“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Monday, 28 September 2015

Holding It All Together

The last few weeks have been emotional for me, for both happy and sad reasons. There has been the joy of attending Summer School, which never fails to refresh my spirits and feed my soul, and  a peaceful week away in my beloved Peak District with my husband.

I have also been happy to know that my children-no-longer-children are embarking on new phases of their lives - my daughter is moving into a flat with her boyfriend as she starts her final year at University in Sheffield, and my son is spending an Erasmus year studying at the Charles University in Prague. I could not be prouder of them or happier for them. They have grown up into unique, strong, independent young people, and that is good.

But I am also suffering from empty nest syndrome - most of the time, I'm fine, but just occasionally, I miss one or the other or both of them like fury, and this boils over into tears. Daft, I know, but I cannot help it. And I am mourning the loss of my cousin, who died in June, and of a dear friend, who died at the beginning of the month. Both were in their fifties, both taken too young. Both much missed.

On Saturday, I spent the morning at a training day about leading a good funeral service - part of the Rites of Passage course I'm currently running in the District. It was wonderfully led by my friend and colleague, Ant Howe, and included a short memorial service, during which we could remember our own lost loved ones, while he held the space for us.

I went straight from there down the M40 to attend the joyous handfasting of a dear friend and her lovely OH. The main ceremony was conducted outside, according to the Wiccan tradition, and was followed by morris dancing and a delicious shared meal. It was a truly blessed occasion.

What I am in awe of is the capacity of human beings to hold all these emotions together at one time, and not actually burst! Over the last few weeks, my mood has swung between joy and sorrow, contentment and grief, often in the course of one day. It is so lovely (even if it is sometimes hard) to feel what I am feeling, and not to have numbed it with alcohol. I celebrated my second soberversary at the beginning of the month, which is a source of lasting contentment.

And so I am grateful, even for the hard bits, because I know I would not feel the pain of loss so keenly, if I did not love greatly.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Compassion, Not Judgement; Compassion, Not Fear

For the last few weeks, our television screens, newspapers, and Facebook feeds have been full of horrifying images of Syrian refugees, who have fled from the civil war which has been raging in their country for the last four years. Then one image, of a small three-year-old boy, lying dead, face down at the edge of the water on a Turkish beach, seems to have touched the hearts and minds of British people. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and he and his five-year-old brother and his mother all lost their lives in their family's bid for asylum.

photo by Nilufer Demir / Reuters
As Somali poet Warsan Shire points out: "You have to understand, that no-one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No-one burns their palms under trains, beneath carriages; no-one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper, unless the miles travelled mean something more than journey ... No-one leaves home unless [they know that] anywhere is safer than here."

These people are not economic migrants; they are refugees seeking asylum from the horrors they have experienced. All they want is a place of safety, where their houses will not be bombed, their young men kidnapped to fight for the regime, or members of their families killed. The charity Mercy Corps explains: "According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The youngest are confused and scared by their experiences, lacking the sense of safety and home they need. The older children are forced to grow up too fast, finding work and taking care of their family in desperate circumstances."

Not economic migrants, refugees.

The article on the Mercy Corps website makes for sobering reading. Four million Syrian refugees are currently in five host countries, including over 1.5 million in Turkey, over 1,150,000 in Lebanon, where one in five people are now Syrian refugees, nearly 625,000 in Jordan, where the figure is 1 in 13, and Iraq, and Egypt, who have also given hundreds of thousands of refugees shelter, at least at a very basic level. But their living conditions are far from adequate - people are living with no heat or running water, no proper sanitation, and are facing a very bleak future. At this rate, the United Nations predicts that there could be 4.27 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 - the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.

So the numbers seeking to come to Europe are a tiny fraction of those seeking safety. And I have just heard that Germany has agreed to take 800,000 of those. Many humanitarian organisations, including Mercy Corps, the Red Cross, Medecin Sans Frontieres, are partnering with the United Nations, using both private contributions and funding from the international community to actively address the needs of Syrians caught up in this terrible disaster. But so much more needs to be done.

Each one of these refugees is a person, a human being, not just a number, not just a nuisance. The United Nations estimates that more than half of the country's pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they are still in Syria, or have escaped across the borders.

So we need to show compassion, not judgement; compassion, not fear. Compassion is not about being safe; it is about putting ourselves at risk, about letting down the guards around ourselves. It is we who have to be the change we want to see in the world. We who have to take responsibility for our own actions - to become activists, where we are. Because every little makes a difference.