Two days ago my wife and I met up with two old college friends – now married and living abroad – whose chartered canal narrowboat had finally reached our town. After many years we had a lot to catch up on and conversation naturally focussed on children and grandchildren. Delights and disappointments were celebrated and lamented – achievements, anecdotes, adversities shared.
Their concerns about one of their grandchildren, born with congenital health problems, put our own woes – about the great distances we must travel to visit two of our grandchildren – into firm perspective. And we were glad to hear that the daughter of a mutual college friend, who developed anorexia when her dad died prematurely, is now much better and starting a college course herself.
Swings and roundabouts. Growing older seems to generate interlocking circles like these which bind us ever-closer to life as it approaches its end. Ripeness is all, as the Bard so succinctly put it. The sweetest is always yet to come.
At least, that’s the theory. Eager to revisit our youth, we embarked on a lengthy pub crawl – hilarity ensued, just like back in the day!
Well, there was one difference. Waking up next morning, I discovered my brave attempt to replicate the drinking capacity of former times had been, er, a little unwise. Hearing moans and groans, my wife – who with superior foresight had managed to put her hand over her glass quite a few times – was a tad unsympathetic. No fool like an old fool was one of her kinder comments. So I turned to the previous day’s unread newspaper for solace.
Another mistake. My ‘morning-after’ despondency was compounded by pretty well everything I read. I won’t go into all the gory details here. Unless you live in a cave … on Mars … you’ll know about most of them anyway – but suffice it to say I found avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake and zealotry.
See what I did there? Yeah, A-Z, but behind that I’m treading water. Can’t blame the hangover, that’s gone! Think I’m fighting shy of specifics here. As usual. Maybe that’s a liberal thing. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! I still believe in all that stuff, of course, but there comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.
Anyway, it was no hardship to be dragged from the noosepaper by a Skype call – our other grandchild, my little twice-weekly playmate, just now away on holiday and wanting to chat. I had to be Baby and ask her about her adventures. It’s a thing we do where she’s the adult and I’m the junior know-nothing, eager for explanations. Sounds crazy, but it works for us. Helps make sense of a funny old world …
I turned back reluctantly to the real world and read this, in an article by Jonathan Freedland entitled Trump and his allies are taking the world back to the 1930s:
The parents ripped from those 2,300 children on the Mexican border were not led off to be murdered. But there are grounds to believe they may never again see their sons or daughters, some of whom were sent thousands of miles away. There is no system in place to reunite them. The children were not properly registered. How can a two-year-old who speaks no English explain who she is? Eighty years from now, perhaps, old men and women will sob as they recall the mother taken from them by uniformed agents of the US government, never to be seen again.
But the echoes don’t end there. The wire cages. The guards telling weeping children they are forbidden from hugging each other. And then this chilling detail, reported by Texas Monthly. It turns out that US border guards don’t always tell parents they’re taking their children away. “Instead, the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ The child goes off, and in a half-hour, 20 minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my five-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my seven-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And [the officer says], ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’” It’s not the same as telling Jews about to die they are merely taking a shower, but in the use of deception the echo is loud.
To read the whole article, click the link above it.
I read it all, eventually, but – no doubt through a combination of physical tiredness and my heightened emotions – just at that moment these two paragraphs moved me close to despair. No more words, I thought, nothing else will do but music – and music of a certain kind where performers play off one another to produce something intricate, rich, strange and beautiful far beyond anything an individual could achieve.
The old ideal of teamwork, I suppose, where two (or more) heads are better than one. I associate this music with a time when you could sit up talking all night and, no matter how much divided you, by the light of morning you’d found something to agree on.
The lyrics, when they come, elevate rather than depress. And yesterday it worked for me where nothing else would. A spiritual purification, you could say, which I offer here as a still-efficacious balm in a suffering world.