We travelled from Fishbourne to Shanklin, about twelve miles. Constable country with the old world feeling about the place as if Dad’s Army might potter into sight at any time. The last three miles were traversed the sea shore. We spend the night in a couple of Victorian cottages sited in a large glade as guests of a couple of kind folk who lived much of their lives in South Africa. A friend living in the south told our hosts (who had never heard of ZANE) about our charity and they offered us hospitality on the off chance we were “fun people doing useful work.” I can only hope we lived up to expectations!
Yacht a Lovely View!
It was that mouldy old philosopher Goethe who claimed that all views grow tedious in 15 minutes, but I think even he would want to revise this gloomy prognosis if he had watched the Isle of Wight yacht race today. I last saw 1700 yachts with multi coloured sales in a lovely picture by Edward Seago.
One minute the horizon was dotted by this teeming armada and then suddenly the sea was empty and glassy as if an artist had dragged a rag across his canvas.
We were passed by a team of young runners sweating their way around the island. One, James, managed funds for the fund management firm Blackrock in London.
Filling the Void
As I wandered along I pondered that loneliness is a terrible blight. It is estimated that well over half of those over the age of 75 in the UK are living alone and do not speak to anyone other than their carers for months on end. My vicar friends tell me that at a great many funerals there is no one present other than the local vicar and the undertaker.
When she visited the UK, Mother Teresa declaimed that although we are “rich” in the West when compared to the ghastly poverty of the Calcutta slums, we have little community. “You are all so rich yet isolated,” she said. “The poor may have no material wealth but the extended family teems everywhere.” It would seem that the richer we grow materially, in terms of our friendships and love for our neighbours, the poorer we become.
Family life is so important, yet it is under threat. Do Facebook and Twitter fill the void of loneliness? Well of course they serve us well by facilitating and speeding up social exchanges, but they have a darker side: social media simulates community and at the same time erodes family ties. Here’s an example of what I mean.
Until recently, if a boy wanted to take out a girl he was obliged to ring her home. Nine times out of 10, her parents would answer. The boy would then be obliged to demonstrate his manners and pass the time of day… and only then would he ask to speak to so and so. If he were favoured, the connection would be made, and if not, excuses – contrived or otherwise – would flow. Usually he would be the subject of amused family discussion – some occasionally negative, but more often than not, friendly and positive.
In this way, Jane and I got to know most of our children’s friends over the years. I suppose that for a time, in their teens, we acted as “gatekeepers” to their social lives. As a result, to this day we are still on good terms with many of these friends. Some, aged 40 plus, still charmingly call us “Mr and Mrs Benyon” as they did at parties or on the phone all those years ago. Despite the passage of time, the age gap of course has never melted away.
The advent of the mobile phone, Facebook and Twitter has changed all this, not I submit, for the better. Now when contact is made between girls and boys, the family is easily cut from the loop. No longer will parents necessarily know their children’s circle of friends – unless they are asked to teenage parties, which is highly unlikely! I do not mean that in our day we “guarded” our children in a heavy handed way, for I cannot think of a single occasion when we tried to censor whom our children wanted to meet. However, it was good to know who their friends were – and it was fun for us as a family to be involved in our children’s comings and goings, as well as the highs and the lows of them finding their wings with new friends and preparing to fly the nest.
I wonder if today the young ever have anything to do with people outside of their age group (other than schoolteachers)? Do the old know any young? If so, when do they meet?
The growth of social media means that maintaining opportunities for generations to mix outside of their age bands is vitally important. Long live churches, the hunting communities and other societies!
All You Who Pass By
I met the great Sir Michael Mayne after his retirement as Dean of Westminster when he was living in Salisbury. He once mightily irritated Margaret Thatcher by holding a service for the mining community when the pits were closed in 1991. He also set up a remembrance stone for the innocent victims of violence and persecution, which reads, “Is it nothing to you all you who pass by?”
Michael told of how his vicar father committed suicide when his son was three by throwing himself down from the roof of his church. Sixty years afterwards Michael preached in the church where his father died. After he had finished an old lady told him that she had known his father: “such a jolly man”. How little we reveal. How little we know of others’ lives.
Michael was a great man who writes beautifully about the mysteries of faith. In Pray, Love, Remember he recollects when he was strongly criticised for holding an interfaith service in Westminster Abbey on grounds of John 14:6 “No one can come to the father except by me”. In other words, his critics thought all other faiths are plain wrong, whilst Christians have a monopoly on being right!
I have always been bothered by the concept that the Christians have it all right and everyone else is wrong.
Mayne argues: “This text relates specifically to the fatherhood of God: it is not simply a question of coming ‘to God’ but of coming to the father. There is but one God, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ and when we worship, we stand before the mystery of that deep and eternal reality to whom we give different names. From the Jews we learn of his faithfulness; from Muslims of his sovereignty and mercy; from the wonders of the natural world, a realisation of his mystery and power. Christians speak of something more intimate: of his fatherhood, for only in Jesus can we begin to experience the truth of a God as father. The presence of those from the commonwealth of other faiths, each person praying to God as that faith conceived him to be, did nothing to compromise our belief that in Jesus Christ we see the ultimate expression of God’s nature, for that belief does not deny the truth of other revelations of God, nor our hope that in Christ all may ultimately find their fulfilment.”
This sets me thinking. I suppose we will never know for sure until we confront the recording angel!