“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Saturday, 10 February 2018

In Praise of the NHS

This morning I went in to Northampton General for a minor procedure. It was moderately unpleasant, but the result was good. What moved me was the kindness and professionalism of every member of staff in the place. While I was waiting, I listened to one nurse trying patiently to communicate with a very elderly, deaf woman, who had left her hearing aid at home, and another reassuring (through an interpreter) a patient who had no English, and who was obviously scared out of her wits. And when my turn came, they were kindness itself – reassuring me at every point, and explaining exactly what was going on – which I really didn’t want to know!

The British National Health Service is a wonderful institution, which should be properly funded. In my experience, the staff are (without exception) dedicated to their jobs, and never forget that patients are people too, with hopes and fears. And yet we are told that it is in crisis, that waiting lists are long, that people get left in corridors, because there are no beds for them, and that staff are suffering from burn-out, from trying to square an impossible circle.

I don't usually make political comments on this blog, but I am totally unable to understand why the NHS is not adequately supported by central government. When they can find the money to spend on instruments of torture and death, such as nuclear weapons, why isn't there enough funding for an excellent NHS? It baffles me.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Over-Reliance on Technology

Yesterday afternoon, I had a funeral to do, in a part of Birmingham I’m not familiar with. So I set my sat-nav, planning to arrive half-an-hour early, as is my custom. But the sat-nav went loopy on the way there and I got well and truly lost. It was a good job I had planned to get there with half-an-hour to spare, as it was more like ten minutes to spare by the time I finally found the place. I had to sit and breathe for a few moments, to calm myself, before I got out of the car. At one point I was seriously worrying that I wouldn’t find the place at all, and that I’d be late for, or miss, the funeral. Which would have been dreadful.

It made me think about how reliant on technology we (I) are these days. I had set the sat-nav with the post code for the Crematorium, and set off with blithe confidence that it would get me there in good time. But for some reason, it malfunctioned, and I was up the creek without a paddle. I stopped and asked for directions in a newsagent, and the directions he gave me were so confusing that I got lost again.  

I tried to use Google Maps on my phone, but couldn't remember the password for the App Store, so that was no good. And I didn't have a road atlas in the car ... a mistake I plan to rectify! In the end, I stopped re-set it with the post-code, and still drove past and had to turn round. But I had found it - more by luck than technological wizardry.

After the service, which I am thankful to say went really well, I set the sat-nav again for home. And it took me a completely different (and much more direct) route back to the M6. 

Before the days of sat-navs, I used to use the AA Route Finder to get directions. I think that in future I will look up unfamiliar destinations on this again, so that at least I know the correct junction of the motorway to get off on.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Restoring Former Glory

Last November, I started playing the piano again, after a gap of several years. Not surprisingly, my poor piano had fallen out of tune in the interim, and so I asked my piano teacher whether the piano tuner I used to use was still in business. He was, but could only make an appointment at the end of January - yesterday.

It was nice to see him again, but when he walked in to the lounge, I made some throwaway comment about it having been "a while" since the piano was tuned, and to my slight embarrassment, he whipped a record card out of his pocket, looked at it, then grinned across at me and said: "Yes, May 2007." 


For the next two hours I sat and stitched, while he did whatever it is piano tuners do, and restored it to its former in-tune glory. I love to watch skilled people at work - whether they are knitters, crocheters, artists, or in this case, piano tuners. It reminds me that we all need each other - I couldn't tune a piano if I lived to be a hundred. Nor cut hair, nor a million other tasks which others do so skilfully for me.

We are all inter-connected in a very fundamental way, by the services we render to one another. And I am most grateful, for my privileged life - a life in which such services are available, and easily accessible.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Knot in the Handkerchief of the Sub-conscious

Today I am so very grateful to my sub-conscious mind. You know how it is, when you've been doing a job for years - you stop writing regular tasks down, and just assume you'll remember to do them in time?

Well, I nearly didn't (remember in time). I was driving back from the gym yesterday morning, and suddenly froze in my seat: "*****!" I said to myself (fortunately I was driving alone). "I've got to do X and Y before the end of the week, and it's Friday!"

One hurried shower later, I was in front of my computer, typing away busily. Several hours later, both jobs were done. I am still a little in shock, that I had not remembered them, but mostly relieved that my sub-conscious mind came to my rescue, just in time.

I find the workings of the sub-conscious (or unconscious mind) fascinating. I once read a book called Operators and Things by Barbara O'Brien, which is a sampling of the workings of a mind taken over by schizophrenia. The book is divided into two parts - the first hundred or so pages shares her experience of being schizophrenic - the voices she heard, and what happened to her. The second half, which I found as interesting as the first, was where she pieces together what had happened to her, and shares research about the workings of the unconscious mind, which is the greater part of all of us.

One of the things she mentions is "hunches" - those nudges we get from our sub-conscious, which often help us to solve a problem, or in my case, to remember to do something important.  This is how she describes the process:

"The unconscious, ... when it is presented with a problem, does more than search its files with lightning fingers. It appears to search and also to consider, evaluate, weigh. First, it must understand the problem. And this it can also do. It can grasp an intricate concept. The conscious mind broods over its problem, and the unconscious, listening to the brooding, grasps the problem.

It searches its files, evaluates, and sends up an answer. The answer is rejected by the conscious mind. The conscious mind broods on the reason for the rejection and the unconscious listens, understands, gets to work again with the new concept and comes up with another answer. Still not good enough? Why? The conscious mind broods again and the unconscious gets to work again, and works until it finds an answer acceptable to the conscious mind. The conscious mind stops brooding and celebrates, and the unconscious rests. For the time being, the organism is out of danger."

We call this process "intuition" or "inspiration". I am in awe at the complexities of the human mind, and grateful to my own sub-conscious, which sent me a nudge at the right time.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Mixed Feelings

Yesterday I took the cards down. I un-decorated the tree, and put all the decorations back in their boxes for another year. Then dismantled the tree, and put it back in its box. Then hoovered the floor and dusted and tidied the room.

Back to normal.

On the one hand, this makes me sad. I love looking at our tree so much, with the decorations lovingly built up over the years, and the bright lights twinkling. And at our beautiful hand-carved nativity set, bought 27 years ago in Oberammergau. It has been lovely to catch up with friends and family, either in person, or via the annual Christmas card. It always makes me feel bad, recycling all those loving wishes. But they were read, and appreciated, and brightened up our lives.

But on the other hand, part of me is relieved. Christmas is over, another New Year has been welcomed in, full of hints and promises. I have another chance to learn new things, to make new friends, to appreciate old friends, and to recognise God everywhere.

Spirit of Life and Love,
Another Christmas is over,
Another New Year marked.
May 2018 be a good year
For me, and for all
Those I love,
And for the world.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

A Challenge for the New Year

This morning I was finally re-connecting with the computer, having had a few days away from it over the Christmas period, and catching up with the daily meditations from Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation, which usually give me a nice, spiritual start to my day.

And I came across this passage, from The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, which Richard Rohr quotes, and which has really resonated with me, as a challenge for the coming year:

"Will you engage this moment with kindness or with cruelty, with love or with fear, with generosity or scarcity, with a joyous heart or an embittered one? This is your choice, and no-one can make it for you. If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy, then you will discover in that choice the Kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, this-worldly salvation. If you choose cruelty, fear, scarcity, and bitterness, then you will discover in that choice the hellish states of which so many religions speak. These are not ontological realities tucked away somewhere in space - these are existential realities playing out in your own mind. Heaven and hell are both inside of you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside."

"Heaven and hell are both inside you. It is your choice that determines just where you will reside." Wow. For 2018, I resolve to try to engage with the world, with each moment, with kindness, love, generosity and joy.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

It's A Wonderful Life

I've just been watching one of my two* favourite Christmas films, It's A Wonderful Life. It stars James Stewart as the central character, George Bailey, who lives in the first half of the last century in the small town of Bedford Falls, runs the local building society, and lives in a ramshackle house on the edge of town with his wife and children.

Trying not to spoil the plot, I'll just say that as the film begins, George has hit rock bottom, and wonders bitterly whether he has wasted his whole life. All his contemporaries, and his younger brother, have left the town and got on, got ahead, but chance and circumstance, combined with a strong sense of duty and honour, have kept George in Bedford Falls.

He is on the point of suicide, believing that it would be better if he had never lived, when his own personal guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes, and proceeds to show George the many ways in which he has made a difference for the better. There is a wonderful happy ending - hence the title It's A Wonderful Life.

When I watch it each year, I always wonder, like George, how or if my life has made a difference to the people with whom I share it. And end up being reassured by the film's message: that if you do the best you can, and follow the best you know, it will all work out right in the end.

I'm not as unselfish as George Bailey, but I share Brene Brown's aim of living wholeheartedly. In the Introduction to her wonderful book, Rising Strong, she writes:

"I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to be at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging."

I believe that if we can do that - strive to live wholeheartedly, then, like George Bailey, we will be able to lead lives where we can make a difference, for the better. Merry Christmas!

*the other one is Love Actually