Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anne's Story

I'm sorry, this isn't a happy story, but it needs to be told . . . may I share it with you?

It's the story of Anne. Anne is not her real name, but in her new world, which lacks
almost all privacy, it's the one form of privacy that I can give to her.

Once upon a time there was an intelligent young woman. Her name was Anne. She was happily married and lived in an affluent part of London. She and her husband had three children, to whom they were devoted.

The years passed. Anne's children grew up and married, her husband died. Anne became a grandmother and continued to live in the house that
had been her home throughout her married life. She loved her home. She loved the succession of dogs and cats who shared her home with her. Although now on her own, Anne played an active part in the community,
enjoyed the visits of her children and grandchildren, and felt that her life had purpose.

However, such were the rising property values in Anne's part of London that her home, which had been moderately-priced when originally purchased, was now worth a considerable sum. Anne's children looked on this pot of gold with frustration. As they saw it, were Anne to die whilst still living in the house a large proportion of their inheritance would go in death duties. Only if the house were to be sold well in advance of her death would they be able to claim what they felt was rightfully theirs.

It was not good, they said to each other, for one woman to live alone in a large house. Their mother was in her early eighties, she needed company, she also needed to be looked after.
True she was physically fit and active, true she had suffered no deterioration of her mental faculties, but a nursing-home, they argued, would provide all that she needed. To buy her a small house or flat would, they contended, be no more than a short-term solution. What was more, if the money from the sale of the house was made available to them now it could be used to pay for their children's schooling. Why wait until it was too late?

By dint of powerful persuasion, Anne, too, became convinced that she should sell her home and move. Sorrowfully, she parted with all but a few of the possessions that carried so many memories of her happy life. Sorrowfully, she accepted that she would no longer be able to have any pets. With resignation, she moved into a nursing-home.

Anne's room in the nursing-home was half the size of the smallest bedroom in her original home. A bed, one chair, a cramped cupboard, a small chest-of-drawers and a very small table occupied all the available space. The window faced north, which meant that the sun never shone in to lighten the shadows.

To be fair to the nursing-home, it was a perfectly worthy establishment. Dementia patients were housed on the second floor, the bedridden were on the first floor, whilst the ground floor provided rooms for those who were able to walk and possibly enjoy the garden. The nursing assistance was good, the rooms were kept scrupulously clean, as were the patients. But the patients were totally subservient to the daily routine of the home and had little or no individual say in their own lives.

Had Anne not been blessed with a lively intelligence and a keen sense of humour her life would have become intolerable. She maintained her spirits by successfully completing her daily crossword - 'Collins' Dictionary' and 'Roget's Thesaurus' having accompanied her to the home. She also took a keen interest in what was going on around her, and, to amuse herself, secretly gave nicknames to the nurses and residents - names carefully recorded in her note-book which was kept hidden out of sight! Her children paid occasional duty calls, but, as she remarked ruefully to a friend, they only came when they had something to be signed.

As for her grandchildren, no longer could they help their Grandmother bake biscuits in her kitchen, gather raspberries in her garden, or help her exercise the dog. Their visits to the cramped room were infrequent and stressful for all concerned.

But what Anne missed most of all was the ability to contribute to the world around her. Her life had been one of giving, of sharing and of service. A life where she was deprived of any ability to act for herself or work for others had shrunk to a meaningless, timeless non-event.

Why am I telling you this story? Because Anne is not the only person in this situation. Soaring house prices have encouraged many families to move elderly parents out of their homes. Elderly people who have contributed much to the communities in which they've lived have been stripped of their dignity and self-esteem and seen their lives shrink to little more than an enclosed, purposeless existence - further degraded by a daily scrub from a well-meaning stranger.

The Native American Indians and the Aboriginal people of Australia share a common wisdom - they hold the Earth sacred and believe that no-one should own land.
It is this competition for finite land that has forced up prices, caused us to grow greedy, and deprived the Annes of this world of their homes. Until we have the wisdom to recognise where we've gone wrong, what can we do?
I don't know. But if there are any Annes in your life, please visit them . . . help them to laugh . . . and, best of all, do your utmost to prevent them from being incarcerated in the first place.
Anne and her contemporaries provided generous support to the the society in which they lived long before The Big Society was thought of - we can't afford to ignore them and the legacy they gave to us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Green Dragon

"To every thing there is a season," wrote Ecclesiastes. But what I hadn't realised until this week was that these seasons apply to the minutia of life every bit as much as to the broad picture.
A time to be born and a time to die . . . ? Undoubtedly. But a time to read a book . . . ?

Fifteen years ago I was given "The Universe is a Green Dragon" by Brian Swimme. Somehow, it became delegated to a place on the book shelf where it has sat ever since, forgotten and unread.
Last week, hearing unexpected mention of the title, I was reminded of the gift . . . and went in search.

Where cosmology is concerned, it has taken time for my personal peck of stardust to shine with anything resembling comprehension. But, spurred on by the recent BBC television series on the formation of the Universe, the time for this discarded book had arrived. As Ecclesiastes would say, this was its season.
I took it down from the shelf . . . started to read . . . and was fired with an upsurge of excitement. An excitement which, if you don't mind, I've every intention of sharing with you.

Do you view the subject of evolution as I did, something to be viewed in historical terms? In my mind, whilst fully accepting that we all come from stardust, I also looked upon this topic as history. After all, the Big Bang took place billions of years ago.
What this book has achieved is to open my eyes to the realisation that the story of evolution isn't something to be relegated to the past. Whilst guided by the past, it is continuing in the present, it is shaping the future . . . it is happening now.

Writing as a mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme describes how the human race evolved as an integral part of the living body of the Universe. A body which, for billions of years, had been unaware of itself, unable to comprehend the miracle of its own divine being.
With the evolution of mankind the Universe finally provided itself with the gift of self-reflection, the power to recognise its own consciousness.
With our arrival it gained the ability to wonder, to marvel, to cogitate, to be absorbed in awe, and to experience the cathartic joy of laughter.
We were the mirror within which the Universe could finally recognise its own beauty . . . its own magnificence.

Just consider for a moment what this means in personal terms. Your small toe can't think for itself, it's your mind that performs this function on the toe's behalf. Your hand can't consume the food it handles, eating is the function of the mouth and the digestive system. In Universal terms, you and I, through our self-awareness, give a mind to the mountains, a heart to the oceans, and a song to the stars.

Nor is this all, with recent developments in technology and physics, we, as a living Universe, can for the first time understand the history of our own development and the amazing way we function. Only in the past few decades have we been able to recognise that the same atoms, our atoms, constitute a snowdrops or a meteor, a butterfly or a poet. With this leap forward we have become no less than the Universe reflecting upon its own incredible design.

As if all that isn't amazing enough, Brian Swimme demonstrates how the various components of our Universe integrate and support each other - how we are prevented from flying apart and losing coherence. Science has given this quality many names, amongst them are 'gravity', 'attraction' and 'cosmic allurement' . . . to humans it is known as 'love'.

I've only touched on a few facets of this thought-provoking book, but, to finish, let me repeat something that I said at the beginning.
Divine inspiration fired the Big Bang and we are still evolving. We have never stopped evolving. But our future is unknown.
What will we evolve into . . . ? What will this Universe become . . . ?
That is up to the conscious mind of the Universe . . . in other words, it is up to us.

It took fifteen years for me to rediscover the 'green dragon' on my bookshelf. For the sake of our Universal future, may I recommend that you read it now?

Tell me, have you ever wanted to leap up crying "Eureka!"? That's just how I feel at the moment. Let me explain.
What, asks Brian Swimme, holds the Universe together? What maintains form? What holds the stars in their configuration and prevents them scattering out into space?
In human beings, he argues, this cohesion is illustrated by the need to share.
Surely this letter is a clear demonstration of the Universal need for unity? In reaching out to each other with words, you and I are collaborating with gravity, attraction and cosmic allurement . . . we are one with the binding, unifying power of love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Good Little Girl

I ought to let Chloe tell you this story, but, if I did, it might encourage her to feel even more smug than she does already.
Instead, let me tell you how proud I am of my good little girl . . . and we won't let her read what I say!

It was the day of the annual Animal Service, and it was definitely going to be a big occasion for Chloe. She knew, from having attended the service last year, that on such occasions both cats and dogs are honour-bound to behave impeccably . . . such was her firm intention.

Settling herself happily in the pew beside our friend Sally, she was a model of good behaviour. True, there was the occasional glance over the top of the pew, just to investigate the new arrivals, but, all in all, she remained quiet, unobtrusive and very good.

The dogs in the adjoining pews were equally well-behaved. In fact, the only intrusive voice, one that arose at regular intervals throughout the service, came from a cat basket at the rear of the church. After registering surprise that such bad manners should be displayed by one of her own species, Chloe decided to ignore this ill-behaviour.

It was only when the service was over, and the pets and their owners converged in the aisles, that it became apparent who had been making her presence felt so forcibly. Standing determinedly astride her pew, freed from the restrictions of the cat-basket and now out on a lead, was a young relative of Chloe . . . another Bengal cat.

Back arched, ears back and eyes blazing, it was quite clear that she had no intention of curbing her feelings now that the service was over. On the contrary, her new freedom enabled her to dominate the proceedings as forcibly as she wished.
She hissed at the startled dogs, looked fiercely at Chloe and told everyone within earshot that she was not a girl to be trifled with.
Cautiously backing away, the docile dogs eyed this small-scale virago with surprise and respect.

According to Chloe's philosophy, little girls achieve all that they want simply by widening their large, blue eyes and weaving themselves sinuously around the ankles of their devoted admirers. It has always worked for her!
She gazed in shock and disbelief at this modern miss, a cat who, in Chloe's eyes, was sacrificing the long-proven strategy of feminine wiles in favour of feminist militancy.

Watching this conflict of views, I felt a little anxious. What if Chloe admired the newcomer's tactics? What if she, too, decided that stridency was preferable to feminine guile?
But I need not have worried.

"What a good cat," said members of the congregation admiringly, as they paused to give Chloe a stroke.
Chloe's guileless blue eyes widened appreciatively at these compliments.
"A very good girl!" I confirmed with relief.

Chloe may not be modern-minded, but she knows the tactics that suit her . . . and she plays them to perfection.

She also has the feline wisdom to recognise that a loving heart (combined with steely determination) gets a good little girl just what she wants!
Did I mention that she can be a thorough pickle at home?
No . . . I don't think we'll go into that!