Tag Archives: death

Oh Look, Another War

There was an episode of Father Ted, where Ted was running a raffle, and the grand prize was a new car. Unfortunately, soon after he picked it up, the car suffered a minor dent. Ted got it into his head that he could tap the dent out with a small hammer. This, of course, went horribly wrong, and the denting spread and spread around the whole car, it looked like a write-off.

Here’s YouTube to help:

My Facebook was lit up today with posts about the British Parliament’s vote to bomb Syria.

This Father Ted clip reminds me of the West’s foreign policy. And not a new phenomenon. I recently read an article concerning a bunch of places whose economies we ruined, and whose population we severely harmed. The CIA overthrowing governments, installing their own preferred puppet, who turns against them a few years later. From 2001 to the present day, going into perpetual war in Afghanistan, Iraq. Fighting ISIS in one country, aiding them in another (*cough*Syria*cough*).

Our rhetoric about protecting the poor civilians, again and again proves to be misleading (to say the least). At best, our rhetoric says something to the effect of “we caused this problem, so we should go and fix it”. At least that kind of rhetoric actually acknowledges that we caused a problem, too often it doesn’t. But, much like the poor car, our “fixing it” hasn’t made things better in… how long? The Fifties at the latest?

And it’s baffling to me when people use this issue to side with one political party over another. Blame the Tories when, in reality, Labour has done it as well. Same in the US with Republicans and Democrats.

I believe that part of the problem is that the debt-backed economic paradigm has war as an integral component. Look for a pattern of the minority party being able to provide more dissenters than the majority party. Politicians who stay in office long enough to establish a consistent dissenting opinion and vote, and actually consistently do, are very rare.

Ted, at least, had a conscience. Mulder’s maxim of “Trust no-one” sadly very much applies in this arena.

Pray for the Syrian Christians. May they fare better than those in Iraq, where the effects of our actions have proved catastrophic for them.

A Prayer, And For Good Reason

My family suffered a loss today, which seemed pretty sudden. Not completely blindsiding, but as deteriorations go, it was pretty rapid.

Consequently, I don’t really want to write much.

In the years of finding out about Orthodoxy, I have come across this understanding of death. Everyone goes to be in God’s presence, some people will enjoy the experience, while others will find it torment. So the difference between Heaven and Hell is not so much a matter of geography, rather a matter of perception.

“The fire of Hell is the love of God”, one saint put it. “You can’t expect to go to Heaven, yet not run into God there” – from an AFR podcast, don’t remember which one (possibly the foundations series, and possibly not word-for-word).

Even for those for whom the experience of God int he next life will be Heaven, the transition is expected to be difficult, refiner’s fire and all that. Services are held and prayers said, to help ease the transition.

I give all this background information, just so I can share this prayer. The website of St Barnabas Church in Costa Mesa, CA used to host a page of prayers, I have to use the Wayback Machine to access that page now. There’s a section of Prayers for The Departed. I share a small part of that section:

Remember, O Lord, the souls of thy departed servants, my parents NN, [if they have already fallen asleep in the Lord], and all my relatives according to the flesh. Forgive all their sins, both voluntary and involuntary. Grant them participation in thine eternal good things and the enjoyment of the eternal and blessed life.

Well my parents are just fine, but now I can say it for all my grandparents.

Lord, have mercy. And for the last sentence of the prayer, grant this, O Lord.

And I miss you guys.

Halloween From A Different Angle

Something occurred to me a while ago, which has rather the potential to change one’s understanding about Halloween, particularly when thinking about the historical context. I knew that there was an ancient understanding of the cycle of the day, certainly in Old Testament Judaism, that the day started at sunset. “Evening and morning, one day”, the creation narrative tells us.

I’m not quite sure when I started understanding this, but that perception of time continued into Christianity. An Orthodox example, the first Sunday service is Vespers on Saturday evening. This perspective may not be maintained in modern denominations, or if it is, it may not be immediately noticeable, as it doesn’t mean much practically outside of a liturgical framework. In fact, even in the liturgical concept, if you weren’t told and didn’t pick up on a few subtle cues, you might not immediately notice, either.

With that in mind, then, Halloween becomes not “the day before All Saints’ Day”, as you’ve probably heard all your life. It is the evening that marks the start of All Saints’ Day.

In a similar manner, then, properly speaking, the 24th of December is not “Christmas Eve”. The evening at the end of what is commonly perceived as the 24th of December is the evening that marks the beginning of Christmas Day. I found it confusing when in Germany I was told they celebrated Christmas on the 24th. I think perhaps they retained at least the practical implications of Christmas Day starting in the evening of the secular 24th, where in England we retained the understanding of Christmas Day being the 25th.

So what does this mean for Halloween? It means that whatever historic Christian traditions that were associated with Halloween, and the insights those traditions might provide to how our ancestors depicted evil spirits, or how they understood the deceased and how they relate to us, was part of, not separate to, their participation in the Feast of All Saints.

Digging through the layers of candy to discover those traditions and insights, now that’s the hard part.

Reflection On Brothers In Arms By Dire Straits

Today, in a fit of nostalgia, I’m going to talk about an album that is, in a sense, a rarity. That sense would be that there are n bad songs on the album. I mean, one might have one’s favourites, and end up skipping a track or two when one is pressed for time, but equally you could just set the album going and not think about think about hovering over the “next track” button when a certain song comes on. Even some albums I like can have quite a few weak spots.

What is this masterpiece of an album? I hear you ask. Or rather, I don’t, because you saw the title of the post. Cheater.

Welcome to “Brothers In Arms” by Dire Straits.

Lemme tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb.

The album kicks off with “So Far Away“, a wonderful Song Of Longing. “I’m tired of being in love and being all alone.”

Then the classic “Money For Nothing“. I don’t know how many times some of my co-workers and I, several years ago now, would comment “That ain’t working” to each other. In this age of “Not being the ’80s”, it’s easy to want to sing the wrong lyrics. “I want my MP3″ rather than “I want my MTV.”

An aside: In one of the Buffy Season 8 comic books, Harmony, a vampire, gets her own reality show. After commenting about one TV network, saying no-one knows what the letters stand for, she talks about MTV. “No-one knows what that stands for, either, but they do reality shows.” She may be a ditz, but she’s onto something…

“We got to install microwave ovens”. Did they ever take much in the way of installing? “We got to install Microsoft Office” was a good replacement for a time, but I don’t think so many people use it, these days. “Microsoft Windows” would be better, but “Office” replaces “ovens” better than “Windows” does. Oh well, it’s all musical graffiti.

Walk Of Life” is next. Unceasingly upbeat and cheerful, this song is the most Your Mileage May Vary track as it relates to the “no bad song on the album” declaration I made earlier. The song is about a busker singing old songs. “He do the song about the sweet lovin’ woman, he do the song about the knife. He do the walk, he do the walk of life.”

Your Latest Trick” is a nice mellow number, as is “Why Worry“. The sax part in the former is catchy (apparently it is to saxophone departments in music shops, what “Stairway To Heaven” is to the guitar section).

Ride Across The River” starts off wonderfully atmospheric. Verse 1 is told from the perspective of a soldier invested in the cause, and the second verse is from the perspective of a mercenary on the opposing side. The third verse philosophises about the conflict, suggesting that neither side is “the good guys”. And the tune that goes along with it is melancholy, almost resigned to the inevitableness of it all.
This graphic was floating around Facebook today, based on a Reddit thread, of US soldiers reflecting upon their time in Afghanistan. Seems to fit the mood of this, and the next song.

The Man’s Too Strong“. A guilty conscience, and a confession, seemingly before an execution. Do the early choruses of “the man’s too big, the man’s too strong” suggest to you that the guy was a puppet when he was out doing all those naughty things? And now he’s caught, it’s possibly a different The Man?

One World” ultimately seems tangentially related to the two previous tracks, and the one after it. “But they can’t find a way to be one world in harmony”. And the rest of the song seems about various other layers of discontentedness. Instrumentally, there’s a lot going on in this track. I like the little guitar motif around “They say it’s mostly vanity that writes the plays we act”. Medieval, or possibly Renaissance?

The title track, the pièce de résistance, “Brothers In Arms“, rounds out the album. Again, it’s really moody. The guy from whose perspective the song is sung, implies that he is dying, towards the end of the song. Though it seems like he may already be dead. The dichotomy in the first verse between the “mist-covered mountains” and the lowlands, evokes some comparison with “The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond” with the “high road” and the “low road”, one interpretation being it’s the dead guy’s soul will “be in Scotland afore ye”. Another song about war, again there’s the implication of futility. An implication I don’t disagree with. We talk about how barbaric our ancestors were, with all the wars through history, but looking around, it seems like such talk is the pot calling the kettle black. You and I may not feel like we’re worse, but the state our leaders, recent and current, have brought our world to, reveal at the very least that humanity hasn’t left barbarity behind.

I’d love to do a big montage of war movies set to this song. “Brothers In Arms” seems like The Perfect Thing to listen to on Remembrance Day (UK, Veterans Day US). Right up there with watching the M*A*S*H finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”. November’s coming up, the video’s in the garage. Maybe I can swing that last part. Haven’t managed to get my video capturing equipment working for a while.

Well, that seems a bummer note to end on, but it seems like a trait of a great song: gets you thinking.

Please comment below: discuss my takes on the songs, tell me how great “Brothers In Arms” was on that season finale of The West Wing, let me know any albums you can think of with no duff songs, let me know what you want me to talk about in future posts.

The Late Roger Rees

It’s on my news feed today, that the actor Roger Rees died yesterday at the age of 71.

Roger Rees on IMDB

I’ve probably seen him in Cheers, but haven’t seen enough of that recently enough to remember. He became embedded in my memory from his playing the Sheriff in Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

Much more recently, I’ve particularly noticed him as Lord Marbury in The West Wing and MacPherson in Warehouse 13.

A couple of years ago, David Bradley played William Hartnell in a dramatization of the early years of making Doctor Who, called An Adventure in Space and Time.

In the Doctor Who story The Five Doctors, Richard Hurndall played the First Doctor, as Hartnell had died by that point. Reece Shearsmith played Patrick Troughton at the end of An Adventure in Space and Time.

Seeing Roger Rees’s performances, think his shouty in Men In Tights, his physical comedy in The West Wing, the intensity in Warehouse 13 – often a bad guy, often an air of comedy, or at least twinkling.

With Hurndall’s precedent of a different actor playing a Doctor in an official TV story, Rees was my number one pick to stand in for the Second Doctor. He wouldn’t have been a bad choice to be a Doctor in his own right.

So many bright lights going out at the moment. I enjoyed your work, Roger.

Let me know: what roles did you enjoy Mr Rees in?
Also, what actors would you pick if you were to recast old Doctors?

Loss

Yesterday, I said something about it being a good time in our lives for melancholy music.

A little under a week ago, my wife’s Grampa was admitted to hospital because of a stroke. Since then, we’ve been doing dog-sitting, various family members have been up to see him, some even from out-of-town.

Yesterday, it was hinted that we might be getting The Call soon: he wasn’t expected to recover.

Today, we got The Call.

I met the man for the first time, ten years and a few days ago. That was on my first trip to America, and it’s kind of crazy that anything involving me and Stateside goes back quite that far, but Tempus Fugit, donchaknow.

I grew up pretty close to all my grandparents. I know my life overlapped with two of my great-grandparents, one of whom I have fragments of memories about.

My Great Nan – I remember she sat in her chair. I remember “fuzzy kisses” (my words). I remember one time having an urge to go and see her (I suspect that didn’t happen often, may have been the only time). We didn’t go then. She died soon after (I think probably days, I don’t think it was into a plural of weeks). I remember a bit of the funeral, not the service, but outside. I think the casket must have been lowered into the ground. “That was my Great Nan”, I said, I think to the clergyman. Not teary, I think matter-of-fact but hearing my voice across the years, I wonder if I strayed too close to the border of cheerful.

When I was in my teens, my Grandad got Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer. Between that and the chemotherapy, he got weaker, and after a while, he was stuck in bed. The chemo didn’t make him better. I remember one time someone (maybe my Dad?) asked him how he felt. “Like death”, was the reply. What do you say to that?

There comes a point where everyone becomes aware that things aren’t going to get better. I remember I cried a lot one night, after that point came. Not long afterwards, maybe even the next day, my Dad and I were at his bed. Dad and Grandad were both crying together. I don’t think I’d ever seen that before. I felt bad about not joining in, it was like I’d used up my tears, and in the back of my mind I didn’t want them to think that I didn’t care, when I very much did.

That was the first close relative that I lost.

Since moving to America, my two grandmothers have died. Both had been declining over the years.

Granny had always been a great cook. I remember at one point noticing that now my mother was the better cook. Between when Oldest was born and when we moved away, she seemed less engaged. Happy to see us and the kids, but… you want your wife and kids to remember the person you knew, rather than the old lady in the chair, you know?

Mum said that in the last week, it seemed like Granny was like a flower that had been picked: the spirit, the connection to life had gone, but the body took a bit longer to catch up.

My poor Nan had a steeper decline earlier, but then hung around for longer. Strokes took it out of her, she was stuck in bed in a nursing home for a long time. I think my kids only knew the old woman in the bed, who had trouble speaking. Oldest was there when Nan thought I was my Dad, and that my Dad was my Grandad. I didn’t really know what to say.

With my Grampa-in-law, I know there’s many things he’s turned his hand to, and been successful at. And I’ve visited every week for a while, learning to weave. And I’ve seen the decline here, too: having trouble finding the word to finish a question, having trouble finding the word to start a sentence. In the winter, declaring my hands are cold when I get there, and that they’re so warm when I’m ready to leave, to not finding the words to express temperature (he recognised when we guessed the right words). To sitting there for most of the day, not saying much. A small appetite most of the time, not even wanting to join us at the table once.

I didn’t go visit in the hospital, as others did. Seemed more my place to enable others to go: watch dog, kids. Not get in the way of their time. I’ve had time being with him while he was still at the house, and I’m more peripheral family.

Death is a part of our existence. And yet death is tragic. Our people can’t stay forever, yet we keenly feel their absence when they go. And so much that was known to them, that they learned and got good at, that they experienced in their too-brief passing through history, that will forever be beyond our reach.

I don’t know what I would ask, but I think that now I’d love to know all about the person behind those fuzzy kisses, the old lady in the chair, my Great Nan who lived through so much.

I’m glad my older two kids got to meet FIVE of their great-grandparents. Not so many people can say that. Youngest has met two, he’s even with me, there.

Lord, have mercy on all those we love who have moved on. Forgive us for all the knowledge, skill and wisdom we failed to learn, retain, keep alive, when those that possessed it slipped out of our reach. Comfort those of us left behind.