Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 19 Dec 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Rabbit’s Christmas message

Hope, in the second half of the year, has proved elusive. There was the pure, blunt-force trauma of waking up to find that people had voted to leave the European Union and later in the year there was the election of Trump. This was a lesser shock, softened by distance and the earlier referendum imbecility, and along the way there have been a hundred, minor attempts to dredge some kind of hope from the depths of despair, from petitions, to rallies and to, finally, the possibility that people in the UK may yet be able to claim EU citizenship. A big despair, then, is followed by a million vague hopes which are, as yet, unfulfilled.

Someone mentioned in passing today that hope is merely the first stage in disappointment and this is pretty much how I’ve been groping my way through since about June, and how my reaction to the post-referendum, post-Trump news can be understood. A defensive cynicism that admits of no chance of redemption might be hard, but it’s better than having your hopes raised each time by the aforesaid petitions and rallies only to see them slowly break up and sink. It also, and here I’m going to sound a word of warning, dovetails perfectly with depression and a depressive’s outlook on the world, in which a bleak-eyed savagery admits of no possibility of positivity.

There is much, in depression, that commends it as a world-view, because you’ll never see the world more clearly or more shorn of any romance, but you also miss those brief moments when your bleak expectations are suddenly upended. If you want a sporting analogy, the chances of a free kick becoming a goal or a shot doing similar are not high: but people live for the moments when possibility suddenly becomes ecstasy and the net bulges to contain the ball. Football fans, like me, can go into raptures about Baggio, Le Tissier, Henry or any of a number of others who found the net from impossible angles with a instinct for brilliance and anarchy that makes your heart pound.

It’s this feeling that broke in on me or, rather, pushed its way through impressively dark thoughts on Sunday. Despite impressively long odds which comprise a bleak view of humanity with coruscating cynicism and a temper so short it could be called a ‘te,’ I was accepted into membership of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, earlier this year, and was attending Meeting for Worship along with a dozen others. Before you say that they should never have let me in, I owned up to all those faults, and more, when I was interviewed and generally poured my heart out about my faults, with embarrassing candour, which did nothing to change their minds. So I was sat in Meeting for Worship, and the thought came in anyway.

For the past few weeks, I’d stayed away for the thinnest of reasons and because I felt about as spiritually rich as a pheasant which remembers it forgot something and turns around only to be mown down by frantically braking motorist. Those are the times, however, when you should push yourself to go, because the chances are that you might hear something which helps you. And that’s pretty much where hope or the scoring of an unlikely goal sit. The chances of success are not great, but they exist all the same, and even if your own criteria for what constitutes success aren’t met, then there just might be something in there which might lead to it. So it proved on Sunday. My reluctance to go became another thing entirely and, at the end, when we sang Christmas carols, my heart was as full to bursting with happiness as the flinty old thing can get.

This is what I think people of faith or even eternal optimists sometimes miss in pretending they never had a moment of doubt. The sense of doubt or even of being so bereft that hopelessness seems like an accurate description define us and make us human beings. Everyone feels these emotions and nobody has sprung from the womb thumping a Bible or waving a banner, but comes to them slowly and by uncertain paths. More importantly, once you have found faith or found a cause, there remains the possibility, or even inevitability, that your certainty will wax and wane during your life. You may grow cold and warm to it again. This is how life is. People of faith, in particular, seem to need to pretend a certainty nobody can feel just in case it’s troubling or puts others off. Evangelicals in particular have cornered the market in fixed, but empty smiles, and seem wholly unconvincing in their pious certainties.

But I digress. The feeling left, as all feelings do, but it left a residue. It left the sense that hope, as it’s generally invoked by people who have a spare picture of a forest to hand and some, leaden, trite positive thinking quote about feeling yourself happy or somesuch, is the gibberish of stupidity. Real hope is much harder to come by, takes patient work and endures countless setbacks. It doesn’t resolve itself into simple slogans which can be endlessly repeated. Instead, it’s counterfeit: apolitical, deracinated and wholly without foundation. In Shakespeare’s words, it’s a mockery king of snow that melts away. Much like faith, in fact. If it can be boiled down into a few slogans, a nice sweater and a vague feeling of being all religious on a Sunday, then it’s probably not worth much. If it’s hard, and sometimes lonely, and asks you do the difficult thing instead, then it may be worth respecting.

Real hope, like real faith, are hard to come by and I’ve only ever seen either fleetingly. But this, I suppose, is the meaning buried at the heart of Christmas. Strip away all the wrapping and the gaudy, plastic tat, the artful commercials and the dead-eyed sods wandering around Sainsburys as though it’s the zombie apocalypse, and down there, right at its heart, is a hope that doesn’t even see the commercialism or the trite sentimentality, because it’s so irrelevant. It’s a woman, and a man, in a stable, and the woman giving birth to a person who you can see, if you choose to – and I do – as being the hope of something different, something more beautiful and mysterious or, in the words of the carol, that ‘man no more shall die.’ That hope is dirty, smelly and confused and uncertain, but it’s there and that, I think, is what I need to try and remember as one grim, year turns into another. Faith and hope can buried and seem easily thwarted but, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, may yet rise again.

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