no threat to the authorities, and had no intentions of rising up violently against the newly restored crown. At the time carrying a sword was as normal as carrying a mobile phone today, and people who chose not to do so were viewed with intense suspicion.

The nub of the argument was that it was inconsistent and unethical to say one day you were for peace and the next that you would kill people who disagreed with you. It identified a double standard. Quakers at that time decided this was not acceptable for them, and have kept to that ever since.

The Quaker Peace Testimony remains central to modern Quaker beliefs and actions. As a Quaker I want to uphold this testimony, although I fail and fail every day, then fail again. And every day I need to brush myself down and try once more.

Namaste

Compassion

My dears, I fear this will not be a cheerful post because EBL is not in a cheerful place. I have spent the weekend thinking sad thoughts and cannot be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on this grey Monday morning. But I can be hopeful.

Last week I was away from work and posting was a step too far after my first attempt. In a way it was because I forsook you all to go out and have fun with colleagues at our Christmas dinner. We went to a new restaurant that has just opened in Leeds and tried their rather expensive cuisine. The results were mixed. If they learn and improve it will be a fantastic place; if not, they will close down soon enough. Nevertheless we had fun in a sedate and civilised way and no one was unable to function back in the office the next morning.

That is not why I am sad. That is why one reason I have joy as well.

Over the last few days I have been reading the usual Christmas appeals in the papers, and learning about things I prefer to avoid during the rest of the year. I read about child soldiers. They are children, but at the same time they are soldiers. Armed and dangerous. Scared. A scared soldier is the most dangerous of all. A scared child needs our love more than any.

On a daily basis it seems, the news reports more and more instances of child abuse scandals, and in a shocking sentence this weekend:

“The alleged presence of household names adds to the intrigue, but in a celeb-obsessed age, there is a danger that, should such names not materialise, Rocks Lane will be seen as “just another” child abuse case.”

I felt quite ill when I read that. Do you usually read about grisly horror in the paper as you munch toast or sip tea, and somehow pass by on the other side of the road? I know I do most of the time, because it is debilitating to take it all in and treat it as seriously as it deserves. That sentence got to me though. We are in a place that says the abuse of children may only be considered sufficiently newsworthy if a celebrity is involved to spice it up.

Really? It’s not about the children, it’s about the perpetrator? Only a sufficiently interesting perp validates the suffering?

I had been thinking that, if nothing else was good about him, Jimmy Saville’s misdeeds had shone a light under a nasty big rock and let us see what people have denied for a long time. Now it seems all he has done is raise the bar for what is reported.

So my week wove into the tapestry of my life. Other things happened, inconsequential to you, but the kind of small mercies that keep me going.

Then our team suffered two bereavements. On Wednesday one person lost a dearly loved grandfather who had been seriously ill for a while and whose loss was tinged with that guilty feeling of relief that he was no longer suffering. Our friend was very upset, of course, and we all shared his pain through our memories of similar experiences.  We had all lost someone close at one time or another.

On Thursday the second person lost a dearly beloved grandchild to a terminal illness. The child had lived long enough to see their 12th birthday but not held out for Christmas. In fact making it to twelve was a miracle in itself. Again there is guilt in feeling relief it is over. This time none of us can understand how our friend must feel. We cannot comprehend losing a child, living as we do in our privileged, comfortable world. We think about the loss of the person, the pain of the family, but also the loss of his potential, his future family, his contribution for years to come.

My dears, I warned you it was not a happy post.

And so on to the end of the week, because time does not wait upon our sorrows. I am sure you are all aware how things turned out. We cannot understand it here in the UK. We cannot.

“This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. “

I am very sad today, and at the same time thankful for the examples of compassion I see around me every day. Compassion is the foundation of a life well-lived. It is our common, shared divinity, if you will. Buddhism speaks of compassion as our Buddha nature; Quakers similarly, a continent and centuries away from the Buddha, spoke and wrote of the Inner Light. If we cannot show compassion to those around us, we have no purpose.

“When others mourn, let your love embrace them.”

Away from it all

I am away from home for the rest of this week because the world will end if I don’t spend more time in Head Office. You will have heard about the Prophecy; this is what it is really about. Well, I like to think that, but in fact it’s more a confluence of meetings all in one week, which at least gets them out of the way and means I can then tidy up at home before the family arrive for the festivities.

So much for the housekeeping announcements. If the fire alarm goes off, it is not a test and you should follow me to the nearest exit.

This preamble was intended to continue and state for the record that, if I get any time in the evenings, I would quite like to use this opportunity to write. I won’t be posting here probably; limited access to yon t’Interweb may preclude it. Unless you hear from me, of course. It’s all a bit speculative.

I don’t know if you travel away for work. People who don’t, seem to think it’s a marvellous perk. Those who do, generally agree it’s like having your soul eaten by the anthropomorphic manifestation of dreariness. If it had a face it would be the girl from the BBC test card, sitting with the creepy clown doll and playing noughts and crosses. She would smile at you and devour you from the toes up as you lay helpless in the beigeness of the hotel room, deadened to life and laughter by the total neutrality of the décor and the blandness of the food, served earlier at your neat little table for one in the darkest corner of the restaurant (for the business woman of taste and discretion – the sub-text being “and no friends”).

That test card was presumably supposed to imply fun things kicking off; in practice it was stultifyingly boring. She sat there for hour after hour. She never moved or even blinked. I know because I used to watch her when I was a little kid. For ages and ages I watched, but nary a flicker. Sometimes the picture would lose its quality and there would be dots and lines crawling around the screen. If the horizontal hold went you had to fiddle with a button at the back and if that failed, thump the TV. The youth of today will be looking at these assertions blankly (a bit like test card girl in fact) because I really can’t remember the last time I had a TV that acted like that, but it was before they invented colour. Now the digital switchover means that everything pixellates when the pigeon lands on the aerial, but that’s different, plus we have BBC iPlayer to overcome such misfortunes.

Hotel TVs don’t get any kind of decent reception as far as I can tell. I don’t watch much TV but I do like to have it on when I am away to add some noise and movement to the blankness of the room. This is how I found out about CSI, and it’s a real balance to decide whether to put up with that or look at the neutral décor for the evening.

What I mean by all this moaning is that being away for work is utterly boring when falls the eventide. Hotels aren’t fun unless you are on holiday. There are only so many hours I am prepared to soak in a bath. Being alone in a hotel room is solitary confinement that has somehow crept under the radar of the Geneva Convention, and allows companies to seclude their staff in a very special kind of purdah (in the segregation sense, not the election sense). You get a Gideon’s Bible and then you are left to it, without even a Red Cross parcel or Amnesty International postcard to provide hope. It is particularly a problem for lone women working away from home; you don’t want to get me started on hotel bars. So obviously I fill my time by doing extra work.

Except this time I have a cunning plan: I am taking my knitting and my novel and looking forward to some me-time. Hurrah for me. It can work quite well, because I have tried the knitting thing in the past. I haven’t tried the writing though, so we shall see how the environment affects the Muse. At least it will be quiet. Although I could go to the bar as typing on a laptop is almost as good as wearing a sign saying “Hello, I work for the Inland Revenue and am particularly interested in cacti as my hobby.”(Although there are probably websites even for that.) I don’t have anything against cacti, of course, nor even the Inland Revenue, so long as they have nothing against me.

Enough rambling. It’s time to go and pack. I hope your week is filled with joy and friendship. I hope mine is filled.

Namaste.

A demented aside

My mother has vascular dementia. This means there is no drug programme or rehabilitation programme or hope that we can halt her decline. She is folding in on herself and every now and again has another vascular “episode” (read “stroke”) after which she has declined a whole step further. It’s not a smooth slope, more a staircase down to hell.

Some days she is confused about what is going on, Those days are rarer as she loses connection ot the outside world.

She’s not too bad yet. We can have conversations, so long as they don’t last more than about 60 seconds. She still knows who I am, at least I think she does most of the time. And she is generally happy because she sits and sings the same tune to herself all day. She doesn’t cry or seem distressed.

So the thing is – I want to record something about her as a younger, more assertive person. She was a caution! She got thrown out of dance halls for jitter-bugging with the American service men who were over here. She was the life and soul of the party. My dad followed her about like a puppy. She was funny and sharp and brilliant at Pitman’s shorthand and typing and getting stuff organised.

The best of her stories though, for me, was about the male colleague who was harassing the girls in the office.  This would have been in the early 1950s I suppose; she and Dad married in 1957. Basically the slime was making the girls’ lives misery what with the comments and the bum-punching and so on. One day he tried it with my mother, who was not standing for any of it,.

That lunchtime she went out to Woolworths and bought a bottle of the cheapest perfume she could find. When she got back to the office and the guy came up again she poured the entire bottle over his trousers.

“Not the jacket,” she told me. “He could have taken the jacket off.”

She poured it over his trousers so he had to spend all afternoon in the office stinking of cheap perfume and his colleagues, including his boss, knew why. Then he had to go home and explain it to his wife.

“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” she said, with a gleam in her eye.

She was amazing; this is the woman I try to see when I get exasperated dealing with the mad old bat.