Today I am respecting the war dead, and living too, hopefully you can take some time out to do so also. Sometimes I think that war is so much more honest than most of life. Once you ignore the propaganda and strip it down to vital days like today, it’s stark and unambiguous; it says ‘this person is dead’, ‘this person died’ and there’s no way anyone can argue with that. But how we got to that point is through dishonesty and disrespect, trying to pull societies somewhere that we have no right to pull them; feeding voters spin to elicit legitimacy. So it’s more important than anything to respect the living and each other, to be tolerant and understand that this isn’t a competition. Life is not dog eat dog. War is not good. Fighting is not kind.
spent a month by the dockers and the Saints,
then lusted after pricey trainers in the Lanes.
Came home to the old place but no old friends,
felt old new pains start again.
Lost hope and grip and chance and love and self respect.
Pressed stop, ejected, then tore up the tape.
Bottomed-out, took baby steps and left the nest.
With prickly nerves, I lived a foot above my head.
Met people kind enough to take me as I was,
though geeks discern none – they see with no ‘because’.
My jump was higher than I honestly believed,
but I still spent a month sure I’d been deceived.
Got paid and found that nothing really ever changed.
Nearly lost the reigns and put on loads of weight.
Found myself and cried and gave the boy a hug.
Looked for reason, found a song, fell back in love.
Now I’m looking round but ought to look ahead,
’cause Google thinks it’s forty years until I’m dead.
Life is long and opportunities do not end at 16, nor 18. Grades at school represent one facet of intelligence. You are not defined by the grades you get. If you did not get the grades – honestly – you are in good company. Some of the most interesting and intelligent people I know did not get particularly good grades at school. What’s more, in the real world you often see school-intelligent people just not ‘getting’ how business and people work. Successful entrepreneurs often buck the trend of education success = business success. There are a whole load of different ways that people with different kinds of ‘intelligence’ can succeed. Do you somehow just ‘know’ how to talk to people? Do you ‘get’ what makes a good party a good party? Can you quietly understand what’s actually happening in a given situation? Do you have a gift of making a child feel safe and empowered? None of those and countless other things require you to understand trigonometry…
What schooling success is changes too. With every generation we have some Government and/or Education Secretary who attempt to change everything in the name of their own legacy. The goalposts move within the period of time it takes us to start primary school and leave secondary/further education. How we are tested changes; how we form classes changes; what we should aspire to – educationally – changes. Nothing about school is as important as who you are as a person and how you come across. Nobody is restricted in making a good first impression. And for one’s first job, a good first impression is the thing to make.
So don’t despair or feel bad in anyway about what you read on a few pieces of paper and even if you don’t feel like the you’re the person you’d love to be – you have so much time! There are so many different ways to get to a place where you’d like to be. Think back to what you were like when you started your A Levels. That first day and those nerves and look at what you’ve learned, off your own back, about the world in that time. That’s two years. Life is a lot, lot longer than two years!
One’s relationship with religion can be deeply emotional, even if that is unbeknownst to oneself. Growing up in a 1980s/1990s village in England with friends who were deeply, familially religious yet being of a single-parent home with a complex family structure there, it is obvious, lay many sticky wickets. Many places where an unconventional boy growing up and his friends some of religious families may find conflict amongst themselves. I remember a day when, walking to the village green to play football, we crossed the dirty grassy track through the bush and my best friend asked me not to say the word “damn” around him, because he found it deeply unsettling and/or offensive. I found it offensive that he was censoring me (though I doubt my inner monologue used that term). We were ten.
My mum did humour me on at least one occasion and we came to the Sunday Baptist service. We did not fit in. It was wierd. From that point onwards the weekly youth activities on a Friday night became more tumultuous and the relationship with the leaders and their children – those they were ultimately doing these groups for – became fractured. To the point where it was indirectly suggested that if the attendees did not go to Sunday services then it was not really for them anymore. We were maybe eleven or twelve. That was the first real experience of religious intolerance that I experienced. There were (as far as I could be aware) no Muslims, Sikhs or Jews in our village – the most exotic theology was Catholicism and everyone found that family more than a little strange. Though if you ventured into Cambridge sometimes you would see an actual Buddhist monk wandering around in orange robes. That was like seeing an alien. Really.
The village had a divide – in that divide there were two sects: the builders with their Sunday morning football, weekly sermons at the pub on a Friday and Saturday which felt like something from witch-hunting days – families that seemed to be famous in the village, faces you recognised but you knew would never recognise you. Then there were the religious families, equally as famous, but in more of an old-village, rather than new-village way. Perhaps my outsider status with both groups afforded me clarity of perspective. That was not unique to me, it wasn’t a particularly small village, at least not when I finally left – when I was born it was a three or four hundred homes lighter. Neither side were welcoming, both were intolerant in their own way and so organised religion and old-fashioned village bigots became two sides of the same coin.
Fortunately my mother was deeply open-minded and curious for her children, she brought us up with a deep curiousity in other religions and cultures. She took a stance that was intentionally opposed to village bigotry. She read us stories from the Ramayana, voted Green, practiced yoga and made sure we felt we could be whatever we wanted. It was a great gift. Especially since the village often conditioned us to laugh at those values.
But now, as an established adult, how does one make peace with traditional English religion and values and embrace the good things like Lent – the forty days preceding Easter Sunday whilst being more mindful of their history? Well, when I was a kid I’d often give up sweets for Lent, and then pig out on them after Easter. But I gave up junk food a month or so ago (and have never had more energy in my life) so I need to find something else. I didn’t even have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (something established to get rid of fatty ingredients in the house before the fasting of Lent). So what can someone who does nor partake in the new British tradition of dieting on junk food give up?
I shall give up negative thinking.
But why? Why do we bother giving anything up for Lent? Penance – absolution before God. Something any good, god-fearing Westerner ought to do, right?
Well, I’m trying to avoid ruining my mental health at the moment – I’m getting my body, mind and soul in shape and I don’t think that I need to berate myself for my sins. In fact, I do not necessarily think that I need to rid myself of them. Yes, for some it may work in the traditional Christian way, but it does not work for me. I’ve done bad things. I’ve been a bad person. We all have. I’m not going to repress it and develop a personality disorder, that just can’t be healthy. So I’m not going to try and self-harm myself into ridding me of negativity, instead I’m going to embrace harnessing negative thinking (and more obviously talking negatively) by what I’ve read in Pema Chödrön’s ‘Start Where You Are’ which described Tonglen meditation. I’m not going to ignore my history and the traditions of my environment, instead I’m going to try and embrace the opportunity. I’m also not going to beat myself around the face repeatedly until my mind falls in line – I’m going to trust what many others have found deeply rewarding and I think it’s going to work really well (see, I’m being positive already!)