I am a musician and have always loved music. It has come to me as a gift, always. Recently, I had the rare opportunity to enjoy quietly sitting with a couple of friends and listening to some of my favourite music together. This is something I have only done a few times in my life, but every time, I have found it so moving that a friend has been happy to let me share some of the music I love with them. And that they’ve found the patience to keep listening to the end.
The last time I ever saw him, a good friend who was dying of cancer some years ago asked me what I’d like to do. We went for a posh coffee and some quality time, then I drove him home, and while we waited for his wife to return, he suggested we listen to some classical music together. He said he knew nothing about this kind of music but he enjoyed it, partly because he knew I loved it. As we listened, we fell silent, and this last time I spent with him was such a gift to me.
Here is a short but, I think, exquisite little piece from Walton’s film music for Henry V; a film of the Shakespeare play. The scenery in the video is beautiful but not particularly linked to the music, although I suspect it is of English countryside, and this music is very definitely English. The title is the cue “Touch her soft lips and part”:
« Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity »
Simone Weil (published in the posthumous collection of her writings, Gravity & Grace, 1952)
I love that thought. Being truly generous is important, I think. It’s such a joy-bringing thing. And I think I recognise from experience how precious the gift of attention can be. Attention to another human being; total, kind, open and generous attention. And also attention of the same sort towards other creatures and the whole natural world.
Having a rescued cat has drawn my attention more deeply towards other creatures (including plants, trees, rivers and stones). Or perhaps has reignited the way I used to attend to the natural world when I was a child? And, along with the poetry of Mary Oliver, has deepened my attention to everything. And this whole process has deepened my gratitude for the wonder of it all; for the natural world and for my fellow human beings.
All of which, in a time of climate crisis, is so important. Weil continues:
« Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.
« …For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it; if only we’re brave enough to be it. »
Amanda Gorman, at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
This week, I « went » to the webcast of a funeral of a friend, who died far too young, leaving his teenaged daughter and wife behind. It was of course a really sad occasion, but it was also marked by a kind of indefatigable faith, hope and love. His daughter managed to speak so well and she reminded me so much of her Dad, with her courage and her naming of that faith, hope and love as the greatest gift her Dad had given her, and the most important thing now. She was like a blazing light. As Amanda Gorman was like a blazing light reading her poem at the Presidential Inauguration. So today, in the midst of so much anguish across the world, I think it’s not the trite platitude it might seem to be to say there is always light.
I met some other young women the other day, too, at an online community dialogue, facilitated by women. The topic of our dialogue was Covid-19 and the divisions, struggles and positive things that are emerging in our local communities because of it. During the call, one young woman talked about how she’d been made redundant due to Covid, then had applied for a Masters degree, and begun it only to have to immediately relocate back to her parents’ place to study for it online. She talked about her struggles with anxiety and with leaving the house, and how she hadn’t left the house as a result. Then she told us how older relatives and friends of her parents kept blaming her and her contemporaries for causing the spread of Covid, even though she hadn’t left the house. She was justifiably angry. But by the end of the dialogue, she had decided she would post real facts about Covid on her Facebook page, knowing that a lot of her parents’ friends might see it, and they might challenge some of the « fake news » about the pandemic they’d been talking about.
These brilliant young women, like Amanda Gorman, like Greta Thunberg like my friend’s daughter at her Dad’s funeral and like so many of the young women I met on my world trip in 2019, bring me hope. Let’s keep listening to them, keep amplifying their voices and retelling their stories. « There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it; if only we’re brave enough to be it. »
I was stunned recently by this quote by Amy Hall in The New Internationalist:
“A mammoth 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work is carried out by women and girls each day – equivalent to 1.5 billion people working eight hours a day, without pay. It is estimated that women’s unpaid care work adds $10.8 trillion of value to the economy, while most of the financial benefit is felt by those who are already the wealthiest.
Still, public spending on care is treated as a cost rather than an investment…”
‘The Hidden Debt of Care’ by Amy Hall (in The New Internationalist magazine, Nov/Dec 2020)
This is not a surprise to me. But it’s the scale of it. Even though these figures must be estimated, they are almost certainly under estimated, given the way we have systematically ignored the contribution of women and racialized people in this way to the economy for generations.
There are currently something like 7.8 billion people in the whole world. So this is equivalent to a quarter of the world’s entire population working full time and getting no money for it at all.
A couple of friends shared things on social media today that resonated with this. One is a lady who is struggling in lockdown to care for and educate her youngest children (who both have significant special needs) at home. she shared a post from Adoption UK saying,
“Working, parenting and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time.
It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can.”
Emily W King PhD for Adoption UK
Another was from a man pointing out the obscene discrepancy between how much he was ever paid as a professional musician with extremely high qualifications and experience and the hourly rate charged by a solicitor he came across recently. This led to a whole thread considering the injustice of the situation we are now in regarding how we value and pay one another.
I find it really odd how we value (or don’t value) one another, and what we pay one another, and ever more so, having become self employed this time last year. It seems to me there is precious little connection between what is really valuable to human life and to the life of our planet and what we pay people for their work. For example, cleaners and refuse collectors perform some of the most vitally important work. They are the ones we still need to work during the pandemic lockdowns. And yet, what do we pay them?
When I was younger, I used to think music was just a luxury for those who could afford it. I studied music myself and have always loved it, but didn’t pursue it beyond a certain level partly due to limited ability, but partly also out of a misplaced sense that I ought to be doing something more “worthy” to somehow help to address the wealth and poverty gap. Now, with a bit of life experience, I’ve come to realise that music, comedy, drama, art, film… all these things are what enable all kinds of people to survive and thrive, particularly when they’re up against it in terms of poverty or many other adversities.
It’s tricky to imagine how you could work out the value of music. It is in fact priceless, I now realise. But it would be nice if we paid people who make music and teach it something realistic. And if we made some kind of provision for them in these times when their livelihoods have mostly been decimated.
I was shocked when I went through cancer treatment by the amount of unpaid overtime the nurses (who were almost entirely female) were routinely doing. They thought it was what people expected of them, working in a caring context. I don’t expect that.
Around the same time, the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a plan to recruit a load more doctors to reduce waiting times in hospitals. My own experience made it absolutely clear to me that, practically speaking, there was no point in recruiting more doctors if you didn’t also recruit a load more support staff and extra equipment and building space. What good is a doctor when you’re needing hundreds of blood samples to be processed in a lab, in order for the doctor to be able to diagnose what is wrong and treat the patient appropriately?
Then there’s all the people who can’t work. Who are nonetheless just as valuable as those who can. How can we honour and respect one another appropriately in how we share our money? Having a universal basic income could be one way, perhaps?
Another friend of mine pays her cleaner the same rate that she herself earns. And another friend is beginning to invite people to pay her on that basis, too.
I recently bought a book online on a “pay what you think it’s worth” basis. The author wrote inspiringly about the gift economy and finding a better and more ecologically sustainable way to enable one another to offer our gifts to the world.
I am currently the grateful recipient of several people’s regular financial gifts, which are enabling me to focus on what I think is most important at the moment and grow my coaching, writing and other work on sharing spiritual practices and ideas. These could be a few ideas of how to grow a better money system, perhaps…?
While we experiment with these and other ways of sharing resources and money more equitably, all the women and girls out there and all the racialized people, working their backs off in low or unpaid roles, I salute you. As a human race (we are all in the same race after all), we wouldn’t survive without you and the work you do. Your work is precious and so are you. May you find or be given everything you need and more.
This phrase came to me as a gift from a nun who had heard one of her sisters say it during the first lockdown. It inspired our « Advent window » for a local advent calendar window trail, and the theme of stars has lingered in my mind in the run up to Christmas. Anyway, here is our rather magnificent window (if I do say so myself):
Spot Godzilla’s long lost cousin, and a rogue tree…
It took 3 of us adults about 4 days to design and assemble this window. I realise that, before I had cancer, I would never have allowed myself 4 whole days off work to do something this creative. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have had enough time off work to have cultivated such a level of friendship with people around me who would have the connectedness locally to have heard about this and the artistic skills to be able to inspire something this fabulous.
I am grateful for the rearranging of priorities that continues in my life. Having cancer was obviously an awful thing. But being made to stop and drop everything for a while, including others’ expectations of me and my own expectations of myself; that was A Very Good Thing.
In my experience you have to stop for quite a while before the dust clears enough for you to be able to see what’s important.
Anyway, for now, I wish everyone reading this a good Christmas season, and maybe at the end of this strange year perhaps some time to stop and re evaluate whatever needs re evaluating. And may all those who are lonely somehow find some point of connection 🙏💕
I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for ages – since the results of the US elections came in, in fact. I had failed to grasp the process by which election results are announced in the US, though, so ended up putting off posting any comment until some kind of official definite result was confirmed, by which time I had so much to say about it all (and everything else too), I barely knew where to start
So, I’m not going to say anything about the US election, after all.
It’s funny how having so much to say can lead to silence. For me, there comes a point where it feels like words can’t contain the amount of things I have to say, or adequately express the subtleties of all my thoughts and feelings. So I lapse into silence.
Sometimes this is a good silence. A kind of holy moment of waiting, feeling more than thinking, being present. A space in which humility can fall, reminding me I only have one angle on what is happening. There is surely always more going on than meets the eye.
But sometimes it is a bad silence. A silence that leads to the frustration of unexpressed thoughts, opinions or ideas. A sullen silence, sold out to the idea that no one would listen anyway, even if I found words and managed to string them together adequately.
Recently, I heard someone quote the following. It’s attributed to Maya Angelou, whose writing I love:
“There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”
Lately, the penny has been dropping, and I have been remembering some of the untold stories I have inside me. Maybe 2021 will be a year to begin to get them out into the ether? I hope so!
I wonder what untold stories you are harbouring or lugging around, or wondering whether you could find a way of sharing? May you know the joy of being listened to deeply, if or when you come to the point of sharing them. Our stories, real and make believe, are more precious than we know, I think…
This is my current proverb of choice. In South Yorkshire where I live, we are in tier 3, the highest risk level for Covid-19 in the UK at the moment. And, with the onset of autumnal, fast-darkening evenings, everyone’s just getting weary of it all. We’re now not allowed to meet indoors or even in people’s gardens, though we can still go for physically distanced walks within South Yorkshire.
I’ve been in conversations with numerous groups about what we can and can’t do and so on for a long time, with frequently changing goalposts. It’s all quite tiresome, but I think at the very point where we may be tempted to just give in and break a few rules, it’s really vital that we don’t.
I know about 5 people locally who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the past week or so, all of whom are sensible and have been adhering to the rules as best they can. One of them is in hospital with it, though he is only in his early 50s.
A local friend also shared that her colleague (also in their 50s) died from Covid-19 recently. So, now I think is the time for knuckling down. For considering that caution may well be the better part of valour in this season, for everyone else’s sake as much as our own.
I’ve thought of a number of these “pandemic proverbs”. It’s amazing how powerful a proverb can be as it settles into our subconscious. If someone in our past has repeated a proverb ad infinitum to us in a judgmental way, it can become like a weight to carry around, which is not so good. But deployed sensibly and meaningfully, I think proverbs can bring healing and hope and remind us of the wisdom of our ancestors.
Once, when I was a priest working in a parish church, a lady came into church one afternoon, wanting to turn over a new leaf. She wasn’t a church goer (except maybe at Christmas sometimes, or for Christenings, weddings or funerals), but she knew she had to come. She described how, after weeks of moping around at home alone, feeling depressed, anxious and rubbish about herself and her family, she’d decided enough was enough. She’d made herself have a shower, “because cleanliness is next to godliness, right? Isn’t that what they say?” and she’d come down to church.
My colleague and I were of course really grateful this lady had showered!! But also, looking at her fresh face, which she’d bothered to wash and her hair she’d bothered to brush and put up, what I saw was hope in action, in spite of her really difficult circumstances. Of course, I think that was the powerful work of God (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?). But I think it was also the powerful work of a simple proverb.
I wonder what sayings or proverbs are offering themselves to you in these strange times? I am sure there is wisdom from before for us to access to help us through. A friend shared on Facebook the other day, “for 4.5 billion years, no two days on earth have been exactly the same; we will get through all the changes we are living through at the moment.”
I couldn’t resist… I missed all this last year, on my travels. I live in an inner city area, but these pictures were all taken about ten minutes’ walk from where I live. In lockdown, I began walking here much more often.
This year I am really noticing all the beautiful colourful leaves on the trees and on the ground, and the delightful bright éclat of blue, yellow, gold, green and surprisingly red red. To my mind, the French word expresses so much better than any English one the brilliance of the yellow leaves against the blue sky. It feels like the colours and shapes physically strike my eyes, momentarily stunning me. They keep tempting me to linger for a longer look at the whole scene.
The sky is more white than blue today, but still all kinds of colour abound. This time last year I had just begun my round the world trip, and I was in warm places well away from all this autumn glory. I really missed it! I remember how relieved and delighted I was when I reached Switzerland at the end of November to find the last vestiges of a golden leaved autumn were still in evidence, although winter was fast approaching.
So this year I am delighted to be fully present here, among the beautiful leaves and skies of my home. Sheffield does a good line in bright, brisk autumnal sky-blue days. There is much that is wrong with the world, but this remains such a joy.
Question – who’s voice? Who stands to gain? Where does power lie? Who or what is hidden?
Slow your reading
Re-read what is key
Deploy generous, indiscriminate empathy; an Exocet missile of love
Notice – what do you notice? What phrases, images, feelings does this evoke?
Embody; craft a posture of response
Meditate; be still
Thoughts about this poem… One of the paradoxes about contemplation is that it always dances with action. The one leads to the other and back again. They do-si-do and whirl around together in the most beautiful way.
The end of the news article above quoted activist Claire Faggianelli saying to us in Europe:
“Look, we have been yelling at you for years now. There is something that shouldn’t be happening at the very borders of Europe, and you close your eyes to it. Wake up!”
Claire Faggianelli, quoted in Guardian article about Banksy-funded refugee rescue ship 27/08/2020