I’m not sure whether, taking one of your hopes in your last letter, that life is necessarily fair, I am sure there are many people out there who would wish the checks and balances went in a different direction now and then, that they had a better hand to play, or that things they hoped for, desired, would come to them and not just to other people. We all have a different impression of what fairness is, how it should work, impressed upon us from a very young age, and often leaning more towards our own advantage than a true, fair, balanced division of all possibilities. I can also remember countless children, at some time or another in their young lives, stamping their feet and yelling that something was not fair, because it had not gone to their own advantage. Fairness, for me, would not have me sitting at home wondering what to do with my time – but it would also not have me being free to visit museums and art galleries every day, to travel where others cannot, to decide what to do with my time as a free agent, and without recourse to the demands of others which, again, most cannot. At the same time I have no reason to complain and am happy with the situation as it is since, as I am more than well aware, there is no changing it, only making the best of what I have while I can.
For many this is the season of good cheer, although that ‘good cheer’ tends to be the idea that we will be receiving many gifts – and giving out gifts too – from our loved ones, from friends and those who admire us. I have seen a massive campaign to recreate Christmas which I do not understand at all since, to the best of my knowledge, Christmas has never gone away and the direction these people are pushing it in, the commercial, materialistic one, is not that which was originally intended. I can understand that some people have felt the need to sensibilise themselves to the imagined needs and beliefs of others, but at the cost of their own beliefs? This has always struck me as being foolish. What strikes me as being more foolish, to the point of being a massive aberration of the truth, is the campaign which claims others have made it illegal or impossible to extend seasonal greetings to other people, and have then raised capital on this false impression. There is a good deal more good will, balance and acceptance in the world than some people recognise, and only those who wish to alienate, to push away, to become something they are not support it. It is difficult, sometimes, to understand how the world could change in so many ways, and how those changes could be for the worst when we, as a race, all know what is best for us, what makes society work and where we wish to be in our lives.
The thoughts of where society is going come to me as I watch events in the House of Commons in London, where a massive debate on the effects of leaving the European Community should be taking place, but is being pushed back and suffocated by the government who, it is sad to say, have not done their homework at all, and now wish to cover this problem up and save their reputations as best they can. And I see it in the United States too, sadly, with so many things being hidden, worked out behind closed doors and through possibly illegal activities. For me, this all comes down to what can be considered fair and what should never be allowed to happen, and what we, as ordinary citizens of our respective countries, have allowed to happen, slowly but surely, over the years. Too much concern with our own wellbeing, and not enough for our neighbours, for those in need, for those who are different to us, but still essential to our lives. It is impossible, or so it seems, to remain neutral, to remain out of the discussion of politics and politicians, away from the party system and just live life as it should be lived, because our lives are so intertwined with decisions made, without our presence, sometimes without or agreement, hundreds or thousands of miles away and outside of our grasp and control.
I must admit, I am not normally one to enter into the realms of political discussion in a personal letter; it is one of those dangerous areas which, for whatever reason, can destroy a friendship or even create an enemy, as much as the discussion of religion in all its forms can. I was, however, watching the parliamentary discussions in London today, listening to the debates on amendments for the legislation which will drag the United Kingdom out of the European Union, out of this Community which has been a massive part of my adult life, with precious little preparation or forethought, and without, as far as I can see, any real comprehension of what is happening. There have been, for example, no assessments on what effect the withdrawal will have, and everyone concerned is suddenly faced with the reality that ministries, major concerns, governmental bodies and research institutes are going to be leaving, and will not be replaced. And the three main political parties, sitting on their comfortable green leather seats in the main Chamber, stick to party lines and refuse to see beyond the shadow of their own noses.
Meanwhile, those living outside of the political spectrum, and I count myself as being one of them even though I no longer live in England, are being fed fodder for the masses which omits, purposely, vital information and which, at the same time, unsettles them. There is a massive sense of insecurity being built up for some, and an equally large level of indifference amongst others. It reminds me of the tale of a woman in the United States shortly after the last presidential election there: she voted for Trump and was in full agreement with all of his policies, and was then shocked when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers appeared at her door and took her husband away. She, for some reason, and she admitted it too, did not think that what she had voted for would apply to her family, only to other people.
What plan so happily do you conceive, but its successful trial makes you grieve?
Asks Juvenal, and here we see that idea of fairness beautifully wrought: what is good enough for one, is good enough for the other too. Not that all people accept it as such, and here we come to politics again, and this idea that those belonging to the same social strata as the politicians, or that level of society to which they aspire, should benefit over and above anyone else, especially of a lower social class. It makes, in the end, precious little difference which party or political line is being discussed, as the fault can be squarely placed in the lap of a person and not necessarily a system; although that person will always attempt to hide behind a veil which disguises their guile, their greed, their incompetence.
The more artful and cunning a man is, the more he is hated and suspected when he loses his reputation for honesty.
As Cicero writes and this, I fear is the taint which follows all, or many of our politicians today: to claim one thing whilst campaigning, and then follow their own personal interests when in a position of power, when no longer requiring that initial support at the ballot box.
But you also hope that I am taking my time, out here, is the outside world, and that is true too. I have discovered that time will proceed at roughly the same pace – which is not the same as perceived pace – no matter what I do, no matter what anyone does, so we may just as well settle in for the ride, do the best we can, and enjoy it up until that final moment. Some of us, as you appreciate, have no choice: we’re where we are and there is no changing that, but we can still make the most of what we have. And others, and I count myself amongst this lucky troop, have choices we can make and directions we can follow which are, mainly but not entirely, separate from the will and desires of others. And by discovering that I can take my time, that there is no need to rush from one appointment, one event to another in order to get them all in as quickly as possible, I find myself with more time to enjoy. I am still doing the same number of things as I did before, still filling my hours as I wish to, but in a more relaxed style, without the hectic and the stress which, combined, make an event more of a burden than a pleasure.
I no longer thunder at full speed down the freeway – where it is allowed on some German roads – but drive along at a moderate speed and, without the stress of having to constantly brake, accelerate, overtake, avoid, I arrive at my destination at the same time, give or take a minute or two, as those who have pushed it to the outer limit. I enjoy my food rather than having to constantly check my watch (or a clock, since I do not wear one!) every few minutes and make sure I’m not missing another appointment. I enjoy the company that I keep and being able to relax into a conversation, no matter which situation it may be, no matter which city I am in. And the chance to read books over a good cup of coffee, of course.
A few days ago I travelled to the small town of Walsrode to revisit. I had been stationed near there during my military time, but many things have changed over the years. I had the pleasure of sitting in a very well-appointed café, being served a freshly – at my table and by me – percolated coffee by a young woman who is disabled, and then sitting in peace and quiet, despite many other guests being there, and despite a small child running from one table to the next, and enjoy an hour of rest. The coldest weather hadn’t quite hit, we were at the border between freezing cold rain and the first flakes of snow. The open-hearth fire in the café was as you’d expect it to be in our modern society: fake, but that was the only thing which might have disturbed anyone. And to be able to sit there and relax, unaffected by the rest of the world, for an hour was wonderful. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially to anyone who has problems with the politicians who are ruining our society, ripping our way of life up and feeding it to commercial interests. A great difference to some of the places I have to go, where there is only noise and rush, and no peace and quiet. How anyone can enjoy a cup of coffee without being able to just sit and think of nothing at all, is beyond me.
But it is the season, as they say, so we should be accepting of the ways of other people, and grateful for what we have, what we have received or earned through the preceding year, what we are able to give to others. My thoughts turn to giving at all times of the year, not just Christmas, because need does not just disappear during the other eleven months and three weeks, it is always present. And, of course, my promise to you which I outlined in my last letter. It will not be there before the holidays, as I have my own concerns too but, as promised, early in the new year.