Thursday, March 19, 2015

In need of a dream

As I'm sure you've heard, an eighteen-year-old from Birmingham was stopped the other day whilst attempting to journey to Syria.  Yet another youth apparently eager to exchange the freedom of the west for the restraints of ISIS.

How many eager and gullible teenagers have tried, or are trying, to leave this country, each of them intent on joining the extremist rebel group?
I say 'gullible', and in many ways they are, but surely there's much more to it than that?
And why do we find it so hard to understand their actions?

Could it be, perhaps, that we've become hard-wired to modern, western values?

These teenagers are being excited by an old-fashioned concept that we rarely hear mentioned nowadays.  Whereas we are encouraged to be competitive, to go in search of success, financial remuneration and security, they are quite simply following a dream.
Lost in a world of hard facts, have we forgotten just how powerful a dream can be?

"I have a dream . . . " declared Martin Luther King.
All these years later his phrase continues to resonate.

And dreams aren't the preserve of the young . . .  all generations need them.  They provide a sustenance and power unobtainable from material wealth . . . not to mention the vital purpose and a creativity they bring to our lives.

What's more, have you noticed that dreams possess something totally lacking in the goals we're encouraged to seek?  The more dreams are distributed and shared, the more they multiply.  The wider they are spread, the greater and more powerful they become.  Material wealth, on the other hand . . . but I'm sure you see what I mean.

Look at the election campaign being waged at the moment.  Has there been anything on offer that would fire the ardour of an adolescent?  Any proposal that gives rise to dreams . . . to hope . . . to dedication . . . to personal sacrifice?

Quite the contrary.  With few exceptions, it can seem as though a hunger to hold power makes politicians resort to promises that are little more than a palliative for our fears, and a sop to our self-interest.  Promises that are directed more towards the anxious elderly than to idealistic adolescents . . . the elderly, it seems, are more likely to vote.

However much we may rightly deplore the tactics and cruelty of ISIS, the rebel group operates from conviction and an all-powerful sense of unity.  To teenagers, in a world dominated by political barracking, that's an inducement in itself.  It also provides a cause . . . and can we be wholly critical of young people who seek to unite with something bigger than their own self-interest?

Surely, if teenagers are to withstand the ISIS inducement, their hearts and minds need to be drawn to an even more powerful dream?  A dream that appeals to their intelligence whilst being rooted in love, respect, co-operation and trust.

All of which leaves us with a question . . .

It's dreams of the butterfly that guide the caterpillar's transformation in the larvae.   Could it be a dream that will guide us into the future?

Can you feel it out there . . . ?

A dream with the vision, power and integrity to help us resolve our current, complex problems . . . a dream that's common to all of us, whether we're in London, Syria or anywhere else in the world.

Let's be honest, it isn't just the teenagers . . . we all need it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Here Be Dragons

Did those ancient maps really exist?  Or were they a myth, along with the dragons themselves?

True or mythical, we all treasure their memory.
Jerusalem was usually depicted at the centre of the known world.
At the fringe of the parchment, where land gave way to uncharted, un-named oceans, there you'd discover the carefully-etched words, 'Here Be Dragons' . . . an inscription which must have effectively discouraged any ships from further exploration.

Along with the unicorn, centaur and phoenix, the dragon has long been banished from our science-based world.  They've all taken refuge in the world of myth and imagination.

Nowadays, in the real world, we're uncertain whether we're even entitled to write, 'Here Be Fish' on the maps of our depleted oceans.  On account of man's over-fishing, many species are in danger of disappearing altogether.

As for the birds . . . tell me, did you hear a cuckoo last spring?
Where are the London sparrows?
And, if we're thinking of amphibians and mammals, when did a once-familiar frog or hedgehog last cross your path?

May I share a statistic that was told to me the other day?

Apparently, if all the insect life on our planet were to disappear overnight, all the remaining life-forms would survive for no more than five years.  Insects, it seems, are vital to the existence of everything else.

If, on the other hand, human beings were to disappear overnight . . . well, you can guess what I'm going to say.
On the physical level, mankind is wholly predatory.  Every plant and animal species (with the notable exception of our forgiving animal companions) would, I strongly suspect, heave a collective sigh of relief!

Before it's too late, let's remember that we're not omnipotent.  We're an integral part of the whole, our existence being totally dependent on the welfare of that whole.
If we trample our Earth, pollute its water, exhaust its capacity for renewal, we are destroying ourselves . . .. there isn't a spare planet to switch to.

I wonder, may I offer a suggestion?
It came to me after hearing Benedict Allen make an appeal on Radio 4 on behalf of the Environmental Justice Foundation.
May I suggest that we invite those dragons back?  No, not as symbols of intimidation, but as mythical creatures of protection.

We need protective dragons to sit atop the highest mountains and encourage us to gaze upwards in awe and admiration, not climb heedlessly to the summit to plant flags and leave litter.

We need protective dragons to stand guard over the rain forests, and stop us destroying the all-important vegetation.

We need dragons to reside in the depths of  the oceans, and ensure the welfare and continuation of all marine life.

We need dragons to protect those all-important insects . . . insects that we, in our foolishness, classify as pests.

We also need those dragons to point out that the 'quiet and unspoiled' corners of our planet must be treasured, and preferably remain unvisited.
If we persist in our current belief that we should travel everywhere and see everything, those quiet and unspoiled corners could easily disappear in our lifetime.

Finally, we need the dragons to remind us of the honour we should pay to every aspect of our incredible world.

And, if the dragons fail . . . what if we continue on our unthinking pillage?

Might it be that, some day in the future, when an alien being on a distant planet decides to chart a map of the universe, his depiction of planet Earth will be of a barren land . . . a land bearing the telling inscription, 'Here Were Humans'.

There's still time, but the dragons may well need the co-operation of the phoenix if we're to rise from our self-created ashes.

And if we do . . . if we come together, acknowledge the wisdom of St. Francis and recognise our unity?
Let's hope that that alien cartographer will smile through space and bestow on Earth the welcome caption, 'Here Be Harmony'.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What's a birthday?

Hello, it's Chloe here . . . tell me, are you busy?
I'm hoping you can explain something that humans seem to know all about, but cats definitely don't.
It's been bothering me a lot over the past few days, and I'm sure you'll know the answer.

Can you tell me . . . what's a 'birthday'?

It's all been very strange.  I first realised that something was different when my Mum picked up my harness and lead and told  me that we were off to celebrate my birthday.  We were, so she said, going out to have a special lunch with a friend.

Well, I wasn't going to argue . .  .  as you know, I'm all in favour of going out to lunch.  But what was this birthday she was talking about?

Then, to my surprise, through the letter-box came an envelope addressed to me.  It had a card inside with a picture of a kitten, and my Mum told me it was called a 'birthday card'.

Next came an e-card, all the way from Ohio . . . which was very exciting.
And then all Mum's friends made a great fuss of me and brought me lots of lovely presents.
One of them even brought me a cake.  She said it was a 'birthday cake'.  I don't know why, but it had a funny sort of fire on top that nearly burned my whiskers . . . my Mum told me it was called a candle.

I must say that, once I'd recovered from all these surprises,  I got into the spirit of the thing and really enjoyed myself.

But what's this birthday business all about?
Do you have them too?

Apparently, this was the fifth one I've had . . . although I must admit that I can't remember the others.

I wonder, do birthdays come when you've been good . . . because I was ever so good at the nursing home on Friday?
 Or do they come to brighten things up in the middle of winter?
And can you have one whenever you feel like it?
All that's gone on this week has made me very pro-birthday!

Now, I've had an excellent idea, and I hope you'll agree with me.
Will you join me in campaigning for lots more birthdays for everyone . . . birthdays whenever you want them?

Birthdays when it's wet and cold so that they'll lift your spirits.
Birthdays when your toys are getting old and worn and you need some new ones.
Birthdays just when you feel in need of someone to notice you and stroke you, to tell you that you're special and important . . . and to show you that you matter.

For some reason, my Mum doesn't seem as keen on lots of birthdays as I am.  She says she's had more than enough of them already, and that they come around all too quickly.
But, between you and me, my Mum always was a little stuck in her ways.
Come to think of it, if she doesn't want any more birthdays, perhaps she'll give me some of hers?

I'm sure you'll agree with my brilliant idea.
And you can forget my original question.  It doesn't matter in the slightest what a birthday is . . . let's have them . . . lots of them.

Birthdays to get you purring . . . birthdays whenever you need them.
Birthdays . . . beneficial birthdays . . . bring 'em on!