Journeys & Destinations
A visit to a friend in the Malverns, en route to my daughter,
brought home, vividly, how fortunate we are. Forget the increase in
car tax, food, fuel and heating. Put out of mind the drop in
house-prices, the pesky politics, the miserable summer.
Blake’s green and pleasant land is stunning; Elgar’s
inspiration lush and beautiful. And all despite – or rather
because of – the cool, wet weather.
'Have you been to this area before,' my husband asked, forgetfully.
Instantly, I was transported back to an occasion when three of us – all young women – had driven up for some event or other in Birmingham. We were to be overnight guests of the parents of our driver, Jane – that is if and when we found our way to Great Malvern where they lived.
'I’ll know we’re nearly there when I see my big hill,' said Jane as we slipped in and out of moonlit fields and low-lying mist. When we’d passed the same pub three times, we finally convinced her that she should ask the way. Sworn to silence about our nocturnal wanderings, we spent the remainder of the evening stifling nervous giggles, and fielding questions as to when we had left home, how many stops we’d made on the journey, and how long it had taken us. To admit to anything would surely be confirmation in the mind of Jane’s stepfather as to the inadequacy of women drivers / navigators,
It was just as well he didn’t see us next day! We travelled into Birmingham by train – an uneventful journey – and made our way to our destination. The speaker, I am sure, was excellent, but strangely, the only thing I recall was his reference to a train journey and a wasted life. Returning to Birmingham New Street, we sat on the platform awaiting the train to take us back to Jane’s parents. There was a train standing at the terminal, but Jane assured us that this was not our train. We would have to wait, she said, until this one had departed, and then ours would arrive.
We waited. And waited. One minute before 'our' train was scheduled to leave, one of us plucked up courage to defy Jane and make enquiries about the train standing in the station. Sure enough, it was ours, and in a flurry of grabbed coats and bags, we boarded it with only seconds to spare.
The story didn’t end there. I almost dare not admit that we were so animated by our adventure, so garrulous, that we failed to notice where we were and alighted from the train one stop too soon! Still intent on keeping Jane’s stepfather in the dark, we took a taxi back to Great Malvern, and paid him off at the bottom of the road, out of sight of the house.
It struck me, as I regaled my husband with the story, how like life this journey was. There have been times when I’ve wandered in and out of the mist – at the end of my schooling, the end of my marriage, throughout my divorce, and in contemplation of a second marriage – hardly daring to make plans, because what lay ahead was so obscured from view. And there were times when moments of clarity have been just that. Moments. Followed by long periods of going around the houses, passing the same familiar landmarks, repeating the same mistakes; never learning; never moving on. Looking back, I can see that, like Jane, my biggest fault was in not asking for help. For being too proud to admit that I was lost. Too ashamed of losing face. Too afraid of an unseen future to accept advice.
At other times, I have simply failed to recognise the best direction to take – even though it was right in front of me. It is possible, I’ve realised, to be so focussed on the mirage of another train coming in, that the one at the platform becomes invisible. There have been stages of my life when I've almost missed out on an opportunity because of my own myopia. Occasions when I actually have missed out; when I’ve been too busy looking the other way, concentrating on other things, allowed myself to become distracted – and I’ve got off at the wrong stop. A flawed decision which has landed me in the wrong place at the wrong time. Somewhere that has been short of where I should, or could, have been.
It seems to me that, this analogy is not exclusive to me. As a nation we appear to have lost our way. Politicians have plunged us in and out of the mist, with successive policies and legislation which have taken us round and round in ever decreasing circles. As a society we've allowed the clarity of our vision to become obscured: we had it all – and we've squandered it. We've rung our hands about the problems of our times, and – like the little group sitting waiting for a train that was right before us – we've been in denial about solutions that have been staring us in the face. We've allowed ourselves to become distracted, have lost sight of the important things of life, and have brought up a generation of children who have no moral compass. We refuse to accept that relativism – where my version of truth may be different but equally valid to your version – lacks the certitude of absolutism and, therefore, the security.
The good news, however, is that there's almost always a way back. Like the taxi taken to complete an unfinished train journey, we may find that what began badly may yet finish well. Providing we realise our mistakes, we can usually find other means of travel to achieve our objectives; to reach our destination.
CARE (www.care.org.uk) is one organisation intent upon doing just that. A well-established mainstream Christian charity, it provides resources and help to bring insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives. CARE is represented in the UK Parliaments and Assemblies, at the EU in Brussels and the UN in Geneva and New York. Family matters, human trafficking and child poverty (many British families are paying a far higher proportion of their income in tax than their counterparts in other advanced countries, according to a major new research study) are just some of the issues in which CARE is concerned.
Its offshoot, CARE for the Family (www.careforthefamily.co.uk) is less politically focussed, more family oriented. Family-building events held at various venues around the country, include Teenagers! What Every Parent Has to Know, How to Drug Proof Your Kids, A Different Journey Day, A Day for Bereaved Parents, A Weekend for Bereaved Parents and Adult Siblings (aged 18+)... This is one of the two charities supported by Cumcaritas Books, through sales of my books. Almost a third of the proceeds is used in this way.
But financial support is only one method of effecting change in our society. By subscribing to the regular newsletter, we can become better informed, more effectively involved. We can't turn back the clock but we can attempt to ensure that the world our children inherit is a better place. Looking out across the Malvern's from my friend's house was a sheer delight. But William Blake's Jerusalem is not simply a poem about a green and pleasant land. It's a story of grit and determination. It's about a people who gird themselves, mentally, against adversity – and grow through it. A people who refuse to lie down or give up. A nation unwavering in its resolve to bring back the Land of hope and glory to which Edward Elgar's great anthem points us. The journey is only a means. Finishing well is what counts.
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