The Icon-style image is called nativity, from 2001. It is by He Qi (whom I like) and I found it on Duckmarx's flickr site, which is a wonderful collection.
I'm spending a very pleasant Christmas week at my mum's place with my girlfriend. The snow, and the commonsense of the women around me, has sapped the life from any silly shopping expeditions. It has the duplicate advantage of allowing me to use it to justify my overeating and drinking. Ah, December. Sol Invicta was reactively austere compared to Saturnalia, I think, before both were overlaid, but it is odd how scaffolding and humanity will out.
My faith in the better side of human nature is also, gradually, being restored, by odd and unexpected events. I missed my train to come here; an oversleep and a slight delay on the tube led to the theurgy of a millionth set of prayers to reinforce my calm. These aren't unexpected anymore. They are part of my life, and remind me of the living relationships around me rather than the things that beset me. Martin Buber would approve.
Then something nice happened.
This year, my demented reader will know, most but not all of my worser worries have come true. They have consistently been stamped on, or at least those that manifest personally have. I'm lucky, and conscious of it, in the love of friends and women and family. And I've been hustling quite a bit too, obviously.
I have become very familiar with a silent combination of Hail Marys, paternosters, eternal rests and Gloria Dei Patris. Occasionally, I lose myself in a bad and half-cut Latin version of the Nicene creed behind my eyes, when I can't remember poems or when I need to cling to the hope of the cross on a crowded tube or at some low moment. I learned it from a little black missal that used to belong to my Granny, and which is now lost.
It doesn't give me much pleasure to see stagflation arising just like I warned, or pundits lying, or the global warming faith being discredited. It makes me a little sad when people side with monsters like Hamas or the Iranian government, or spit on Jews and Catholics for money whilst truckling to Islamic fascism. It doesn't make me angry when people stir their inadequate pokers in the burnt embers of humanism. It makes me feel just, well, isolated.
If you add to this a year of mad pressure, when I've been shown how badly the banks and professional institutions can behave, and exhausted myself by digging and smashing my way out, you can understand how I might expect bad behaviour and the idle battery of circumstances. In such circumstances, you just carry on and don't go down.
I've been so living in blogland and railing against hypocrisy and silliness in this corrupt country that little gestures of humanity can mean a lot. By some strange reciprocity, petty gestures of badness and selfishness on the part of people mean nothing; I don't seem to feel them if they arise any more at all, which can't be true. There must be some tenderised part of my subconscious that just absorbs them, because, as you know, reader, I am no saint.
So, anyway, when I was late for the train I patiently collected my tickets from a machine ('there to help', and to sack workers), contemplated the vast and snaking Eurostar lines, and headed into the train office to explain. I fully expected someone to just simply demand three times the cost of the tickets. Instead, I met a weary looking man--he reminded me of Olaudah Equiano in his look, I think--who decided to simply pass me on the next train having heard a tale delivered with as much of a smile as I could muster. No charge, no fee, just a small act of unexpected kindness by which that man is remembered.
Once on the train, I was called by a company that had not recorded a large payment of mine for my flat; but again, when I called back and talked with the woman on the end of the line, she was funny and admitted their mistake, and told me how she was off to a party. I shared a joke and an anticipation of fun with her and her colleagues whom I did not know and may never meet.
It's an odd feature of the global recession that, if one actually does talk to people with respect, and even or perhaps especially when they are under threat from their companies, they'll chat as over a fence. Occasionally, good things happen as a result, but that's not why I do it. The amount of abuse people must get, given the ambient rudeness around me, is amazing. A few weeks ago, I called my credit card company to make an additional payment and got a man in India who told me about how he was paying his way through preliminary medical exams, since I used my doctorate when talking with banks. I disabused him of the notion that I was some sort of sawbones. If you have to pay things, why do so with a snarl or a lie?
On arrival, we nearly missed our stop; but we didn't. We downed the cheap champagne my girl got in the bar and fell out of the train just as the guard was closing doors. My snowbound mother couldn't pick us up; but my lovely sister took a long trip and did so instead. Papers for lecturing fees nearly got lost on their way to an invoice; but it was paid anyway, by a lovely woman who runs the place I was teaching for.
Luck bloomed like an hibiscus seen amongst snow; unexpected, and absurd, and in enough quantity that I could begin to put the year behind. Somerset Maugham wrote about this sort of thing, I think in Monte Carlo. I feel blessed.
I hope that your Christmas was good. I missed Mass, which was impossible to reach, and feel bad for it, but thank God for my life. I've been watching silly DVDs and reading Augustine, Buber, Althusius, Malebranche and Habermas, in between Marvel Comics Secret Wars and the Christmas TV, my head as greedy for ideas as my fat jowls are for food and drink. I'll blog on them later. But, my one demented reader, the one thing that I wanted to say tonight was, in this coming, awful year for those of you locked in the pressured depths of the west, nothing beats love. Hold to it, as though clinging to the cross made from the manger.
Love, and Hope, and Faith, beat everything, not that the victory matters at all. The incarnation and the cross have already saved us all, and allowed us to see through ideas in the mind of God.
The following song was recorded in 1962. It was a favourite of a kind old Welshman, Ernie Leaker, who is long dead. He used to run the Corby Town Supporters' Club, where my dad and I would play truant from my pointless physical exercise lessons when I was young, and where my mother met my stepfather after dad died. I got a taste for rum and blackcurrant from Ernie's example.
The year, and the world, nearly ended in October 1962, but didn't. Remember that when people go from delusion to cyclothymic gloom in mid-January. Life goes on, and love makes it worthwhile.