My sons remember their great-great grandmother. Vaguely, it is true, as they were young when she died, but they do have memories of their ‘very old grandma’. My great grandparents were very much a part of my own life well into my teens… and of course I was going over thirty when my sons’ memories of my great grandmother were formed. Great grandma had always been an invalid during my lifetime. She had survived some major health problems and coped daily with chronic conditions. It didn’t stop her from polishing the linoleum and black-leading the range, though… that was a matter of pride. She couldn’t kneel, but she could bend. It didn’t stop her baking and she taught me to make bread in that old Yorkist range in the little room at the back of the house… the front parlour always reserved for special occasions and visitors. There is a lovely moment of continuity as I make the Christmas cake each year, using the arcane ingredients… like vinegar and gravy salt… that have their own story and reason buried within the needs of poverty and wartime rationing.
I recall vividly listening to her tales of her own childhood in Victorian England, growing up in a mill town. As she wound the coronet of long, dark braids around her head she would tell of the conditions in the mills… young children working long hours for pennies… the poverty of the families… and of the joys of her youth too, the first dance she attended… her first fan, the way corsets were laced. All the things, in fact, that change only in detail, not in essence, from generation to generation. I heard of the effects of two world wars first hand and her memories of the time of the Boer war… and I heard of how she was courted by the young man who walked miles across the moors to meet her.
I was incredibly lucky… more so because I had a full complement of grandparents most of my childhood. Great Grandma outlived them all except her son, who died very shortly after she passed.
From them I learned to love the landscape of moor, stone and wood. I learned the names of plant and stone and the legends and stories that are the warp and weft of history. I learned to value the small things, the little joys. They taught me everything, from how to cook and read, to how to see beauty in an ever changing world. Most of all, they taught me how to grow into being me… and about love.
A friend posted a newspaper article on Facebook yesterday. Like many such articles the headline is designed to be emotive and capture attention, the content contentious and may or may not be precisely and entirely true. Although there is, no doubt an element of truth in there somewhere it is easy enough for a skilled writer to present fact in a particular way. Like many such articles the writer has picked up a point specifically in order to spark reaction. Well, it did, though perhaps not the political knee-jerk intended, as the article is actually, on closer inspection, based on one man’s reaction. I will, therefore, leave political speculation aside.
I would want to know more… get a clearer picture… before jumping through the hoops any journalist was holding. I have seen first-hand precisely how wildly inaccurate newspaper reporting can be and how the simplest of facts can be twisted and presented in a whole new and destructive light… as well as how constructive journalism can make a positive and extraordinary difference.
This particular article, however, begins with the journalist’s statement that “new drugs will only be made available …if they help people deemed to be a benefit to society”. And those last few words did have the desired effect of eliciting reaction. Deemed by whom? What criteria… and who has the right to define them? And how can we, how dare we judge the ‘benefit’ to society of any life?
Are we to deem the elderly, the disabled, the infirm of no benefit because they have ceased or are unable to contribute to economic growth … may even be ‘a drain on public funding’ as their health declines? Are those on the fringes of ‘society’, those who dance to a different tune to be discounted? Or are we going to look at those beautiful moments when great-granny sits with the little ones, bringing history to life through her life, sharing tales of forgotten times with the continuity of family, teaching the wisdom of years and giving that greatest of gifts to a child… the security and warmth of love. Or at the inspiration offered by those who overcome personal tragedy with strength and in joy?
How can we judge the benefits of caring for someone in need or the personal cost of abandoning them to their fate?
Those whom the bureaucrats, with finite resources to allocate ‘for the greater good’, may deem disposable may be the most beneficial to society. How can we learn compassion unless we see need? How could we learn of the courage to overcome impossible odds without those who face them, exemplars of what we can all achieve?
You can read about history, about the human virtues and strengths that are as universal as our flaws… but it is people that give them life and it is from people we learn as we grow; a growth that continues all our lives.
How much does it cost to begin allocating relative value to an individual life? It costs us everything we are. Society is not a hive mind… unless we allow it to become so… it is made up of individuals. Every single one of us has some gift to contribute to the whole, something unique born of our talents and experience, our thoughts and characters. The multitude of individual lives is what creates the whole.