Humankind cannot bear too much reality

I don’t apologise for quoting those words yet again because they have really hit home over the last few weeks. I think I would welcome being in the ‘state of blank mental oblivion’ that Theodore Zeldin deplores. Sometimes the only way is inward.

One aches at news of family members being killed near Christmas, like those in the Glasgow Bin lorry crash last year and the father and son from Cardiff killed crossing a road a few days ago. I can’t begin to imagine the feelings of the Syrian father who has just lost his wife and seven children fleeing ISIS. But to be honest the deaths of Stuart and Fraser Bates seem worse because the family worshipped at St Martin’s Church, Roath, as does a dear friend of mine. No man is an island, and because of my grief for the Bates family I can also mourn more genuinely with that Syrian father.

Just over three years ago my daughter and I had a visit from her Palliative Care Consultant and his team, who had provided amazing support over the preceding months. He seemed young to be tackling such a job; I suppose he was my daughter’s age—mid forties. Too young to be coping with death and dying.

At one point she turned to him with her beautiful, dimpled smile and said, ‘Come on, then; tell me. How long? Six days, six weeks, six months.’
‘Not six months.’
In fact, it was less than a month
After he’d gone she said, philosophically, ‘Well, I suppose I’ve buggered up Christmas whatever happens.’

Yes, in a way. We all miss her like hell and never more so than when we’re together as a family, recalling her wit; she had an anarchic sense of humour. She’d been a consultant psychiatrist in the East End of London, so she’d needed that, but love and laughter were never far away when she was around.

As Dickens said at the start of A Tale of Two Cities—it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It always is, somewhere. That’s what Christmas is for. That’s why Christ came. To reconcile the best and the worst and to give us joy and hope and laughter in the midst of misery, grief and pain and to share all those with each other. I truly thank God I am not in a ‘state of blank mental oblivion.’

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