Saturday, 7 June 2014

Spirit of Power

The story of Bernard Johnson, the D-day veteran who, having failed to get on an official trip to attend the commemorations, absconded from his care home and just did it anyway has surely delighted and inspired many of us.He left on the Thursday  morning with his medals hidden under his coat and told nobody about his adventure, presumably to scotch attempts to talk him out of it.  Perhaps it is no great surprise that the fortitude and determination of those who lived through major conflict should prove more than a match for our pusillanimous risk averse society. A tweet, supposedly from the police officers who discovered his whereabouts, sums it up with,
                                        #fighting spirit: still has it.
With Pentecost coming up tomorrow, the story made me ponder the idea of spirit and how we use the term spirit not just to suggest an attitude but a life force, something living which inhabits us and shapes our actions and decisions.  The bible uses so many terms to help us understand the concept of the Holy Spirit - something given, a grace, a help and counsellor, a power beyond ourselves, something which transforms us and makes us more than we would have been without it.
 Those who fought for their country during the Second World War, or anyone who is faced with a huge life threatening situation,needs to be able to reach deep within themselves, and maybe outside of themselves, to tap into a power which gives them the strength to do what they must do.I do not like the glorification of war, and I support those unable for reasons of conscience to take part in it, but I am unable to be a whole-hearted pacifist, particularly given conflicts such as the Second World War. We are told in the bible that the Spirit does not make us slaves who live in fear, and the D day landings were undertaken by those who, although they felt fear, were not prepared to be slaves.
I think of them at this moment and ask that through our hardest moments and  most difficult decisions we may be guided by the Spirit, not of timidity, but of power, love and self-control.

Ouistreham or "Sword Beach" one of the main landing areas


  1. I do hate the expression 'absconded from his care home' it makes it sound as if care homes are prisons and a person is legally confined within. Unless someone is under a Deprivation of Liberty (DOLS) order (under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 – yours truly is a qualified DOLS assessor!) a care home is what it says – it is just someone’s home and residents are free to come and go as they please. If you or I were to make an unplanned trip away from our homes for the weekend, we’d see it as being ‘free spirited’ and doing something spontaneously. Yet if an old person does it from a care home, then they ‘abscond’ – in reality, they break free from the confines of the ‘prison’ we have made for older people by placing their existence in a realm outside our own – where different rules apply and where they are the focus of supervision and restriction. Alas, we see something as mundane as old age, as a species of deviance and thus confine it by language, culture and institutions outside of everyday existence (as we do with much that we fear...).

    The guy was told he couldn’t go and he went anyway – end of story. Good for him!

    I do wish I had recorded some of the conversations I have had with people who fought or served in the last two World Wars. As a care worker in the 80s and as a social worker, I’ve heard some fantastic, inspiring and truly frightening stories from both ex-service personnel and civilians. Many were mere boys and many gave their tomorrows for our today.

    1. I don't think the care home told him not to go, just that he didn't manage to get on the official trip but decided to make his own way there. A spokesperson at the home was rather keen to point out that, "he is not under lock and key and comes and goes as he pleases." He should really have told them and I don't know why he didn't!
      We do expect older people to be rather passive and not to have that sort of independence and it is quite wrong to apply those stereotypes as you say. I still think it is a rather lovely and moving story though. I hope I am like that at 89.

  2. P.S. You might the the following blog: - its author and I were (27 years ago) within the confines of a monastery together...


    1. Thanks S.U, I've never seen that before and I love it, particularly:

      Come, you who have become yourself desire in me,
      who have made me desire you

      Which is more positive than some of the "spirit takes away our desires and makes us other worldly" stuff you can findsometimes.

    2. I thought you'd like Andrew's Blog - growing up in the forces and all. He's a lovely soul - and through him I grew to love all things Welsh (he's from the Valleys!).


  3. When I worked for a central London borough (as a social worker) I had a client who was 99 and enormously rich (she left £11 million in her will). The local borough had charged her £2.50 a week for the home care service I had set up. She said 'I'm not paying it...' They say they'll take me to court. Of course they won't - imagine what it would like '[central London boro'] takes 99 year old to court...' I did necessarily agree with her - but you had to admire her balls!

    In part at least, old age is socially constructed - we plebs are shepherded into retirement and a restricted income at 65+. Royalty, Peers, Judges, MPs can toddle on. No one comments on the fact the Queen is 88 and the Duke of E. in his 90s. When Jug Ears finally inherits the throne, unless he's really decrepit, there will be no opposition, even if he's in his 70s (he's 65 now).

    I am a staunch advocate of anti-ageism, as you can probable tell. Mind you, I'm 50 next month and so I'm a bit touchy about age at present...