From Big Bangs to Little Whimpers

Yesterday was one of those curious days one suspects will prove more important than anyone realised at the time. On the one hand, there was the public announcement that an American team working on the BICEP2 project had found a residual marker for cosmic inflation (see the brief BBC report here); on the other, President Putin signed an order recognizing Crimean independence and approved a draft bill on the absorption of the peninsula into the Russian Federation. The contrast between the excitement over extraordinary new evidence in support of the Big Bang Theory for the origin of the Universe and the sick feeling that Ukraine was being destroyed with barely a whimper could not have been more marked.

The Universe is too big a subject for most of us to grasp, but what is happening in Ukraine touches us all. There have been the inevitable sabre-rattlers with half-remembered notions of how the First and Second World Wars started, who are anxious to ‘stop Putin in his tracks’ — usually at the cost of other people’s lives. There have been the indifferentists who think the Crimea not worth bothering about and don’t mind being called ‘appeasers’ by the sabre-rattlers. Then there are those who are aware of the labyrinthine ties between Russia and Ukraine, Russia and Crimea, and the economic and political mess Ukraine is in whatever the outcome of the present difficulty. Western politicians, by and large, simply don’t ‘get’ the complexity of the situation, tending instead to see everything through the lens of their own experience.

If Syria has made us recognize how defenceless ordinary people are in the face of mutual hatred and joy in destruction, the situation in the Crimea reminds us that people may not want to live as we think they should. It is worth thinking through the implications of that and acting accordingly. We must pray for a peaceful resolution of the situation, but we should also pray that those engaged in trying to find a diplomatic solution should have the humility and generosity of spirit to recognize the right of others to live as they think best.

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Grieving

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will have reminded everyone of the grief that thousands experience as a result of that day. Not only those killed then, but all those killed in subsequent acts of terror or war come to mind. We think of those we ourselves have loved and who have died. We understand grief, of course; but do we understand grieving?

I know I often refer to the origins of words in this blog, but to remember that ‘grieve’ is related to Old French ‘grever’, meaning to burden or encumber, and ultimately to the Latin word ‘gravis’, meaning heavy or weighty, is to understand something of the burden that grieving imposes. We are literally weighed down. And while grief can be a more or less fleeting feeling of loss and sadness, grieving is a longer and more difficult process as we try to accept and adapt. We have to accept the loss of someone we love,  but we also have to adapt to the altered condition in which we find ourselves, living with absence rather than presence. That takes time, and our society doesn’t allow much time. ‘Move on, move forward’, we say, but the heart lags behind.

As we pray today for those  killed on 9/11, those dying a slow death as a result of the toxic dust and fumes unleashed by the catastrophe, those killed in subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorist acts throughout the world, let us also pray for a better understanding of grieving, that we may give others time and space in which to accept and adapt. Catholic tradition reminds us that death is not an ending of life but an entrance into another form of life. We are encouraged to pray for the dead and to ask the prayers of those who have gone before. That has always seemed to me a reassurance that grieving is natural and something we do in union with others. Grief, by contrast, is a lonely business: ‘Un seule être vous manque / Et tout le monde est dépeuplé’. Let us not forget that we grieve together.

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