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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Brel, Prevert and those Gallic shrugs

What is it about those French songs that so plays on the heart? Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf are so utterly self-indulgent and play out their own personal traumas and, in so doing, capture everyone's trauma. But then along comes Charles Trenet with 'La Mer', which is so uplifting to the point where you long to dance barefoot on the sand and run headlong into the sea. Perhaps it is because they run the whole gamut of emotions from the tawdry lives of the back streets and the seeming emptiness of life, through the overheard conversations (a little like T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock) to the ecstasy and agony of existence and love and everything else that comes along. They just express feeling to the core. It plays on the heart and it plays on the soul rather than the mind.
We live so much in our heads and, while that might be fruitful or destructive, sometimes it's just love to unwind to an ultra-depressing Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel or Edith...and then come back again to Charles Trenet...Ah! (Gallic shrug), to misquote Prevert, one of whose brilliant poems, "Barbara" sang, Brel sang, "Quelle connerie la vie!" ('what a sod life is' - but it's fascinating to experience everything!). Here is my favourite Prevert poem, Barbara:

Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Épanouie, ravie, ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisé rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante, ravie, épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vu qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Est-il mort disparu ou encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abîmé
C’est une pluie de deuil, terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier et de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin, très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

Friday, 30 January 2009

The Beautiful Wisdom of Trees

Walking among the tall trees with their bare branches and mossy trunks and roots that look like elephants' feet digging into the earth, inhaling the scents of the wet earth in the icy wind, those hermits who settled by rivers and lakes come to mind. In the ancient Celtic tradition, there were many of them who found the essence of life (call it God, call it Life, call it Nature - it's all one) in solitary and beautiful spaces. The more I wander in woodlands at all different times of the year - sometimes chilled to the bone, sometimes sweltering (though rarely, since English summers are so rare!) and frequently up to my ankles in mud, the more clear it becomes that Nature, the Earth and the expression of Life is all One.
There might be a need for order and for authority, but I don't see it. The more time I spend among trees and see in those trees the physical, material expression of God at play, the more bizarre the idea of dogmas and doctrines becomes.
As soon as structure or dogma enters into the picture, there comes an idea of paranoia. Somehow, someone decided we needed a set of rules or we would all go off the rails and start stealing and being cruel to one another. But if we lived like the trees - who live far longer than we do - being in our wisdom, giving out our fragrance, going through our seasons and housing a million other creatures from the tiniest ants to the squirrels and crows, all just being ourselves, there would be no need for anyone to tell us how to live, what to do, where to make money and why we must become square pegs in round holes.
I'm not a wacky tree-hugger or an obsolete hippy! I just walk with trees and think what wisdom they possess. They are filled with life; they are expression of the Divine. We cut them down at our cost.
The photo is courtesy of

Thursday, 29 January 2009

I love Edith Piaf. I love the angst in her voice. Imagine if Edith Piaf had sung Jacques Brel! What an over indulgence of angst that might have been! The interesting thing with these indulgences of angst is that the more deeply you go into them, the more you find that ultimately there is joy.
Sometimes it's joy in the indulgence; sometimes it's joy in the moment; mostly it's joy in the story. Piaf's rendition of 'Les Amants d'un Jour' is heart-rending and creates such an image of innocent love. But that is only a sham-veneer. The truth is, the 'love' described was not innocent at all but merely escapism. The young 'lovers for the day' had a suicide pact and that is surely a contradiction in terms. Love is never destructive. It is always creative and expressive. I used to love the story of Elvira Madigan - the lovers who killed themselves beneath a holm-oak tree. It's wonderfully moving and massively self-indulgent and to do with the spirit not being able to find its way in the material, or the material not being able to reconcile the spirit.
I think there is a middle-way. A balance. A way in which the spirit and the flesh aren't in conflict. The 'Our Father' states, "on earth as it is in heaven' and, I believe, that is at the root of so much conflict.We don't believe it is possible to create heaven on earth, or else we expect it to come to us from outside ourselves. Surely it must begin with seeing and experiencing our own inner discord and taken from there. It isn't an escape into utopia, but rather the need to live through our discord and change it and enjoy our angst, our esctasy, our moments of grandeur and our moments of despair...and just live through it all in wonder at what amazing people we all are.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Conquests, Ominipotence and Taming

Why is history so concerned with conquests? Why is religion interested in conquests? The whole notion of a conquest is bizarre and contradictory. One gains at the cost of another. One crushes and panders to ego and feels boosted on pride. History speaks of the conquests of nations.
The halls of stately homes are filled with the relics of slaughtered animals, the killing of which gave someone with a gun (but obviously very little else to soothe their ego) a sense of achievement. Religion speaks of conquering passion; conquering the will; conquering a mythical Satan who is somehow in conflict with an all-powerful, all-loving God (does that make sense)...why? Why the need to kill or to crush in order to be who we are?
Isn't there a far more beautiful alternative in the notion of taming? In 'The Little Prince', Antoine de Saint Exupery has fox speaking to the lovely little prince about 'creating ties' - taming. When one is tamed, he says, they work together, become friends, stop hiding, stop fearing. Taming isn't about one-upmanship or crushing anything; it's about understanding.
The pictures on this post are virtually identical to me in their meaning and yet, for centuries, the holders of the religious beliefs that have upheld the one on the left have tried to conquer the beliefs of those who consider the one on the right. The left is St. Francis taming the wolf of Gubbio, whom the people of the town wanted to kill. St. Francis 'tamed' the wild beast and pointed out that he was only killing their animals and children because he was hungry. The picture on the right is from the Tarot - the image of strength - which depicts the ability to tame, rather than conquer the passions and the will, and bring the whole self into accord, rather than discord. Same message in both.
Trying to conquer anything or anyone is a ridiculous task, isn't it? Why do we ever call conquerors 'great'? Some we have made into heroes. Some we have made into saints. But surely everyone of any sense knows that the only taming we have to do is within our own selves. If we concentrated on that, we would be able to respond as St. Francis did, or as the woman on the Tarot card does, and see the truth in each other. There's no need to evangelise or to conquer anyone. To attempt to do so is to set ourselves up as cleverer than everyone else - to set ourselves up as God. If believers in any faith truly believe that God (whatever their image of Him/Her) is omnipresent, then surely they must see that every other human being and every other creature or aspect of nature is equally imbued with the same divinity and therefore, why the need to convert, to conquer....why not just 'tame' - create ties - and live symbiotically?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

January "is the cruelest month"

T.S.Eliot was wrong in "The Waste Land". April isn't the cruelest month. January is.

January has seemed so excessively long this year and what a wearily wintry month it is! Once the fireworks of the first have burned out, and all the New Year resolutions have had time to be broken, it's just the stark reminder that it's still the dreary English winter of dark mornings and rain. No wonder scientists have observed the gloomiest day of the year fell last week. If I were Gregory or Julian creating calendars, I'd have made January last for no more than a fortnight and, rather than making February the shortest month, I'd have lopped days off January and added them to the others throughout the year.

One day, a thousand years ago, when I was at school and January had dragged on and on and on, I was sitting in a classroom with black blinds drawn over the windows, poring over the fine print in a very dull history book - "Modern Britain" or "Modern Europe" can't remember which one, but they were both equally dull with green binding, describing the massacre of the Tsar's family and the entire reign of Queen Victoria as though they were mere dates and battles! - when the black blinds slipped up and a chink of light flowed over the desk. It was February 12th - I remember the date from it being written at the top of my page. The light flowed over the book, over my hands, over the desk and I pulled on the blind till it shot right up and flooded everything with light. It was like a massive gloom had suddenly been spring had come and the world was suddenly new. The glow was pure amber and seemed to seep into every cell of my being.

It was a time when the upper deck windows of green buses were always clouded with cigarette smoke on the inside and smog on the outside; when it took forever for the bus to come - standing with a violin case, school bag, cookery things - and wet, windy walk home. A time of car headlights in the slush at the side of the road. A time of nothing moving or growing....just grey school gabardines and puddles splashing fawn socks or 'American tan' (orange) coloured-tights and sensible shoes and a stark black and white world, cold, wet world...

And now, again, on a gloomy January Sunday night, when all the trees still look like skeletons and it seems that nothing is growing or moving, and everyone around seems so depressed, I feel that again but I think, "When the black blinds shift just an inch...when the chink of light comes in...." And it will. It always does...without fail. January - named after the two-faced god; one looking forward, one looking back - I don't think January has ever been a month for living in and I wish it were much shorter.

But, to quote (one of my least favourite poets!) Shelley..."if winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Dorothy and Douglas

Guinea Pigs are such gentle creatures and so wise. Once I bought (it's odd that you can 'buy' creatures) a guinea pig called Douglas and, feeling sorry for his solitude, bought him a mate and Douglas gained the middle name Abraham 'father of a nation' because the outcome was my having 26 guineas. Dorothy was Douglas' 'wife'. She was the 'Marilyn Monroe' of guinea pigs, having a huge quiff of pure golden hair over her eye, and such a silky coat that she was particularly beautiful.
Guinea Pigs don't blink or have eye-lids and one day Douglas had a fleck of sawdust in his eye. He made a different sound than usual and immediately Dorothy, who was in a different part of their living quarters, came running. She went to the water bottle, filled her mouth with water and then, putting her mouth to his head, let the water trickle over his eye. The sawdust was washed away. He made a kind of, "Hmm..." sound and she squeaked and went back to whatever she was doing before (probably stashing away a cabbage stalk or a carrot!).
Some time later, I was cleaning out their hutch and they usually ran happily onto the grass, but this day they were quite frantic about something. I didn't know what was the matter but they were beside themselves on the grass, trying to get my attention. Being a foolish human, I ignored them but when I tipped out the rubbish from their hutch, I found a little baby pig. He startled me, so I called him Startle. Once he was back with them, they went about their munching grass business as usual.
And, speaking of grass...When there wasn't enough grass here to satisfy all 26 needs, I used to go each day to Temple Newsam House to gather dandelion leaves and grass there. One day, it was the time of the big rock concerts that used to be held there, and I was stopped going in by a bouncer. I rolled down the car window and said, "I don't want to stay. I've only come for some grass..."
He shuffled about a bit, then said, "Have you any Rizla papers with you?"
Confused and somewhat naive, I said, "No."
He shook his head and I was turned away. And laughed all the way home, suddenly realizing that 'grass' meant something completely different to him!
Guinea pigs are lovely. I wish they would stop being synonymous with nasty experiments.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Power of Images and Words

There are several studies which show different heart and brain rhythms when looking at different types of pictures, and it might sound like navel-gazing but it's interesting, isn't it, to take your pulse while listening to different pieces of music? When absorbed in something stirring, the pulse often quickens; it slows to gentler strains. Clearly, what we take in through our senses has a major affect on our metabolism and, should we prolong adverse effects, there is bound to be some kind of repercussion on our overall health. And what has an effect on our health, also has an effect on our thoughts, which, in turn affect the world in which we live, I think.

Like music, the power of words is immense. How often do we use throw away terms, "I'd give an arm and a leg for...", "It makes me sick that..." "Will be the death of me..." hardly aware of what we are saying? There is an amazing example of the power of words in the work of Mr. Emoto:

In the Bible it says, "By your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned," and the term The Word is of enormous significance. What we take in, and what give out, has, I think, far more importance than we realize. For this reason, I wish that rather than, for example, putting patronising pictures of dead bodies on cigarette packets or "Drink Sensibly!" warnings on bottles of wine, we would create a far healthier society by being aware of what we take in, listen to, look at, and take in every day. For this reason, too, I believe that rather than churning out so-called art and literature in pickled fish, half-cows and other ugly things, or endless strings of expletives, which are supposed to create 'realism', we could look at loveliness and listen to beauty and use beautiful language and supportive, powerful, life-enhancing words.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Finding Lost Things

Have you ever noticed that when something is lost - a key, a pen, a belt, joy - the harder you search, the more difficult it is to find? I've noticed a lot, recently, a rather strange phenomenon.

I grew up believing St. Anthony of Padua always found every lost thing. Pray to St. Anthony and you find it - and it certainly worked! Perhaps because I stopped looking and then it fell into my hands as I believed it would. I still have faith in St. Anthony and believe that we have numerous unseen helpers rooting for us, but also faith in the idea of stopping looking. The more we search, the more we see the thing as lost. Stop looking; know it's there somewhere and just see it back in your hands. It always works. It worked today for me twice in most unexpected and happy ways.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

"My Mind To Me A Kingdom Is"

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
Which God or nature hath assigned.
Though much I want that most would have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

Sir Edward Dyer's poem was either ahead of his time or harks back to a time when we all knew these things. The worlds and circumstances we create for ourselves all, surely, originate in our minds. Our lives our mostly (if not solely) lived in our heads. How we perceive external events, is all a matter of interpretation. That which we believe, happens. That which we believe and dwell upon, makes up our lives.

If we believe we are victims of circumstance, we are victims of circumstance. If we believe we are capable of creating our experiences, we are capable of creating our experiences. But - and it's a big but! - taking on that responsibility is massive. It means we are responsible for our own failures. We can no longer blame external forces like fate and 'the will of God' or other people. Nor can we spare a single minute lamenting our lot. No one else can change the world for us. We can only change our own worlds by our thoughts. And the most amazing thing for me, is that when we begin to recognize the power we have in ourselves, we also begin to see the Divinity and loveliness in other people and there is no giver or receiver - only the mutual symbiotic life; the rich tapestry wherein every single being, every rock, stone, tree, human life, is sacred and plays its beautiful part.

If, for a week, we all tended our own gardens, watched our thoughts, and created our own kingdom's of beauty, wouldn't the world change in an instant?

Friday, 16 January 2009

Addictions, Angst & Ecstasy

The 'addiction' to angst, I think, is no different than the addiction to ecstasy and awe - in fact they are one and the same. In the wonderful self-indulgence of feeling things to their very depths, the difference between agony, angst and ecstasy is very flimsy. It is interesting that some of the so-called best works of the Romantic poets were induced by opium; the art of some of the great Impressionists came through absinthe or that Branwell Bronte's alluring angst came from his alcohol/laudanum-induced fantasies.

Without for a moment advocating the use of any external substances to create that ecstasy or angst, I wonder which came first in the poets and artists of the past: the drug or the longing in the mind/heart to find expression. I suspect it was the former. The feelings that go right down to the depths of what it is to be human. The thoughts, which have been largely crushed by a world in which everything is explained by a 'rational' mind. We have concreted over forest paths. We have cut down trees, stifled creativity and made everything safe in our attempt to combat disease. But the greatest disease, as I see it, is the stifling of the spirit - of what it really means to be human. To be human means feeling it all; experiencing it all - the agony, the ecstasy, the wonder, the childhood, the passion of being alive. We have made it all clinical and safe. Prior to industrialization, there was no drugs problem. There was no alcoholism on such a large scale. When people listened to the Earth; listened to their own rhythms and didn't feel a need to be conventional, there was no need for that escape. They could think and feel in freedom - to the core. Now, there are addictions because every now and again, people find a glimmer of what used to be an everyday experience and can only recapture it through the use of external substances. Keats understood it - without the need of hemlock or 'some dull opiate' - in his 'Ode to a Nightingale'. The agony, angst and ecstasy is within us all:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, -
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Angst and Art

Why is it that so many great artists, composers and writers died in poverty and their works were only described as masterpieces after their death? Why is it that so many people adopt the pose of the 'misunderstood genius' to attract attention or explain their failure to succeed? Or worse, why is it that there is something self-aggrandizing and attractive about being the 'misunderstood genius'; and art critics and literary critics, wanting agreement and trying to sound wise, nowadays kowtow to the image so it is turned on its head. The outcast, the failure, the piece of rubbish art, is hailed as genius!

In my youth I used to think there was something heroic about being a failure. What can be more romantic than the notion of suffering for your art? And, truth be told, what can be more self-indulgent or self-aggrandizing? True art, surely, needs no suffering. If art is an expression of Life and Love and of all it is to be alive and to feel deeply, it is, like Anthony de Mello's expression of "a bird doesn't sing because it has a lesson, but because it has a song."

Somewhere, in all of us, I think there is a martyr message - the heroic failure, the poverty-stricken artist for whom the world wasn't ready. And it is balderdash! If you have a song, sing it. If you have something to paint, paint it. If you have a gift, use it! Why should you suffer for it? Oh, that lovely, self-indulgent angst - the chaotic passion of Tchaikovsky; the terrible mutilation of Van Gogh; the madness of the great poet John Clare! We all feel the depths of our inner loneliness solely because we believe we are special and the world doesn't understand. Utter nonsense!

When we feel, feel deeply, feel to the core and go beyond the core of our own angst, there is a well-stream of Oneness. There is joy and real beauty. In my view, the only reason artists, composers and poets died in poverty in garrets is because they believed that poverty was necessary for their art. And yet, the source of art is the same source that created planets, the wastefulness of leaves in autumn, the excesses of Nature. The only real angst is that which we create for ourselves....I think!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The World of the Heart and Imagination

"There are two worlds:" wrote Leigh Hunt, "the world we can measure with line and rule, and the world that we can feel with our hearts and imagination."
History, unfortunately, is dominated by only the sense of the former. That which cannot be measured or proved has so often been denied, mocked or even condemned as foolishness or madness. And where has that brought us to? A world where countries are marked in boundaries and millions have died to protect those boundaries; a world where we see only what is on the surface and seldom look into things to see their real essence; a world where we measure a person's worth by the size of their bank account or what they do for a living.
The world of the heart and imagination has for too long been seen as childish and irrelevant. To some extent, one might say that the masculine thinking of the patriarchal era is the world of rationality; the world of reason and measurement by line and rule. The feminine aspect of all of us (men and women) is that which understands through intuition, through the unseen, through the worlds within worlds...the heart and imagination. The denial of this aspect, and the suppression of dreamers and of women through the ages has led to a great imbalance in Nature.
In the heart and imagination, I believe utterly in the spirits of trees and lakes, in the presence of the Divine in all that exists. Reason tells me to balance this with everyday living, with the need to learn and to study and to go on learning and studying form and measurement - weighing up historical events, weighing up present day ethical and political arguments. One need not deny the other.
Still, there are rational minds that would say it is madness to believe we can communicate with plants and trees and the essence of the One Life in all creation; utter lunacy to believe in fairies or spirits of things. The other evening I watched the final episode of the wonderful BBC dramatisation of Anne Frank's Diary. At the end, as the writing came up to say what had happened to each member of the family, the sheer madness of that mass murder was quite overwhelming.
Which is more insane? To believe in what we know to be true in our hearts and imaginations, or to be rational and make rational arguments for wars and murder? I believe it is truly the time for intuition, for the heart and imagination and all the unseen that we sense in the core of our being to come to the fore. I think we have all had more than enough of that measured, solely 'mental' world, and it is truly the age for hearts to come into their own. We can return to the balance of how Nature is and all we are created to be by reclaiming our own identity and the courage to be free of outworn ideas, fighting other people's wars, following other people's scare-mongering, and simply knowing there is far more to all of us than meets the eye.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

"La Jeune Martyre"

Walking once through the Louvre, thinking, "I like this, I don't like that..." and how small the Mona Lisa was, I entered a room and saw a painting that literally took my breath away. It was "La Jeune Martyre" by Paul Delaroche. It seemed so huge and so amazing that no reprint or poster (and I have 2 extremely large ones) comes anywhere near to that original moment of seeing it.

I do not know which martyr is represented, or whether it is merely a painting of any martyr. I think it was the contrast in colour and just the sheer beauty of it that really captured me and, in a way, I don't want to know the story behind it as I think it would somehow distract from that initial impact. In Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "Le Petit Prince", the Little Prince gazes longingly at the star from which he came, and considers how bizarre it is that astronomers can name all the stars but do not know them (as he does). Sometimes I think we can learn things so much with our heads, and so little with our hearts that we miss their real value. Not being an artist, and not understanding what makes a piece of work classic, all I know is that I loved that painting and it is enough.

And when you consider that great art critics pays fortunes for pickled fish, people pay to see unmade beds, piles of bricks or lights going on an off, I am not sure that I would ever want to 'learn' more about what is considered a masterpiece.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

Rod McKeown's poem, "And Sometimes" is something I am sure most of us empathise with at some point in our lives, and the onset of the January blues adds to the sense of it:

"....The beating of the heart can stifle anything,
Jackhammers and jack-in-the-boxes, anything.
And sometimes the heart beats so fast and so loud
And nobody hears it,
That you find yourself wishing it would stop."

Happily, there is an unexpected ending to the poem...

"And then, someone new moves down the block
And things are different sometimes."

In the post-Christmas, post-New Year months before spring, there is often a sense of gloom around. Anti-climax or just 'more of the same' after the great rush of New Year resolutions. But it's okay. And, whatever the time of year, there are times when, out of the blue, the kindness of strangers reaches right down to the core of our being and lets us know that we're not fighting a losing battle or drifting into oblivion. The kindness of strangers is something that often moves me so deeply it brings tears to my eyes. There are moments when we pass others people like 'ships in the night' and somehow they make a massive difference and we never see them again or have the chance to thank them.

Many years ago, in a feeling of utter despair after a misadventure in France, I arrived penniless in London in the middle of the night and needed to return to Yorkshire. Having already bought a coach ticket (but the coach didn't leave till mid-morning) and having no money for a train ticket, I trudged about and ended up in Victoria Coach Station. It felt safe there because there were people about but around midnight they began to lock the offices and I was cold and very hungry. I went to the offices as they were closing and asked if they knew of safest place for the night. A coach man said, "Only a hotel." I replied, "I have no money." He shrugged and I walked away trudging back to the railway station. Then I heard footsteps behind me and it was the coach man. He said, "I will lose my job if you tell anyone about this, but I wouldn't want my daughter wandering around here at night. You can sleep on a coach. You'll be safe there, and in the morning a man will come on to clean it and I'll tell him you're there." He opened a coach and I slept soundly. In the morning the coach cleaner came and smiled and gave me toast and tea. In the midst of my deepest unhappiness, "someone new moved down the block" and made such a difference. I wanted to write to thank them, but the coach man asked me to say nothing of it, so I never did. It is long enough ago now to say, if he ever reads this, that he really restored my faith in human nature and I wish there were a way to thank him.

Since then, I remember many kindnesses of strangers and I think, when things look gloomy, there are a million angels around us and, to quote George Eliot:
"The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they're gone."

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Kingdom of Childhood

How beautiful is the Kingdom of Childhood when, to quote Wordsworth, "trailing clouds of glory do we come..."; when we can turn a single plank of wood into a ship, a castle, a slide or a see-saw; when we find delight in coloured lights or the crinkling of wrapping paper; when stars are magical talismans and a coloured stone found on a beach is taken for a treasure!

How sad it is that the beautiful magic is so quickly squeezed out of us. We are packed into regimented lines and told to hide all we know to be true. Our angels disappear and the magic fades because we are taught to stop believing in it and we grow up and smile fondly - perhaps even enviously - at little children who still understand what we're really about. If only we grew wiser instead of just older - wiser with the wisdom of the heart that returns us more and more to our original 'clouds of glory', the world would be such a happier place.

2009, the commentators tell us, is to be a year of gloom. If we live by economics alone, and believe that our lives are governed by politicians, bankers and one-dimensional thinkers, that might be the case. But there is something much deeper and I can't help thinking that this so-called meltdown of economies is part of a bigger plan - one in which we no longer hand over everything to that 'grown up' mind that obviously fails at every turn. History teaches us that all we ever gained from that is war upon war, power-seeking upon more power-seeking...What about the angels of our childhood? Is it any more ridiculous to put faith in them, than it is to put faith in bankers and would-be political leaders?

Personally, I believe in angels; I believe that coloured stones on beaches are worth as much as diamonds; I believe that stars aren't just the remnants of some explosion in the galaxies. Looking into things, instead of just at them, I believe in the Spirit of the One Life in trees and plants and lakes and all creatures. And I believe that 2009 is a wonderful year for everyone who chooses to believe it is so.

Coventry Patmore's beautiful poem says it all:

My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
—His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach,
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells,
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with trancèd breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
'I will be sorry for their childishness.'