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(Update: Blogger hasn't fixed its problem with the "adult warning". Will go back to posting at my WordPress blog)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bread of Heaven



It's been a while, dudes. My mother got serious pneumonia, and since she's 88 and bed-ridden, we all worried that it might be the end of her. So I dropped everything and flew to Cape Town to see her before she died. Fortunately, she rallied. And though there's plenty wrong with her health -- she's old, after all -- she's still alive. All the same, I get the feeling that this will be the last time I see her. Parting was very hard.

On Friday night, two days after I got back to Melbourne, I disgraced myself on the train home. I was listening to Bread of Heaven, the hymn they sing when the Wales rugby team plays a rugby team from another country. Well, it's hard even when nothing is wrong with my life to listen to hymns and anthems unmoved, but right now there is so much happening. So of course I started to weep. I compounded my grief by listening to Hallelujah, and then the first movement of the Beethoven Moonlight sonata. I'd been hiding from my grief till then. But it was no good. I thought of my mother. I thought of my sister, poor beloved sister, whose life is such a mess. I remember friends who have died -- three in the last year -- each one of them horribly, in pain. I thought of a good -- even a dear friend -- whom I quarrelled with fatally just a few days before. I thought of someone I know who I reamed out -- deservedly! -- but who is himself suffering great loss. I'm sorry, mate. I shouldn't have.

So... I cried. In front of a woman whom I often meet and talk to on the train and a handsome bloke with kind eyes and a real smile who watched me perplexed, unable to respond to something so outlandish as male grief.

Have you noticed how each grief makes you connect and remember all other griefs? Not like happiness. Each happy occasion is unique. My lady and I were talking about it and she said it's not fair or right that humans feel such pain. How are we supposed to bear our loss? When someone we love is taken from us, what do we do? How do we keep going? We were talking about a specific person, someone whom we knew as a toddler years ago in Brundall in Norfolk, the same age as my younger son, who died, inexplicably, a year ago. His mother cannot come to terms with her grief. How do you do that, come to live with the death of a child? How? I remember just a few short months ago when my younger son was in hospital with a mysterious disease, in the neural ward, while we sat next to him, numb with horror and shock, waiting, waiting for him to get better. If he had died....

Love, and those you love. It seems that there is an end to everything. And it came to pass, it says in the Bible. Kai egeneto. Nothing lasts. That's good and bad, isn't it?

But it does last. Memory lasts, and love. I still remember and love my father. I remember my friend who died. No matter what happened to our friendship, I loved him. And my children, each one of them, and my lady: they are there for me, they love me, they forgive me my sins.


In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
"Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray."
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
"Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time."

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon
And still the steeples hum.
"Come all to church, good people,"--
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

Indeed. Of course, A E Housman's love was male, his best friend, who was unable (or unwilling) to return his love, and in the end emigrated to Canada. 'Her' was a fiction, to satisfy the obscene passions of Victorian moral rectitude. Like me, Housman didn't have the consolation of religion. A formidable classical scholar, he knew that Rome and Greece didn't regard us queers as loathsome pariahs. He couldn't forgive the church its homophobia.

What I know as a certainty is that it is love that carries us through the griefs. Omnia vincit amor. Love conquers all. The Romans were thinking of sexual love I think, and that's all very well. But I'm thinking of the less glamorous kind of love, the love between friends and family, the kind of love that lasts long after sexual love and desire have withered to dust. Omnia vincit amor. They knew something, those Romans, more than they realised. How do we survive? I asked above. Well, we do. One step in front of the other. With the help of those who love us.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tennyson. Very Victorian sentiments. Yet there is more than the obvious kind of courage. The obvious kind is bravery. But there is another, more profound, more valuable, much less glamorous. And that is the kind of courage you need to face despair. There aren't poems about keeping going day after day, about keeping a smile pasted on your face, day after day, about getting up before dawn to do your job because there are ppl who depend on you and bills to pay.

It's love, dearly beloveds. Agape or philia, if not eros (so untrustworthy, so false a friend, the good God Eros). Love and courage. Then... we can move mountains.

I shall end with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer, not because I am a Christian (I am not) but because it always comforted me when I used to take Communion, and because I think at their apexes, all the great religious thinkers commune with the divinity in a way which emphasizes the godhead not the doctrine, whether they are Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Sufi mystics or the Dalai Lama.

The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Peace of God, which passeth all understanding.

There is another quote from the Book of Common Prayer, which I find apposite:

From all blindness of heart, from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us.

What amazing sentiments. And how few Christians apply or follow them.

I have wronged others. May they forgive me. Forgiveness, even more than love, is a two-way street. If you do not forgive others how can you possibly expect them to forgive you?. And without them we are as nothing, and our grief and loss destroy us.

Till next time.

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