Liberté, égalité, fraternité: when will we cure our obsession with self-destruct?

Today I’d intended to write about the never ending story that is breast cancer: discovery, treatment, reconstruction (or not), revision, reflection and resolve. Those things are, quite literally, close to my heart. But I can’t concentrate on the horrors of breast cancer because my mind has been consumed with the horrors of terrorism and my heart goes out to the people of Paris.

Credit: Skyrock.com

I’ve had two spells working in Paris. The first in the early 2000’s involved regular time in a grand office in the 10th Arrondissement. By day much of my time was spent at my desk, in meetings or running workshops somewhere inside the building. Arriving well before 9am, staying beyond 7pm and failing to stop for lunch would frequently prompt questions and jokes from my French colleagues. “Why do you English always work like donkeys? You are silly to work like this. The French way is far more civilised” they would say. As a guest in my colleagues’ country I couldn’t argue with this so would join them in the joking.

I quickly discovered that the French way was more civilised at every level. Coffee and pastries in a nearby patisserie before starting work, an hour or two for lunch in a local café and then home or more likely out for dinner by mid-evening and an opportunity to explore one of the capital’s many fine restaurants. Dinner, the pièce de résistance, presented an opportunity to partake in another leisurely meal carefully consumed so as to make the most of an evening with family or friends. My French colleagues savoured time with each other as much as they savoured the wine or the food. I didn’t need to be in Paris too long before I began to favour the French way too.

My second spell in Paris arose in the late 2000’s when I worked for France Telecom. Their offices lay just beyond the Periphique to the south of the capital but since that area was largely residential I spent my evenings in Montparnasse. The hotel was good for people-watching and the local cafes and restaurants were vibrant and welcoming. Theatre goers mingled with groups of work colleagues, families mingled with couples and local residents mingled with overseas visitors. The City of Light was a sensuous, sophisticated and sociable place to live, work and play.

Today the City of Light is shaken, sombre and trying to make sense of multiple acts of wanton violence, acts designed to kill, maim and terrorise innocent civilians during a typical Friday evening in central Paris. The faceless, nameless, shameless perpetrators no doubt believe they committed these acts in service of some greater cause, to right some deep-rooted wrong, or to demonstrate conviction to the will and way of whichever god they happen to subscribe to. Whatever the reason, the streets of the City of Light are once again stained with blood and innocent people lie dead or injured.

Modern humans evolved c.200,000 years ago and civilisation (such as it is) c. 6000 years ago. We claim to be the most intelligent species on Earth yet we appear to change at a glacial pace. Our ability to curb our most primitive, tribal and often superstitious belief systems, to learn from the mistakes of the past and fully embrace our diversity is questionable at best. Events like the one in Paris quickly become visible across the globe but look closer to home and you’ll find stories of cruelty, violence, bullying and abuse right on your doorstep.

Humanity seems destined to prove it is the most dangerous, spiteful and debased species that has ever inhabited the planet and Paris, sadly, is the most recent in a long line of atrocities. When will we learn and how many more 13/11’s, 9/11’s or 7/7’s must we endure before we finally cure our obsession with self-destruct?

Monthly Peace Challenge – Party On Garth!

This is the final B4Peace challenge of 2013 and before getting in the party spirit I want to reflect on why Bloggers for Peace captured my heart so easily. I want to live a peaceful life, one where compassion, understanding and acceptance prevail. But I’d like more than that. I’d like amity, kindness and tolerance for all humanity.  It may be a big ask but we’re in the 21st Century, allegedly ‘civilised,’ so we ought to be able to achieve it. Recent re-runs of Star Trek (I’m a geeky sci-fi type) drew my attention to an ongoing unpleasant truth about humankind. Whilst some of us are kind many are not. 200,000 years worth of evolution has yet to abate all our more primitive, combative and intolerant behaviours. We still abuse, torture and kill a variety of other animals as well as members of our own species. That’s not a great advertisement for humanity.  An alien visiting today would find we haven’t improved much since the 1960’s when Star Trek’s aliens thought humans were too aggressive and dispassionate to play any role in the wider universe.

We can change this. If more of us say no to violence, oppression and ignorance we will have a kinder, more supportive and understanding society. We can change this if we want it badly enough and accept 200,000 years of fighting isn’t something to be proud of. We can change this if we educate our children to love themselves and one another, irrespective of differences whatever they happen to be. If  we don’t stand up for peace, compassion, tolerance and understanding who else will?

OK, so now it’s time to party. This party can be a rave or casual dinner party, a picnic or a peace-walk, celebrate in whatever way suits you best because everyone is invited and we’re going there virtually.

Our location is an arboretum, to remind us we are just one of many species on this planet with a right to live life fully, compassionately and peaceably. The words of the great peace-makers of our world whisper from the branches of every tree and if you listen you’ll hear songs like Imagine, Get Together, Peace Train and Love is All Around. You’ll also hear laughter, lots of laughter, because people from all walks of life are celebrating.

We’ve given peace a chance and it’s paying off, travelling around the world faster than stories about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.  All the dollars we used to spend on war (or protecting against war) have been redirected to humanitarian causes. So we’re closer to ending poverty, curing cancer, dementia and other degenerative illnesses, and we’re about to solve the problem of homelessness for all those sleeping without shelter this winter. We’ve made more progress than at any time in our history because we stood up for peace. Join the party, make it happen  🙂

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B4Peace ~ Love Thy Enemy

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A belated post for November’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge, courtesy of Kozo 🙂  Go check out the other posts, ’tis the season of Peace and Goodwill.

B4Peace Monthly Peace Challenge: I have a dream…

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It’s hard to believe that these steps were once the haunt of privateers, pirates who preyed on French and Spanish vessels stealing their cargo and murdering their crews. That was almost 700 years ago and times have changed though not as much as we might think. Almost 70 years ago in June 1944, four hundred and eighty ships sailed from this port to the Normandy beaches. Operation Overlord saw 160,000 soldiers land at five points across a 50 mile stretch of the French coastline. They were supported and aided by over 195,000 allies and merchant navy seamen.

It is estimated that 60 million people, nearly two-thirds of whom were civilians, died in World War II.  The equivalent of the entire populations of the Bahamas plus Iceland plus French Guiana plus Qatar  plus Lithuania all lost their lives over a seven-year period. If every person in these five countries was to suddenly lose his or her life the rest of the world would proclaim it a disaster and rightly so. Fighting for peace by killing ‘the enemy’ is victory by disaster, death and destruction.  Life is sacred yet in times of war we forget that all and any loss of life, ‘them’ or ‘us,’ is a tragedy.

I have walked the WWII cemeteries many times, seen row upon row upon row of brilliant white crosses standing silently amongst the lush green grass. This war was before my time and I did not know these men yet my sense of loss is palpable. I try to remain detached, a quiet observer paying respect to those who lost their lives so that I could live in freedom today.  I try and every time I fail. I cannot walk among these graves devoid of emotion. I cannot detach myself from the pain and fear and suffering even though I was not here, not even born, when disaster came to call.   A deep and mournful sorrow constricts my heart squeezing so hard that I think it might break. Tears stain my face as the silence seeps into my soul. These are soldiers graves. I do not know where the many millions of civilians lay in the dark, dank earth. No doubt their bodies are strewn in graveyards across three continents, or lost along with some of the soldiers whose remains were never found.

 

Ardennes American Cemetery

 

 

 

 

Massicault War Cemetery

Massicault War Cemetery (Photo credit: stevie.gill)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so I have a dream…

 

I dream that my child, his children (if and when he has them) and his children’s children’s children never bare witness to loss of life, whether one life or millions, simply because humanity is insufficiently evolved to settle its differences through peaceable means. My child, of course, has already borne witness – to Iraq, 9/11, 7/7, Burundi, Nepal, Kosovo, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Congo, Chechnya, Gaza, Afghanistan, Syria and countless others. I wish it were not so and I hope that by the time he is my age this feuding will have ceased.  I dream that our children and their children’s children’s children live in a world where differences are accepted and valued, prejudice is long since forgotten, wealth is not hoarded by the rich, food is not withheld from the poor and where religion serves only to forge a common bond, preserving our faith in the sanctity of all life on Earth.

 

 

Bloggers for Peace: Monthly Peace Challenge – Quote This

Every month Kozo at Everyday Gurus inspires a new B4Peace challenge.  This month’s challenge is all about quotes. The quote below is my own, it’s my mantra and I hope perhaps it is something that strikes a chord with you too.

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You’ll find more beautiful B4Peace quotes here, here and here 🙂

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Bloggers for Peace: Belated Post – One good thing about music

I hear the phrase is “better late than never” and hopefully that’s the case with this belated post for the August Bloggers for Peace challenge.

A lot happened for me in August including: more hospital visits; a holiday in Dorset designed to aid recuperation but in reality an opportunity to assess how resilient and capable my body is despite well over a year of vicious medical interventions; the complete absence of any mobile or mobile internet signal for two weeks; preparations for my new career; and everything that happens when you try to buy a house…  Each of these things deserves a post or two in its own right but today the topic is music and peace.

This challenge has probably been the most difficult to date because music is as much part of me as my freckles.  Thinking about music that inspires peace in my life has taken me back through experiences spanning almost 40 years.  The music I’ve trawled through includes songs from the 70’s right up to today and every single piece has something significant attached to it.

One of my earliest and happiest memories is accompanied by The Carpenters ‘On Top of the World.’ I think I’d have been about 5 years old. I remember my Mother singing along to this on the radio while she prepared food for us. My Mom brought a great deal of happiness to everyone around her; her positive attitude and placid nature meant that our house was filled with peace and love.  It was usually filled with music too because she loved the radio and records (no digital wizardry in those days) and would frequently sing along while doing the housework or baking cakes.  We didn’t have a lot of money – in reality we may well have been classed as poor – but we didn’t need it because the simple things in life were far more valuable to us.

I gained a lot from my Mom’s approach to life, her kindness to others, joy in nature and the serenity she brought to our home.  I still think about her every day and I  wish she was here, singing in the kitchen while baking lemon meringue pie.  The Carpenters certainly left a lasting impression because I associate them with a safe, secure and loving home.

Having had almost a month to think about this challenge I decided The Carpenters are in the running but they don’t bring the greatest sense of inner peace.  Those songs are ‘Don’t Give Up’ by Kate Bush and Peter Gabrielle, and ‘Wild Wood’ by Paul Weller.  Here are the lyrics – if you haven’t heard these songs before you can find them by clicking the titles below.

Don’t Give Up

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight
Taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face
I’ve changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good

Though I saw it all around
Never thought that I could be affected
Thought that we’d be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Drove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground

Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up
We don’t need much of anything
Don’t give up
‘Cause somewhere there’s a place where we belong

Rest your head
You worry too much
It’s going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don’t give up
Please don’t give up

Got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That river’s flowing
That river’s flowing

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no-one needs

Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not the only one
Don’t give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up now
We’re proud of who you are
Don’t give up
You know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up
‘Cause I believe there’s a place
There’s a place where we belong

Forest

Forest (Photo credit: wackybadger)

High tide, mid afternoon
People fly by in the traffics boom
Knowing, just where you’re blowing
Getting to where you should be going

Don’t let them get you down
Making you feel guilty about
Golden rain, will bring you riches
All the good things, you deserve now

Climbing forever trying
Find your way out, of the wild wild wood
Now there’s no justice
There’s only yourself, that you can trust in

And I say, “High tide, mid afternoon”
Oh, people fly by, in the traffics boom
Oh, knowing, just where you’re blowing
Getting to where you should be going

Day by day your world fades away
Waiting to feel, all the dreams that say
Golden rain will bring you riches
All the good things, you deserve now

And I say, “Climbing forever trying”
You’re gonna find your way out
Of the wild wild wood
Say that, you’re gonna find your way out
Of the wild wild wood, of the wild wild wood

Both songs infer a sense of being lost, facing tremendous difficulties and finding a way back from desperate situations.  When I think about the last 40 years (and to be honest I try not to dwell in the past too much because some of it is pretty bleak) there have been too many desperate situations, too many desperately unhappy times and very significant periods of inner turmoil.  Of course there’s also been very happy times but I cannot recall one period in my life that I could call truly care-free.
That, perhaps, is why these two songs more than any others stand out for me. They serve as reminders that no matter what happens I never give up, I might get kicked and battered but I find my way through. Somehow peace and I walk hand in hand away from the chaos.

Peace begins with a letter

PEACE!

PEACE! (Photo credit: snapies_gi)

This month’s Bloggers for Peace (B4Peace) challenge encourages us to write a letter for peace and send it out into the universe.  Like Kozo I love the art of letter-writing, the convergence of emotions, thoughts and spirit that turn a collection of words on paper into snippets of hopes and dreams, tales of love and friendship or convivial greetings from afar.  Times have changed; anytime, anyplace, (almost) anywhere connectivity coupled with short-form communication such as SMS, IM, snapchat and the like seem to have condemned the writing and sending of letters to a bygone era.  I think that’s a shame. Letters convey so much more than clipped comments or c u l8r type abbreviations and when it comes to peace I’m sure clear and meaningful communication is key when conveying understanding, respect and camaraderie…

Dear Universe,

A few days ago I saw a young man with many, many IV tracks
on his arms. I wondered what had happened to him, how he
had come to have so many scars. I wondered how much pain
the young man had endured and why. Some people turned to
stare. Others glanced and whispered to each other.
On seeing him everyone made up their own story about the
type of man he was and the kind of company he kept.

I smiled at him. Whatever had happened, the young man
had experienced trauma. I understand trauma. 
I noticed he was younger than I'd thought, perhaps 
22 or 23. He caught my smile and smiled in return,
pleased that someone might see his humanity instead
of gawking at the maze of scars. The man and his
companion came to sit nearby and I knew then how he
had come by his wounds. He had no legs. Metal
prostheses began somewhere near his hips. 

The back of my nose tingled, a sign that tears might
ensue even though I'd never met this man before and
knew nothing of his plight. Compassion is a gift, it 
may be given freely between humans even when they're
complete strangers. I learned that the man was back
at home. The remains of his legs were somewhere in
Afghanistan.

I wonder, dear Universe, whether you might now hear
this call for change, for the furthering of compassion
and the end of conflict and strife. Humanity has been
here long enough to accept that there are no winners
in any war. Death, disfigurement and despair are all
that come from fighting.

I wonder, dear Universe, if it might at last be
possible for peace to prevail? Sufficient time has
passed and more than enough blood has been shed. I 
would very much like it if no more young men or women
face a life without limbs. No more families are ripped
apart by grief and no more pointless deaths arise
because we continually fail to live in harmony as one
human race. It is surely not that difficult or 
beyond the collective wit of all humanity?

Although I can be idealistic I suspect I am not
alone in this thought. I wonder, therefore, 
if now might be the time to give peace a chance?

With love and hope