T.S.Eliot

Living on the edge of the unknown

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that life can change completely in a single second.”

So I responded to an upset eighteen year old Canadian as we sped towards Lyon airport, the sun setting to the right of us, the long shadows of an unknown future striding to catch us from behind.

Two hours ago we had been told that everyone had to leave Taize. In a split second we had accepted an invitation to evacuate to England, our common colonising ancestor. After a stressful hour six of us had booked tickets for the only two flights we could find, for 2pm the next day. We had packed our belongings in 10 minutes, and now we were rushing to make it to the airport before France went into lockdown and the rumours of closed borders, unknown restrictions, and cancelled flights became reality.

Even as I spoke those words I was aware they were pretentious, patronizing and rather idiotic. I was also aware they were true.

Using up my last euros at the airport…

We constantly live on the edge of uncertainty. Some of us have had more reason to be aware of this than others. For as long as I can remember I have known I will not have my mum forever, and yet that split second phone call during my lunch break at work when I heard she had a mass in her pancreas still changed everything.

For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books where dramatic things happen. Kids die too young; people are wounded in battle; last minute inheritances save the day; all is lost and all is rescued over and pver again. Yet I still remember exactly where I was when I found out that my ten year old friend had died suddenly from an undiagnosed brain tumour.

In the weeks leading up to my travels I chose not to dwell on my hopes and excitement because I knew that life is rarely smooth and expectations often go unmet. Still, the last thing I expected was a pandemic, and the hours that preceded our hasty departure will be remembered for a while.

I don’t know how my story will end, but after a sleepless 30 hours spent watching as flight after flight was cancelled and wondering if mine was next while praying the UK would not close its borders before I got in, I am currently enjoying a happy interlude.

Isn’t this stunning? There are times out on the moors when I feel God has given me eternity in the space of a few seconds.

My days are filled with sharing household responsibilities between the five of us; watching TV; knitting; Taize style prayers; walking on the desolate moors; and reading. It’s a dreamlike existence. Each morning I am beyond thankful to have a place to stay thanks to a generous friend (and their generous family) and each evening I am beyond thankful to hear that my family in Australia are still well and healthy.

At times I feel like I’ve entered an Enid Blyton book. I love moss so so much; it makes me so happy you wouldn’t believe.

I don’t know what will happen once the UK emerges from lock down and we come out of quarantine. I don’t think anyone does. The world will never be the same, and so I wait and watch and pray. I hope the lays of Europe will settle in beneficial lines for me, but I do not know.

A pastoral scene

Each of us, all the time, live precariously. It’s easy to forget this. To forget just how quickly the world can be remade, to forget how easily all the future can be undone. We are but dust and ashes, and so, so fragile. All this pandemic has done is pull back the veil a little. Right now everyone of us is being confronted with the reality of our existence simultaneously: It is uncertain. It is unknown. It is terrifying.

And so what? Do we sit and wait around for the world to end in either a bang or a whimper? Do we throw in the towel, or begin to cotton wool our nests against an apocalypse? You could. People do. But isn’t there a better way?

So many times in those chaotic few days I thought I’d never reach Yorkshire. In the first few days after I arrived I still felt like it would all be snatched away. It still could, but that’s in God’s hands, not mine.

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. I find this really comforting. Life always was uncertain, always has been terrifying. What this pandemic does is give us the opportunity to see clearly and to decide how we will respond. Not just to the current crisis, but to the remainder of our unstable lives.

God was the answer when life seemed safe, and he remains the answer know we know it is not.

I feel utterly and entirely spoilt. God did not have to send me off to quarantine to such a place as this – and I am so, so grateful.

And so we march on. Wavering on the precipice of eternity, hands held out to Jesus. For this minute I am alive, and all the other minutes have been woven carefully into the very material of the universe by a Master Craftsman. What is unknown to me is known by He who knows me and makes himself known.

For now, that is enough.

Only in Britain..

Reading:

Making Money, a discworld novel – Terry Pratchett

Thomas Clarkson’s  award-winning (and literally world changing) “An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African” (1785)

The wrath of a loving God, unravelling a Biblical conundrum – Br John of Taize

Sel. From Martin Luther’s Table talk

Various fan fictions and online meta analyses.

… I also watched North and South for the first time. Seemed appropriate given the locale (I’m living in the North now). I know everyone seems to love it, but… I just couldn’t deal with the romance. On what basis do they love each other? They’ve never even had a proper conversation. It drove me up the wall.

Our rewatch of Good Omens and Doctor Who was much more enjoyable. And also appropriate given Eccleston is northern?

And credit for the title goes to the Star Trek episode “the city of the edge of forever”. Likewise, credit for the second title in the previous post goes to Gabriel Marquez’s Love in the time of the cholera.

Lastly, T. S. Elliot owns “a bang or a whimper” and his poem is absolutely stunning: https://msu.edu/~jungahre/transmedia/the-hollow-men.html

“Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

I recently finished reading an encyclopedia on C. S. Lewis, and I am overtaken with love for all things literary at the moment. Words are so beautiful – I could talk about their beauty all day long. I am forever grateful that God chose to reveal Himself through writing as well as in person. Because words lend themselves to pondering, to images, to thoughts and to creation.

C. S. Lewis was not a fan of “modern literature” so it is rather ironic that what I am about to share is my love for one of T. S. Eliot’s poems. T. S. Eliot was a very modern poet, and when I use that word, I mean ‘modern’ style, not that he is a contemporary writer. The modern style can be jarring. It puts onus on the reader to interpret, to come up with meaning, and to analyse.

But look at these words friends, and the liquid pictures they create! What is not to love?

Below are excerpts only – I encourage you to read the entire poem. It greatly influenced the song ‘Memory’ from the musical CATS.

 

RHAPSODY ON A WINDY NIGHT – T. S. ELIOT

Twelve o’clock. 

Along the reaches of the street 

Held in a lunar synthesis, 

Whispering lunar incantations 

Dissolve the floors of memory 

And all its clear relations, 

Its divisions and precisions, 

Every street lamp that I pass 

Beats like a fatalistic drum, 

And through the spaces of the dark 

Midnight shakes the memory 

As a madman shakes a dead geranium… 

The memory throws up high and dry 

A crowd of twisted things

A twisted branch upon the beach 

Eaten smooth, and polished 

As if the world gave up 

The secret of its skeleton, 

Stiff and white. 

A broken spring in a factory yard, 

Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left 

Hard and curled and ready to snap… 

The lamp hummed: 

“Regard the moon, 

La lune ne garde aucune rancune, 

She winks a feeble eye, 

She smiles into corners. 

She smoothes the hair of the grass. 

The moon has lost her memory. 

A washed-out smallpox cracks her face, 

Her hand twists a paper rose, 

That smells of dust and old Cologne, 

She is alone 

With all the old nocturnal smells 

That cross and cross across her brain.” …

The lamp said, 

“Four o’clock, 

Here is the number on the door. 

Memory! 

You have the key, 

The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair, 

Mount. 

The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall, 

Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.” 

The last twist of the knife. 

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WHY I LIKE ‘Memory’

In primary school the music teacher showed us the musical ‘Cats’ by Arthur Lloyd Webber and Trever Nunn. I found it rather odd, to be honest, but some part of it must have stuck with me, because I ended up performing the ‘Macavity’ song as a poem at the school talent night with a friend.

It wasn’t until much later that I developed a love for the song ‘Memory’ – immortalised by Elaine Paige in the 1981 musical, and by many artists afterwards (perhaps most recently Susan Boyle).

The song is sung by Grizabella, a cat who is old, tired and broken, yet longs to begin a new life. It is the climax of the musical and is based on two of T. S. Elliot’s poems.

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