Monday, February 27, 2012

The Breath of Life

I don't know whether you feel as I do, that our world is becoming more and more fragmented. More and more views are being expressed, more and more uprisings fight for the headlines, more and more uncertainty takes hold. Then along comes a statement, a simple statement, that puts everything into perspective.

I heard such a statement the other day.
It did me a world of good . . . may I share it with you?

What was gently pointed out to me was the simple fact that we all breathe together. Plants, fish, birds and mammals, together we comprise a planetary, breathing organism. Our thoughts may differ, but every time we breathe in and out we are at one with the living, breathing world around us. The same air, the same mysterious, life-giving air moves through our bodies.

Not only that, as there is nothing new under the sun, you and I are inhaling the same air that filled the lungs of Tutankhamun and the Pilgrim Fathers. The same air that fired both St. George and the Dragon.
Nor is that all, just think about it for a moment . . . the carbon dioxide we are exhaling, the carbon dioxide which is giving life to the plants in our parks and gardens, is, atom for atom, the same gas that was absorbed by the first primeval forests.

Why should the strange substance that we call oxygen sustain an equally mysterious state that we call life? It is not a question we often ask. Breathing is an instinctive bodily function that operates on its own, we forget that it's happening. We also ignore the vital fact that the air itself needs to be sufficiently pure if we are to survive. We inhale and exhale without thinking. Only occasionally, when caught in a dust-storm, fog, or very heavy traffic, do we question what might be going into our bodies.

Nor do we often make a connection between the oxygen we are breathing in and the oxygen that the plants around us are breathing out. The countryside doesn't merely provide us with food, it is also the source of the oxygen needed for our lungs and heart to operate. We talk about the rain-forests as being an all-important absorbent of our carbon-dioxide emissions, yet rarely consider that they are equally vital if the oxygen breathing species on our planet are to continue breathing.

During Climate Week we'll be giving our attention to ways in which we can reduce the weight of man's footprint on the earth. We'll be thinking about sustainability, green sources of energy, water purity, and the means used to produce our food.
But don't let's forget that, after its birth, a baby's first reaction to the strange, new world in which it finds itself is not to eat, but to breathe.

What set these thoughts in motion? It was, if you remember, the statement, 'We all breathe together'.

May I make a suggestion? Let's pause for a moment and, jointly and consciously, take a deep breath.
As the air fills our lungs, we'll make a pledge . . . a pledge that, from now on, we'll do everything in our power to maintain the purity of the mysterious breath of life that unites us.

After all . . . we can't live without it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Do you share my love of stones?
There is comfort and strength in stones. Just hold a pebble in your hand for a few moments and you'll see what I mean. What never fails to fascinate me is the fact that different stones have different temperatures, maintaining a chilliness or a warmth with the same apparent randomness as they are rough or smooth. And you only need to look at the balancing stones in this picture to recognise their individuality.
If, as is said, every snowflake is unique, then surely the same applies to stones?

What made me think of stones? Well, I had a letter from a friend the other day, he's a scientist and he mentioned a study he'd been carrying out into this subject. In addition to the scientific properties of stones, he'd been looking at their historic and spiritual significance. However, it was what he said about milestones that made me pause and think.

Stones were the physical building blocks of our civilisation. Sacred standing stones have been objects of veneration over the centuries. But stones once played an additional role . . . they were used as signposts. I'm sure you've seen them, white-painted milestones embedded in the grass verge. One side of the stone tells the traveller how far he's journeyed, the other points him in the right direction and gives him the distance to his destination.

Milestones are quite different from maps. Maps are indifferent as to where you are and have no interest in where you want to go. They give you the layout of the vicinity and leave it to you to chart your route, to choose your destination.

Milestones, on the other hand, know exactly where you are. They know where you have come from and the path that you intend to take. In relation to that precise moment in your life (not a moment before and not a moment after) they can offer you valuable guidance.

My friend was looking at milestones from this broader, more philosophical viewpoint. We can get attached to our milestones, he wrote, which means that instead of seeing them as reference points on the journey, sources of advice to guide us on our way, we mistake them for the destination itself. We set up camp by our milestones, venerate their wisdom, and forget their essential message.

It struck me that he's right. The comforting support of a milestone, and the companionship of others pausing at the same point, can seem infinitely preferable to pioneering an unknown path. When you come to think about it, there would seem to have been many congested milestones in the history of our civilisation.

So, with a pebble in my pocket to sustain me, I will look upon my friend's letter as a milestone, accept its guidance . . . and continue on my way.

Will you join me?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The wonderful white stuff!

Yes, I know. Snow is a natural, winter hazard. It snarls up the traffic, causes accidents and burst pipes, and is generally considered to be a nuisance . . . unless, that is, you happen to be a Bengal Cat!

I had no idea how Chloe would react to the snow.

Would she be shocked to find her garden covered in a cold, wet, white blanket? Would she refuse to put her paws into this icy mixture and choose, instead, to return to the warmth and comfort of home?

Not on your life!
As though joyfully recognising an old friend, Chloe leaped into the fray! Like an excited pony, she pranced across the snowy lawn. She sprang . . . she spun . . . she dug deep into this exciting white stuff.

Finally, carried away by sheer exuberance, she charged into a clump of shrubs and tangled her lead in the branches.
Jerked sharply out of my hand, the camera soared heavenwards before diving into a snowdrift!

All good things must come to an end and now, her snow frolics nothing but a memory, Chloe's daily walks in the garden have returned to their normal pattern.

But, at night, when she's sleeping beside me in bed, does the increase in twitching, together with a keen kneading of the blankets, indicate that my snow-besotted cat is dreaming of a white Easter?
I rather think it might!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Prisoner's Wife

She sits there, fingering her wedding-ring
With restless hands, while counsel for the Crown,
Urbane and skilled, concludes his questioning.
She listens, keen and anxious, quick to frown
At each obtrusive sound that might distract
The judge's ear. They speak of violence
In passive tones, as men play out an act
They've played before; where one man's innocence
Or guilt is held contained within the scope
And framework of the law. Did this man kill?
I watch as one apart, untouched by hope
Or senseless craving for revenge, until
I see the words: 'Imprisonment for life'.
Inflict their sentence on the prisoner's wife.