Stonesfield and Finstock
I shamble up to Stonesfield, as old as sin and not two pounds of me hanging straight.
Then the day looked up as the group gathered together some of my favourite people in my world, Darling Jane and beloved daughter Rev Clare Hayns; son in law, and ZANE close chum, John Hayns. I reckon Clare gives a regular MOT and state of health report about us to the rest of our children.
Then the lovely Alannah Jeune, an Oxford post-grad student who played the trumpet at the outset of our last walk in Canterbury comes too – not a good omen for on that occasion we then led the group resolutely 4 miles in the wrong direction.
I am not allowed to mention this fact for fear of offending General Jane: even she has to admit that this episode was not her finest hour.
A glorious day: up and down paths that threaded us through sun-spangled woods from which we imagine Robin Hood and his men would confront us at any moment. To the left a glimpse of a small lake, on the right a small stream for Moses and Layla (Hayns dog) to splash in, both giving little squeals of pure delight: what more possibly could I possibly want than to be alive at this hour?
Dames and Broads
We discussed that Sasha Swire has sold the details of private conversations with her political “friends” to the media for money. Seems pretty tawdry to me. Who can anyone trust? Who would be daft enough to risk going into politics? UK Ambassador to the US Tim Darroch (now Lord) finds his confidential report – critical of Trump – leaked, and his career destroyed. ZANE donors will recall that John Major was traduced by Edwina Currie when she sold the secrets of their brief romance to the papers.
You can only behave like this once: Do the likes of Swire or Currie – like Lady Buck (see past blog) – deserve any real friends?
The great film actor Humphrey Bogart divided women into two camps: “Dames” and “Broads”. I reckon Swire and Currie to be “Broads” not “Dames”.
I wonder whether her friends will ever forgive and trust Sasha again?
For forgiveness is a tough call: easy to say and hard to actually do.
All of us have been let down badly at some time in our lives in various ways: perhaps financially; maybe by parents or family? What about being double-crossed by someone you trust? Maybe you have been the subject of abuse? Perhaps you have been the “innocent party” in adultery, or the so-called “guilty” party and find forgiving yourself really hard?
But forgiveness can be found in even in the hardest of cases…
Those of you who have been to Robben Island in South Africa will have stood in the tiny cell where Nelson Mandela was locked up, and seen the thin mat on the cold floor on which he spent his nights. He was there for 18 long years.
Such squalid conditions usually give birth to enraged avengers, sworn to exact retribution on those who have ruined their lives and traduced their country. We can understand this embittered logic – indeed, we see the results of anger and retribution nightly on our television screens.
The enormity of Mandela’s forgiveness towards his opponents is hard to understand for it’s all about the absurdity of Grace. We can hear the impossibility of this sort of forgiveness in the words of those being crucified as the executioners hammer in the nails. We hear about this sort of Grace in the voice of a daughter whose parents were murdered in Belsen as she forgives the man who slaughtered them – and allows him to admit, for the first time, his own heart-wrenching guilt.
Forgiveness through Grace comes without condition for the glory of God. Secular humanists – who can find no meaning in this kind of language – may conclude that on rare occasions our incomprehensible universe redeems its pain and conflict through the rare genius of extraordinary people who, for some mysterious reason and well beyond human understanding, are able to forgive the unforgiveable.
It is impossible, sadly, to codify this miraculous forgiveness in any systematic way to resolve the wrenching problems that inflict our times. We could of course pray for the arrival of a Mandela figure who might enable us to rise high above our miseries and violent hatreds. But history indicates that usually so complex are the conflicts that entangle us, and usually so unsubtle are the ways in which we respond to them, that all we sadly end up with is the mantra of an “eye for an eye”. Then we invent more weapons and recruit our armies as the problems morph and spiral helplessly into conflicts.
Dare to Forgive
We should remember the healing power of mercy towards a beaten enemy. In a famous speech on conciliation with America in 1775, philosopher and politician Edmund Burke said “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom”. Of course magnanimity can break the cycle of revenge, but it’s rare. Yet after a great conflict, magnanimity can check the likelihood of further violence. In William Manchester’s book on Churchill, The Last Lion, he points out a clear example of failure of forgiveness.
In the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, Churchill was standing in his office waiting for Big Ben to chime to signify that the Great War had ended. Churchill listened to the cheering of the crowds but felt no jubilation. Since 1914, Britain had suffered 908,371 dead, 2,090,212 wounded and 191,652 were missing. Victory had been “bought so dear it was indistinguishable from defeat.”
Clementine Churchill suggested the couple go to Downing Street to congratulate Lloyd George, the then prime minister, on the victory.
Those already present were discussing calling a general election. Churchill interrupted by saying that the “fallen foe” was near starvation. He proposed sending a dozen ships crammed full of provisions to Hamburg: this proposal was coldly rejected.
Manchester tells us that while Churchill’s suggestion was being rebuffed by his unforgiving colleagues, a twice-decorated German non-commissioned despatch rider, temporarily blinded by a gas attack on 13 October 1918, sat in a Pomeranian military hospital and learned the detail of Germany’s plight from a sobbing pastor.
Six years later the soldier wrote a description of his reaction to the event: “All was lost. Only fools and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy. In these nights, hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for the deed…. and the more shame and disgrace burned my brow…in the days that followed, I resolved to go into politics.”
The soldier’s name was Adolf Hitler.