Saturday, 29 December 2012

Upwards, or just Onwards?

2012 - not a year of unbridled joy, despite Olympics, Royal Jubilee, etc. 

2013 - more austerity, fiscal cliff*, and the weather here in dear old Blighty has been unusually foul recently. But alongside all such gloom, there are the patterns of individual lives, hopes, fears, despairs. 

You know all the stuff about the 1970s being awful? Well, there was a lot of awfulness about in the 70s (Winter of D, IRA, loon pants...), but that was the decade in which my children were born, I had a really nice job, and it's full of happy memories. My 70s are not the 70s of facile TV soundbites and retrospectives. It had its horrors and terrors, like any decade. How futile is it, to sum up a year, let alone a decade?

The above photo is a wall panel set in a splendid relief mural on the outside of the Bristol Eye Hospital. Here's what it says:

"Disaster and crisis were always advertised, settlement and tranquility seldom. Only in retrospect could we see things in their relations. When we passed from the years to the centuries, and from the centuries to the whole expanse of man’s story – out of chaos into life, from animal life into humanity, and on into civilization: when we saw man in his cosmic setting, the latest child of a universe wedded to an eternity, his thought transcending matter and seeking deity – there was no room for ignoble despair: rather would our minds be filled with wonder and our hearts with thankfulness.
                                                                                                                                   1st Viscount Samuel."

OK, the narrative of constant progress and humanity's forward march is greeted with much well-deserved scepticism these days - what with: 


- fit in your favourite anxiety. 

And I don't know how many of us are actively seeking deity - though I think I can see how the phrase might work, even outside religious belief systems.

The first two sentences seem to me incontrovertible. Some analysts argue, or demonstrate, that mankind is getting less violent, that there is better education and healthcare in the developing world than in previous decades, that the frequency of serious crime in the UK is less than it was decades ago. You'd never think so to look at our media.

"Disaster and crisis were always advertised, settlement and tranquility seldom."

But to move beyond millenarian** gloom, we don't have to get drawn into polarising arguments about better or worse. I think we just need to look about our ordinary lives, recognise contentment when we see it, accept the fragility of life itself and therefore its value; let The Balance assert itself, which it will, given half a chance. So take heart for 2013. Things really could be a lot worse. Maybe they will be, for any one of us. But until they are, seize the day! 

"There is no room for ignoble despair." It's pointless. And disabling.

So - come what may, Happy New Year!

*good name for a snarly, sarcy rock band?

** not in the strictly Christian sense, more like that general "it's all going belly up, we're doomed, the end of the world is nigh" feeling.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Season's Greetings

Enough already with the grief and death for a while:


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May your peaks, of whatever sort, be ascended in fine style in 2013.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Love and Grief

On the Danish crime thriller "The Killing III" recently, a pastor said to a couple grieving for their missing child: 

"Sometimes I think grief is love that has been made homeless."

This made me think hard once again about the function of a funeral. Love is made homeless when the life to which it was attached has become just a body. The love is left floating free, disoriented, in pain. A body isn't a person, but it was a person. Huge mystery, disjuncture, pain - grief. Essential, unavoidable, erratic and ultimately, healing.

If a funeral helps grieving, it will be because it helps people to say goodbye to a body and move towards the meaning of a life. It will be because it helps the homeless love to settle down with meanings and memories that came from the body-that-was-a-life, but now have to stand alone, bodiless. Huge change, the symptom of which is - grief.

It takes a lot longer than the brief ceremony we usually allow ourselves at the local crem. But even that can help - I hope, I hope...