Sunday, 4 December 2016

Love and peace

My youngest son phoned me last night to say he is coming home from university sometime this week and I am looking forward to his return. This might not sound so surprising but it is actually the first time I have consciously looked forward to something since Kev died. Driving home from work that day I was looking forward to the weekend which we had already planned together. Since then I haven’t really been able to anticipate anything with pleasure except perhaps sleep and even that can be marred by insomnia or distressing dreams. So the sensation of looking forward is a good one; I am looking forward just to seeing Matt, to a hug, to the chance to feed him, to talk, and to listen to him and his brother.  Although my sons are not very close they do increasingly talk to each other and will even have a laugh and joke sometimes– for the bantz- as they say!
It is a real blessing that I have my family and I was aware, even through the first shock and numbness, that I had two young people both to some extent dependent on me and so I had to keep going. It is one of the things that gets me out of bed at 6.15 on a freezing morning and into work and it is what will make it possible for me to keep some sort of a Christmas this year. Left to my own devices, I might just crawl back into bed but my wonderful, amazing sons deserve something better than that, and so I will make sure there is at least a welcoming home and some of our family traditions, even though the lynchpin of that family is no longer here.
I’ve been trying to think about Advent and what it means to me this year. Advent is often seen as a period of joyful waiting and watching but it is true to say that it is not wholly devoid of the bleakness of waiting, of waiting that seems to have no end. Surely we find such waiting in the long and doubtless grief-stricken barrenness of Elizabeth, in characters such as Simeon and the tradition of his increasing blindness which might be seen as a metaphor for the gradual extinguishing of hope, in the long exile of the Jews, and in all who wait for deliverance. Bonhoeffer described Advent as like, "a prison cell in which we wait and hope, the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside," while C.S.Lewis gives us Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas and the hapless figures at Cair Paravel are paralysed, frozen in time.

I know that come Christmas day our family will still be paralysed with grief because grief has its own time and seasons and by its nature won’t and can’t be hurried on. But we will talk, laugh,  maybe cry. There may only be a little joy but I am hoping for peace,and I am sure there will be plenty of love.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Loss and grief

It is almost two months now since my husband died. I won’t go into the details of his death other than to say that it was sudden and completely unexpected; I said goodbye to him one morning when I set off for work and never spoke to him or saw him alive again.
 I suppose to say that the last eight weeks have been consumed by grief is obvious. The loss of a spouse is a huge blow because it is such a close relationship, you shared your life with that person and they knew you better than anyone ever did. Their loss brings a pain that is sometimes so excruciating that you feel it is unbearable; at other times it is less intense but still a huge blanketing sadness that sucks all the joy out of living. I don’t have a very clear memory now of the first few weeks but it gets worse, if that is possible, after the funeral has finished and ordinary life resumes, simply because it is not ordinary life anymore. Being bereaved is in emotional terms the equivalent of having limbs amputated, you may be the same person but you are also completely different, you can’t get on like you did before, you don’t feel whole and you can’t imagine that life will ever again be “normal.”

Grief is also terribly isolating; despite all the sympathy cards in which people say they will do anything and will always be there for you, most will not keep in touch because they do not know what to say or do and some will actively avoid you- possibly for the same reasons. There may be an expectation after a few weeks that you should be “getting over it” when in fact you are still processing the enormity of the gulf that has opened in your life. There are days when you feel not just that nobody understands but that nobody particularly cares. In this bleakness, the support of family is a real positive and an absolute life saver, and friends who regularly keep in touch after the sympathy cards have stopped arriving are to be cherished. Another source of help has been the memory of Kev: his love and acceptance of me which freed me to love and accept myself, his concern for others and their well being above his own, his lovely, crazy sense of humour, his zest for life and his love and pride in our sons. These are the things I try to hold onto during the very many days when I think I just can’t and don’t want to go on.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Can't the silliness stop?

You probably know by now that the Bishop of Grantham is being cited as the first openly gay Church of England bishop in a long term relationship and the predictable and very yawn-worthy responses are trickling out from the various suspects. This statement from Gafcon at first seems staggering in its accusations of "secrecy" and "undermining of biblical standards" and lack of confidence in "processes", until you consider that of course Gafcon actually wants to engineer division in the Anglican Communion for their own political ends, and then it all makes perfect sense. Meanwhile Stonewall has lauded Chamberlain as "brave" and that it is "incredibly important that he can talk about his sexuality"- but let's be frank, Chamberlain "came out" because he was on the brink of being outed rather than that  he is some kind of pioneer of gay rights. And why should he be? Not every gay person wants to be an activist, some people just want to go about their lives, doing a job, shopping,  walking the dog, pottering in the garden without cameras trained on their house or articles about them in every newspaper.You can't help feeling sorry for the poor bloke who will now be cast in a variety of roles with different factions trying to use him and manipulate for their own ends this revelation about his quite unremarkable situation. The unremarkable nature of that relationship is my final point. There are plenty of other gay bishops and clergy, male and female,in relationships celibate and otherwise in the Church of England as everyone knows.
It just gets sillier and sillier, doesn't it?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Ascending and descending

If you, or anyone you know, has suffered the stress of waiting for exam results then I am sure you will feel for me when I say that I've been through more than twenty five "results days"! I can't claim that the anxiety is quite the same as waiting for your own A level results, or (worse) those of a son or daughter, but it is stressful and it is also true that you can multiply the situation many-fold. This year, if you include my tutor groups, I had over 120 students' results to worry about.
I am an inveterate worrier despite people always commenting that I seem so calm, and waiting for results doesn't seem to get any easy as I get older, usually occasioning at least one sleepless night. I worry about the marking, the coursework, the exam questions, the students with problems, the students with low expectations, the students with high expectations. Then after the results have come out I worry about any problems that have emerged, what I could have done or not done, said or not said.
I am happy to report that generally this year ran pretty smoothly although there are always some inevitable glitches. I got home late afternoon and I went on facebook to try and relax, then I went out for a walk to try to relax, then I had a glass of wine to try to relax. The wine was pretty effective and now I feel quite relaxed- at least until next week when the new intake come in to enrol, other students return, and it all starts over again...


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Pray for a kinder world

It was a friend I was visiting who told me the news of the murder of a French priest near Rouen and before she told me (she had just found out about it on the radio) she warned me to be ready for something "truly horrible".  Her reaction, looked at logically, is absurd, after all is the murder of an elderly man any more horrible than the mowing down of over eighty people, many of them children out enjoying an evening's entertainment? And yet, it is true that this latest atrocity is calculated to shock and outrage in so many of its details: the age of the victim, his office, the act taking place in front of an altar during mass and coming as it does to a nation still reeling from other recent atrocities. The mix of shock, distress, fear and anger this engenders is certainly dangerous,  France has said it is or feels "at war" and I cannot see how it can avoid increasingly wide spread demands for a radical response. Another friend of mine has recently moved back to France after many years in Britain and it depresses me to see on Facebook her blanket condemnation of all Muslims and her (very genuine) fears that there are thousands of jihadis just waiting for the right moment to "take over" France. Those have been her actual words and, although they seem extreme, the fear behind them is at least comprehensible given what France has faced since the Charlie Hebdo attack.

My facebook friend expressed her anger that "some people still defend Muslims" and yet it is clear, or at least it is to me, that it is right and proper to "defend" all innocent people who simply go about their business whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of any faith or no faith. What worries me is that my friend's blanket condemnation reflects the prevailing attitudes in France, and that plays right into the hands of terrorists who wish to see political and social unrest and destabilisation which will lead to more radicalisation and more negative consequences for the country concerned. France has a long history of far right groups and activity and is a country very vulnerable in this respect.
Yesterday's atrocity certainly was "truly horrible" but what is also horrible is the repercussions of terrorism, the effect it has of creating fear and hatred in all of us and prompting us to be cruel rather than fair and equitable. I heard on the radio that recently Pere Hamel had written a parish newsletter about the recent terrorist attacks telling his parishioners to take time for themselves over the summer and to pray for a kinder world. I tried googling but I could not find that newsletter or any reference to it online. What my search  did return was a copy of the video presumably of the priest's murder as it contained a warning and an invitation to  sign up to receive newsletters from far right groups.
I think that says it all.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Maybe, maybe not

There has been some media interest in the fact that Theresa May is a vicar's daughter and, according to one source this "instilled in her the serious minded sense of duty she holds dear today." May herself has to some extent corroborated this, apparently saying that her father's work inspired her choice of a political career because, " you didn't think about yourself. The emphasis was on others."
It is an interesting idea, and there was a similar focus on Gordon Brown's history, to use the Scottish phrase, as a child of the manse  and Margaret Thatcher's upbringing as the daughter of a man who was a grocer but also a local preacher (albeit apparently with a dubious reputation.) In short, some people seem to suggest that the children of clergy tend to be more self-giving, disciplined, focused less on the material (although whether that describes politicians is debatable...), and that clergy children are primed to seek roles in later life that tend towards vocation or leadership.

There may be some truth in the idea, children after all often absorb and are influenced by the values of their parents and those around them; a friend of mine is a ballet teacher and her son is now a professional dancer, a friend is a consultant and his daughter is studying medicine. Overall though,  I am unconvinced by the argument that clergy children fall into some special category, after all we can find characters and lives as disparate of those of Jane Austen, Katy Perry and even Lucrezia Borgia among the daughters of the cloth, although it is only fair to point out that Lucrezia Borgia's father was a cardinal (later Pope Alexander VI) and that recent history regards her more a pawn than an agent in the political machinations that surrounded her.

It is also true that quite opposite stereotypes about vicars' children exist, namely the idea that those brought up with the constraints, expectations and public scrutiny that can accompany being a vicar's child often later rebel against this and go "off the rails." This phenomenon / stereotype (delete as applicable) is so entrenched that it has its own term- Preacher's kid syndrome. Again, I am not entirely convinced, other children rebel as well, maybe we just notice it more in certain cases, I think PK syndrome simply offers an alluring narrative, and who doesn't just love Dusty Springfield's Son of a preacher man in which a boy inherits his father's persuasive eloquence and puts it to use in very different ways.

As for Theresa May, the extent to which she will act in accordance with the Christian values of her upbringing remains to be seen. Her first Prime Ministerial speech dwelt on her desire to reach out and to serve, a few days later when asked if she would authorise a nuclear strike killing thousands of men, women and children, she did not hesitate to answer "yes". Well, politics is a tough and nasty business, Prime Ministers, perhaps female ones in particular, cannot afford to be weak or to be seen as weak; they rely on the reputation they create. And possibly that idea of reputation, that idea of brand image  lies as much as anything behind Theresa May (in common with Thatcher and Brown) pointing us to background as a reason for us to feel trust, respect or , almost bizarrely in this oh-so secular age, even reverence.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Feeling the heat

I've tried to get out in the garden today but at times the heat has driven me back in. I've had to put off quite a few jobs over the last few weeks, from weeding to washing just because it has been so wet and now it is too hot! I can't complain as I got out two lots of washing and also picked the first of the sweet peas, this year all the beaujolais seem to have flowered first. A few other colours are starting to bloom but only these were quite ready to pick and such a gorgeous colour that I didn't mind not having a mix. If you leave the sweet peas then the plant produces less blooms so I will try to keep picking them and  we should have plenty from now on.
I can't really say that the garden is flourishing that much though, I think the last few weeks of rain have left it feeling a bit dejected, the radishes have been distinctly puny although we have had a good crop of potatoes and the courgette plants have now started producing. Poor Mr M was at work today, however  he finished earlier than usual so that was a bonus. Son number one has been complaining of the heat and took himself off for a cold shower this afternoon. Son two in contrast went for a run at a local beauty spot, uphill all the way, and came back lathered in sweat. As for me, I skipped the gym this evening and am hoping tonight doesn't prove unbearably muggy. Still, let's make the most of it, there is always rain around the corner!