Not that I’m particularly proud of the fact, and not that I’m planting a flag on a mountain peak to assert my wondrous deeds, but listen, I’m 73, chances are whatever you’re going through right now, I was there before you.
And I’ve survived. As you will. And it’s not only me – everyone else who has reached old age or some sort of maturity has clambered up that mountain before you and has paused and wondered if they would ever make it, standing maybe where you are now. We have been where you are and known the same feelings, thought the same thoughts. Circumstances will have been different, and our reactions may have been wildly different, but we have all had – at some time – the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing right now. And we are still here. For all I went through in 73 helter-skelter, sometimes dreary years, I am still here, stumbling on, enjoying the mornings, loving the dark night sky, toast and marmalade for lunch, a daft Skype with a daft pal, work to do, dogs to feed, life going on.
I know that some of you are feeling bleak and hopeless. You’re not alone. That’s the message. You are not alone. We’ve all been there to some degree. Sometimes being in the moment is terrible, a dark vortex, an endless desert, a raging forest fire, but when we look back… it was a dip, a dry patch, a grate of dying embers. That’s all. It passed. The world kept on turning and while life never becomes absolutely perfect, it was and is always, at its heart, worthwhile
I sometimes think of our emotions as if they are nerve endings; If we put a tiny crumb in our mouth, our sensitive wonderful nerve endings will magnify that crumb, so that it seems much bigger, so that we can taste it, sense its surface, its texture…. and when we take it out on the end of a finger and look at it, there it is – tiny, tiny. That’s what our understanding of this present moment is like. It feels huge when it is truly small. It feels never ending, when it’s barely a fleeting minute. If we are happy, our senses are filled with a warm glow, untroubled and elated, and if we are sad our sadness colours everything we hear and see and try to understand, so that the more we feel, the deeper we plunge.
Our emotions are deceiving.
I’ve been re-reading Ecclesiastes. That’s the book that includes ‘there is a season for everything under heaven‘ (Pete Seeger put it to music in ‘Turn, turn, turn’)
‘ a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build’
That’s usually quoted as a sort of ‘feel good’ thought, an encouragement, and if that’s what you get from it, good for you. It gives comfort and perspective at funerals, and that’s great. But Ecclesiastes is so much more than comfort, more than clever words. Clever words can be no more than a marketing slogan. Ecclesiastes is all about reality, about looking at the world with a cold and rational eye, and if you’re already in a dark frame of mind and read it subjectively (as if it’s all about you) it might plunge you into the pit. But take a deep breath and read on, because this is a comprehensive look at all life, an honest, open, unshielded look at the world, and it sees light as well as shade, grief alongside joy.
Ecclesiastes won’t jolly you along, manipulating your absolutely understandable desire to feel good, but it will treat you as an adult and take you on a honest exploration of living. If you read it with an enquiring, open mind, it’s ultimately life affirming but never cosy. Ecclesiastes is the opposite to the Pollyanna approach, the pretence that all is happy-happy and wonderful in life if we just wish it so. That we all have the right to everything all the time. Modern marketing and some contemporary churches preach that, if we do it right, life is good, all the time.
God is good all the time. That’s the truth. But life, sometimes is difficult. But it is always, always worthwhile.
Don’t fall for the modern myth that we can all have everything we want, all the time. We can’t. But what we do have is wonderful. Look around you. Look at the sky, look at the roads, the trees, the people, look at your hands. I mean, really, look at your hands! Aren’t they fantastic? Look at how the fingers articulate, how the nails protect, how the skin is elastic, how the fabulous design allows us to point and lift and grasp and turn and feel. They can make robots now that do most of these things but they can’t really feel, they can only respond to mechanical stimuli. And the great thing about your hand, as you look at it, is that it’s ageing and regenerating, both at once. Growing new fibres to replace the old, new nail to replace the old, it’s waterproof, it can send an impulse to your brain in a millionth of a second – it even has self healing powers. And that’s just your hand! What about the rest of you? You’re a blinking’ miracle, that’s what you are.
You are wonderful. However you live your life, that life is a miracle. You have 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your body (thanks, Google) and a trillion bacteria are keeping you infection free (ta Google), you have 37 trillion cells making up your body (very roughly!) and with every second that we live we produce 25 million new cells. Can that be right? Really? 25 million? Apparently so. The new cells aren’t quite perfect as we age, but only life can do this. Robots rust and fall apart. We go on for years and years, regenerating. We are bloody marvellous. We have been made by a Master Craftsman. No life can be replicated, from your tip to your toe, from your first breath to your last, you are a one-off, unique in every way. And things that are unique are valuable, they are treasures. Your life is a treasure. You are valued. If I was on Antiques Roadshow I’d be worth a few quid.
Lest you’re thinking “Huh! What does she know about my lousy life?” let me share a few facts… my mum died after two years of blindness and confusion when I was 7, and before I was ten I had lived in 4 different countries and 9 different houses, I was abused by an uncle and his cronies, my brother was beaten, by this time I was a mess and I was labelled ESN, my stepmother loathed me, I was kicked out as soon as she could do so and the only home I could find was in the Army, desperate for home and love and stability I married the first bloke who came along, and he was violent. My second husband was lovely but he dropped dead suddenly leaving me and our 14 year old daughter. So, I’ve known ‘stuff’. Lots of hard stuff and I still have some hard stuff to deal with. I’ve had my share of bleak bad days, but here’s the thing – I don’t regret a single one of them. I wish that my uncle hadn’t been the man he was, but I don’t want to go back there and rewrite my life. It’s my life and look – I’m still here! And it’s been a good life.
I struggled with depression as a young woman, at 19 I tried to kill myself (this is where you ask if I succeeded),and it took years to emerge from that terrible illness. But gradually I did and although there are times even now when I recognise its shadow, I’ve learned to recognise depression as an imposter, a warped version of the truth. And I’ve learned (never to be unlearned) that God is good, that He is love, and that I am loved.
And you, whoever you are, are loved by God. You are His miracle. How can you know for sure that God is good? Well, remember to look around you, to look at that hand of yours, your wonderful body, think about the amazing fact that you exist, that you have all those miles of blood vessels, trillions of body cells… and they’re all in the right place at the right time to create life and then to keep you going. Think about the great potential of the human mind and know that all this was created for a purpose by a loving God.
For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship, all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made… Romans 1:20
You are one of ‘the wonderful things that he has made’! And he won’t desert you in your hour and days of need.
‘No trial has overtaken you that is not distinctively human; and God is faithful; · he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear, but with the trial will also provide the way through, so that you will be able to endure it.’ 1 Corinthians 10:13
This was the beach the morning, no filter, sunshine and shade. Like life.
And this was the same beach just a few seconds later, same camera, no filter, same me.
The world keeps turning, light turns to shadow and shadow to light,
Listen, listen, wherever you are right now, however you are feeling, know this. The world is a good place, and it is an even better place with you in it. Whatever you are going through, will pass. Just keep on, keeping on. Take one small step, take one deep breath, and then another, and then another. Wait for the sun. It’s there. It’s coming. Breathe. There are good days ahead.