This is Edwin. He’s fine now, but he wasn’t a couple of months ago. He was larking about with his brother at the top of the stairs one night, when he fell through to the hall and broke the neck of his femur.
Hebe found him and called us – poor little thing, lying quietly against the wall looking confused, his leg useless. We picked him up and took him to the vet who x-rayed him and gave him painkillers. In the morning we collected him and took him to our own vet, who operated on him. We had to confine him to the house for a while – just one room for the first week or two, while he gradually recuperated. You would hardly know there was anything wrong with him now – he’s just not quite such an aerial cat as he used to be.
Yesterday I’d almost completed my grocery shopping, and had two big baskets of fruit and salad things and bread, when a container of herby olives slid out of the basket and split open on the floor of the shop, spilling olives everywhere. Just nearby one of the store staff stood sorting out shelves. She laughed uproariously. “You didn’t want that to happen, did you!” she said: “Never mind, leave that to me, I’ll clear that up; just get another one.” What a nice lady.
When I got home with the shopping, I had a quick bite of lunch, then it was time to head off out to a bereavement call for a funeral. At the home of the deceased person I found his wife and her sister. Together, they had cared for him at home, supporting and helping and nursing, organising the medical and care support that he needed, keeping him company, talking to him, sitting with him – right to the end. And now, his widow had her sister there with her, loving and comforting her as she faced the loss of her husband after more than forty years of marriage.
If we help each other – like we helped Edwin, like the store assistant helped me, like that bereaved lady helped her husband and her sister in turn helped her – problems don’t diminish, but they are shared and they become manageable.
I have met no end of people who say they cannot believe in God because of all the world’s problems; but I think most of those problems would not prove a challenge to faith if we helped each other.
The last couple of days, while I’ve been running round the Wii-Fit island, I’ve helped my pace stay steady listening to our Alice’s Fisherman’s Friends album of songs about the sea. Some of the lyrics are about the transports to Australia – grim voyages. The songs say things like ‘I wished I could die’ or ‘It made you wish you’d never been born’. It struck me, as I padded along on our carpet, that these terrible emotions belonged to situations of human heartlessness and cruelty. It’s not disease, accident or natural disaster that make people wish they’d never been born, but imprisonment, torture, terror, oppression and sadism. We are designed to cope with even awful illnesses and accidents if others are alongside helping us. Our Hebe likes to watch the emergency services programmes on the TV; I sat with her one day watching as a rescue team gently and carefully freed from a wrecked car the three injured passengers trapped there. Obviously the crash victims were not having fun but, with reassurance, pain relief and help, they knew themselves to be in good hands: it was bad, but it was OK.
My husband Bernard died of the most awful illness, and he was certainly scared and in extremis at various points. But as he approached death, his pain now controlled and with us taking care of him at home, praying for him and loving him, he ceased to be afraid. His fear gave way to gratitude, faith and peace; and that was how he died. Such deaths do not stop people believing in God.
What destroys faith is the atrocities people are capable of. The Bible-believing Christians with hate on their faces waving placards saying “God hates faggots”, for example. Or the US backed Latin American dictators mowing down the protestors on the steps of the cathedral at El Savador so that their bodies flipped like fish as they fell in their droves. Or the people of Bhopal* left with a legacy of pervasive sickness when the Western owners of the poisonous chemical plant walked away and never came back to finish clearing up the mess they’d left.
Or even the small everyday things. The mother I saw out with her children in Silverhill last week, barking out instructions at them, her face hard and cruel. One of her children, a little girl maybe three years old, walking alongside the pushchair with the baby in it, crying as she walked. Her little boy, maybe six years old, who started to cross the road (it was clear of traffic) before he was given the command, roared and screamed at, stopping with fear on his face and hastening back to his place in the terrible procession.
When people see these things, their faith in God dies. It is poisoned at the root.
To nurture faith, to raise it to life again, we do not need a different world, one with no volcanoes, no diseases, no calamities. Tears and sorrows are natural, they do not disturb faith. All we need is to switch the points from hating to helping, from condemnation to kindness.
On that Fisherman’s Friends CD, in the song No-Hopers Jokers and Rogues, there’s a line: “Though it’s gale-force, let’s steer a course for sanity.” That’s what I mean.
*The video on Bhopal I link to above and here is a good example of the devastation that human indifference and irresponsibility can bring, and the reversal and healing that comes when human brothers and sisters come alongside to help and rescue.