Lourdes/Fatima. #PopeFrancis

With the much publicized trip of Pope Francis to Fatima recently to honour two children who claimed to have seen the  “Blessed Virgin Mary”, it has reminded me of my own trip to Lourdes many moons ago. Not a pilgrimage for me, just another school kid helping out by wheeling some very large, very antiquated wheelchairs with people of all disabilities resident in them.  Lourdes is the site of a “Marian” apparition in 1858 by another child, Bernadette Soubirous. Between February and July 1858, Bernadette claimed to have seen 18 apparitions of  a “White Robed Lady” in a small grotto called  Massabiele, near the town of Lourdes. 3 children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco in Portugal, and Bernadette in France, all claimed to have had religious apparitions. Really?

I have always been skeptic. Why would you have to travel to France to be healed? Are “miracles” exclusive to booking your travel plans wisely? I think not. If God wants me healed he’ll heal me, and it won’t be dependent on how many travel stamps I have in my passport. 

From 1864 to 1872 the site at Lourdes was mostly a regional pilgrimage destination attracting approximately 30,000 persons per year. Initially the shrine was not known for its curative power but after 1873, when incidents of healing at the spring began to be reported, the shrine rapidly developed a national and then international reputation for having miraculous powers. Today the grotto at Massabiele is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Lourdes itself where souvenir shops have price battles over their plastic Virgin Mary bottles (Used to fill with water from the baths) and Virgin Mary statues with flashing halos. 

We arrived late afternoon after a short bus ride from Tarbes airport, and on arriving at Lourdes I could have been forgiven to think I had arrived on the Costa del Sol, with its hotels, guest houses, souvenir shops and bars, most blasting out Jimmy Osmonds “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool” which was number 1 at the time. I wanted to slap Jimmy Osmond into the middle of next Wednesday.

We unpacked and made our way to Massabiele. To say it is a world away is an understatement. Just a huge fenced off area (and I mean huge) and every sound vanished. The Long Haired Lover From Liverpool had been silenced. Miracle 1. We took a good 10 minute walk past official Church buildings used as offices, statues of Mary herself, beautifully tended gardens and Churches and we finally arrived at the grotto. The crowds had gone, it was late at night and even a very bad Catholic girl like me gasped. The grotto was lit by what seemed like thousands of candles, and there she was, tucked toward the back and to the right up high. Mary herself. There were still a few people kneeling, standing and sitting. All praying or contemplating. Us very young, very loud Welsh girls were immediately dumb struck. I’d never experienced anything like it before. Dumb struck by a place. We sat.  The experience of sitting quietly at the grotto was amazing. The sound of the Gave de Pau behind you, the statue of Our Lady in the niche, and the opportunity to just contemplate…a very spiritual setting. I’d go there again just to experience that feeling of peace and “something”. 

 I had an overwhelming experience that you can’t really describe because it’s such a peaceful place and it’s a place where the sick are really put first and it strikes you that if hospitals were like that all the time, then the world would generally be a better place. So, do people get healed? Well there have actually been well documented cases that they have. Whether that would have happened anyway I have no idea, but that’s for another blog. For some, the fields of science and religion do not sit easily side-by-side. I feel there is a role for both. Even if there is no healing, surely that sense of peace and tranquility I felt can only add to the general well-being of those with hope in their heart?

Are these places of wealth, where they were once places of poverty, a creation of the Church? I don’t know. We could ponder that one until the end of time. Did Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco in Portugal, and Bernadette in France see a “White Robed Lady” now generally accepted by many Roman Catholics as the Virgin Mary? Well whether they say they saw her or the ghost of my great Aunty Nelly on a street corner, who the hell am I to say “No you didn’t” ? 

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To My Son. #Trump

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Those were the words your Grandfather would say as he looked down so lovingly as he held you as a baby.  I’ve always loved it. It’s always been my favourite poem because it holds such fond memories of watching my Dad holding my boy. He never knew I was watching. Or maybe he did, it just wasn’t spoken about. Still, doesn’t matter. 

Over the last months of the campaign for President it’s come to mind many times.  Many times because I have seen you be that man that Rudyard Kipling wrote about. The man I have become so very proud of. I have come to realise what a very fine Man I raised. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m taking no credit for it. I’m taking no credit for it because you’ve been your own person. I had to watch at times when my heart broke because I could see mistakes you were about to make but I knew I had to let you make them. 

Anyway, I digress.

When Trump said he was going to build a wall to keep Latinos out because they were sending rapists and criminals, thousands upon thousands of people cheered. You didn’t cheer.  Shortly after his initial “rapists” remark in his speech, he expanded his comments beyond Mexico.  “It’s coming from more than Mexico,” he added. “It’s coming from all over South and Latin America…” thousands upon thousands of people cheered. You didn’t cheer. 

When he blamed blacks and Hispanics for violent crime across the country, thousands upon thousands cheered. You didn’t cheer. You didn’t cheer because you knew that it was wrong, plain wrong, to connect a whole countries problems ( you aren’t daft, you know “some” are a problem) to race in such a blunt and judgmental fashion.  And I know for a fact that you know that no matter what Race/colour is doing the hating, it is wrong, dead wrong.

When Trump was asked “Are you saying that if you become president, you might try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same-sex marriage?” and he replied “I would strongly consider that, yes,” so many cheered. You didn’t cheer. 

One of the biggest worries as a move toward the Trump presidency is his running mate and now vice president Mike Pence. Speaking in Congress, Pence quoted a Harvard researcher who claimed: “Societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family”.  But the most worrying string to Pence’s bow is his endorsement of ‘conversion therapy’. The unproven and frankly dangerous practice of attempting to change a person’s sexuality through pseudo-science and, in some extreme cases, electro-shock therapy. There is, as far as I am aware, no evidence to say that Trump agrees with this stance, but hey, the man is Trumps other hand isn’t he? 

The Trump/Pence White House is unlikely to be the place to develop further protections against hate crimes and against discrimination.  Apart from the fact that I know that you know it is wrong to deny people the basic human right of loving who they chose, I feel sure you would ask Trump, “Tell me again how my male friends marriage is affecting you?” In the 50’s, interracial marriage was illegal. But now, modern society understands this to be an unjust law that denied equal rights to couples who loved each other. The issue of gay marriage is no different. Denying marriage to two individuals who love each other is to deny them a fundamental freedom. I know you know this, and I know you didn’t cheer with those thousands of other people. 

You didn’t cheer because you know that hate and discrimination is wrong. Dead wrong. It is wrong because it is dehumanising. If one person treats another one differently based on race, colour or gender, then that person is denying the other their individual human rights. I know you know this my boy. I am so, so proud that you know it and I am so, so proud that you didn’t cheer. 

I love you my boy my Son. 🙂 


							
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Stop trying to blame ideas. Blame people Instead.

“Ban religion/ religion is responsible for killing” You’ve heard them all like me I bet.  Well It is true that in the world’s history of beliefs and practices, there have been many wars and cruel inhumanities conducted in the name of different religions. Millions I’m guessing.  Those would include such things as The Crusades, The Inquisitions and The Witch trials to name a few.  From Christianities point of view, when anyone said that they killed in the name of Christ, on what basis can we believe them? When Peter Sutcliffe said he killed 13 women because God told him to, on what basis do we believe him? 

The answer,,,, The Bible.

The horrendous torture and killings of The Crusades, The Inquisitions and the Witch trials are in no shape or form mentioned or even suggested in The Bible. Thousands of Christians during the Inquisitions  were burned at the stake for just possessing a Bible, and I can assure you that the Bible doesn’t advocate banning itself and murdering it’s readers. I can also assure you that the Bible in no way shape or form instructed Sutcliffe to murder 13 women. 

Throughout history there have been many atrocities. So who has been the worst throughout history, atheist regimes or religious regimes? History tells us that Germany, China and Russia have killed the largest numbers. So the answer depends on how you classify those. But here’s the thing you see, I’m not going to participate in the childish debate of what religion has killed more people in history, because it doesn’t matter. It serves no purpose. We are human beings, and we need to understand our human motivations.

If there were a movement that wanted to rid the world of alcohol because of drunk drivers who kill people, would you support that call or would you put the blame squarely on that drunk drivers shoulders? You would no doubt quite rightly blame the people for the problems they create. Stop taking the responsibility off people and trying to blame ideas or inanimate objects. Terrible people do terrible things to other people. They deserve the anger and the blame.

 

 

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Ambiguous loss. #alzheimers #dementia

Grief is a normal response to a significant loss, particularly when someone dies,  but it can become a bloody damn complex psychological and emotional experience when the person you are grieving for is sat right in front of you. I’ve experienced loss from many dying, a few going away, and even though they are shit experiences (and I am by no means talking for everyone, just myself)none of them have been as bad and so deeply felt as loosing someone that you love and see every day.

I can’t even begin to imagine how someone diagnosed with dementia feels, whether they may grieve for the loss of abilities, skills or independence more, maybe all of them equally, but I do know what it feels like to have this look-alike of the person you love in front of you. Your world, as well as theirs, falls apart. It rips your heart out sideways.  The personality of the person with dementia is seen as lost or considerably changed, but they are still present.  It is such an ambiguous loss. The loss that differs from ordinary loss in that there is no verification of death. The loss that you know in your heart that the person will never come back or return to the way they used to be but you are scared to admit it. 

And then there is the guilt to deal with. The guilt that hits you like someone hitting you full on in the face with a shovel. As if all the “Am I doing enough?” questions, the wanting to make things better and all the sighing you do and the frustration you feel when you have to answer the same questions over and over again don’t make you feel bad enough, you then have to deal with the guilt of praying that they are taken. You know when you feel that, that you want them taken because you know the person well enough to know that they are living their own worst nightmare, but when all is quiet and it goes dark the guilt comes to visit. You think that you can’t be a very good person for thinking such things. You think “How CAN I be a good person if I want this person I love gone?”

When a loved one dies we mourn our loss.  We mark it with rituals like a funeral to say goodbye. We lean on those close to us, and those close to us see that as quite a normal process of grief.  But what happens when there is no closure, when a family member who may be still alive is lost to us nonetheless? In my experience you are just expected to get on with it. You may get “Oh come on, you are stronger than this” if you cry. Stronger than what? To cry is weak? Maybe it’s because you have always appeared to be strong. Well appearances can be very deceptive. Sometimes those who appear to be the strongest and who are always there for everyone are the most unhappy and lonely. Sometimes those who appear the strongest are the ones who need a “Hey, how are you feeling about all this?”

Sometimes you may get “This is not about you” when you try and talk about your sense of loss. No they are right, this is not about me, but it is very much to “do” with me. I have lost someone who has been my hero and rock for well over 50 years. That’s a long bloody time. Only someone with half a brain cell wouldn’t realise that to watch someone who was once a heavyweight fighter, so strong and fearless, now looking so frail and vulnerable wouldn’t have any effect on you.

A lady I recently met is in the early stages of dementia. She’s younger than me. And while I have so much compassion for her I never fail to ask her Son how he is when I see them. She’s being looked after, like the person I love, but who cares for the carers?  So should you know someone with dementia, spare a thought for their loved ones. And if you have never known this type of ambiguous loss then maybe you should keep your fucking judgments and uneducated, ignorant opinions to yourself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you think,,,,,,,

 I met Hannah on a course run by the UK charity MIND. The course was “Coping With Loss And Change”. I’d assumed she was on the course to help her cope with loosing someone through death. As we got to know each-other I was to discover that Hannah had lost so much more and had so much change to cope with.

Hannah was here in the UK on holiday with her family when it all kicked off.  The only saving grace being is that her family “were” with her. If they hadn’t been then who knows if she would ever see her children or Parents again. Hannah was well off in Iraq, lovely home, someone to tend the large gardens, someone to clean the house, and she ran her own business.  She loved her home and country.  Just a Lady here on holiday with her family enjoying themselves, a home and life to go back to. What could possibly go wrong? What went wrong was that Blair and Bush went and bombed the shit out of her home. She got out what money she could by any means possible but her material possessions, her home, she lost the lot. She still grieves for her beloved pets. No idea if they were killed, on their own or were looked after.

Hannah acknowledged that they knew Saddam was no angel, but of militant groups such as al-Qaeda and isis they knew nothing.  They knew nothing of them because at that time they did not exist in Iraq. The reality is that before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was no al‑Qaeda presence in that country, none at all. Saddam was ruthless but he did not have anything to do with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and he did not possess weapons of mass Destruction. 

Hannah and her family were given emergency leave to stay and she thought that in time she could go home. But after some time they destroyed the institutions of authority in Iraq and  al-Qaeda had taken control of a huge part of the country.  Christians were now on the menu and fell foul of their evil agenda.  Hannah and her family are Christians. They were part of a huge community of Christians that existed in Iraq. She knew in her heart that if her and her family were to stay safe and alive and as much as she yearned for her home they could never go back. 

Apart from an emergency payment to tide them over she hasn’t asked for or taken one handout. After Blair bombed her home God knows she’s entitled to it ! But she and her Husband worked hard with what they had, they rebuilt their lives, now pay their taxes/dues and this country is financially better off for having them in it. Yes she is thankful for being alive. Yes she is thankful that her children are safe but she would certainly love to go home. She can’t go home though because we bombed the shit out of it. We bombed the shit out of it on a lie.  That’s why she can’t “get back to her own country”  and I’m not altogether sure that I could be as forgiving as Hannah. We lit this fire. We lit this fire with no plan b of how we were going to extinguish it. If you displace some innocent human being by destroying their home then you must take some responsibility for that.

So the next time you assume someone with brown skin from the middle East is a Muslim who deserves nothing but scorn then think again.  The next time you see someone of the above description and assume they are scroungers on benefits, then think again. You’ll always have the give me something for nothing brigade. You always have you always will, but we’ve got home grown ones of that variety. The next time you think they are taking all our jobs and benefit scroungers then think, well which one is it? You can’t have it both ways. They can’t all be taking our jobs and sitting back taking benefits for doing nothing at the same time.

Hannah is none of the above, and if you think that Hannah, and thousands like her, are here because they want to be, that she went through loosing contact with most of her extended family, that she really enjoyed loosing everything for a few bob on benefits, then sorry, but you are seriously deluded.

 

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Don’t worry, the spider is smaller than you. Yeah, so is a grenade. #anxiety

 Ever been told you worry too much? But isn’t there a benefit to lots of worrying? After all, if your mind is tackling contingencies and potential threats, you can act now to prevent them—right ?

Anxiety is far more extensive than an ailment of someone who just worries too much. Worry is wondering how on earth you are going to pay this months gas bill. Worry is when a specific cause initiated your worrying. Worrying usually only lasts for a brief period. Worry is a thought process that sometimes can create the feelings and emotions experienced as anxiety, but worry can also be useful in helping to find solutions to problems and usually make you feel that your concerns are controllable and can be dealt with at a later time. And worry, “normal” worry, is usually in the here and now. Worrying is considering the bad things that could happen and hoping they don’t, anxiety is being actively scared of it, have it consume your thoughts day and night until your body drops from exhaustion. 

Anxiety feels like your mind is on fire, overthinking and over analyzing every little, irrelevant thing. Sometimes, it makes you feel restless and constantly distracted. It feels as if your thoughts are running wild in a million different directions, bumping into each other along the way. Anxiety is that voice in your head telling you that everything isn’t ok when in fact it is.

Anxiety is an attempt to stay safe, a survival tactic, by foreseeing and planning for every conceivable outcome an that leads to the “what if’s?” Show me a person who says they have never thought “what if?” and I’ll show you a liar. At best I shall say they are being rather disingenuous. The “what if?” thought is a normal human reaction, but the difference between the people without and with anxiety disorder is that the former can move on, the latter settles on the most catastrophic outcome, and foreseeing disaster scenarios leads to the fear because the mind cannot tell the difference between reality and a vividly imagined thought. Make no mistake about it, when the mind gets to that stage there is no stopping it. You cannot just turn the mind off.

Anxiety is usually prompted by fear. Fear can be very useful. Fear sometimes keeps you safe. Fear will engage the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response when there is real danger, but fear because of a thought and not a real danger situation for long periods of time takes its toll.  It is healthy to feel fear in the presence of danger, but constant fear when there is no danger leads to exhaustion and hopelessness. It is debilitating. It feels like a constant heaviness in your mind, like something isn’t quite right, although oftentimes you don’t know exactly what that something is.

Some smart Alec always tells you to calm down, chill, stop, and everything will be ok. Well spoiler alert, it doesn’t always get better, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with on an emotional and mental level. Try explaining to someone what is going on in your mind when you don’t understand it yourself.

Said smart Alec will very often tell you, or post a meme on Facebook (who writes this shit anyway) to look at what you have. They’ll more often than not tell you what you have to be happy about. Well no shit Sherlock. You know what you have, you don’t need reminding. You “are” grateful for what you have, but the nature of anxiety disorder is being constantly terrified of loosing what you have ! Should anyone think it is that easy then they know nothing about anxiety disorder. Nothing.

All in all, anxiety and worries are included in man’s every day living. People can get anxious and they can also worry. Aside from being natural, a little anxiety or a little worry can both be beneficial to some extent, but when it almost consumes your every moment it sure does take its toll. Right, I’m off to check that back door again, I’ve only checked it 6 times.

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Red poppy/White poppy.

I love living in a country where, if I chose to, can stand in the street, give David Cameron the finger and proclaim loudly how much I hate him and his Government all without fear of being whisked away “disappear” or—worse—“re-educated”. I’m quite comfortable with being disagreed with and happy that we can do and say as we wish (without hatred or prejudice) and have a healthy debate with those who hold a very different view to our own.  It is healthy. As the saying goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”  That is what freedom is all about.  In the lead up to remembrance day we remember  the legacy behind us in the blood that was spilled for that freedom. Blood RED.

Just to be clear, I am not in the least offended by a white poppy or anyone who chooses to wear one. What I am offended by is the timing. What I am offended by is the accusation that the red poppy I wear is helping to glorify war. Wear your white poppy anytime you like, just do not high-jack this one day.  As glorifying war,  a poppy is no more a glorification of war than a tombstone is a glorification of death.

When my Great-Grandfathers body lay on the battle field at Passchendaele, RED poppies grew around him, not white. RED poppies grew around the rotting, rat infested bodies of all those who fell, not white. John McCrae wrote the poem  “In Flanders Fields” after burying his friend. Does anyone think he saw any glory in that?  Does anyone seriously think that there is glory in seeing your friends and comrades take a bullet to the head? Look for the glory in water sodden, mud filled trenches where bodies may lay rotting. Search for the glory in the bodies of young men laying on the battle field for days and days, and tell me where is the glory in retrieving those bodies to find that rats had eaten them and taken up residence in their chest cavities. No, no glory here, move along.

My Great-Grandmother received a letter from her beloved George Benjamin. A letter with a RED crushed poppy inside. It read “To the flower of my heart. I love you” She had no idea he had been taken down the day before. Does anyone seriously think she saw any glory? To those who say the red poppy glorifies war, they are in my opinion wrong, very wrong. War is an ugly business. It is ugly, sick,  horrendous and vicious, and the red poppy is a way to  remember and respect the sacrifices men like my Great-Grandfather made. Admittedly, wars of choice, and in some respects the Northern Ireland troubles do cloud the issue somewhat for many, but during those 2 minutes of silence I have no thoughts of glory, just the pain and suffering war leaves behind.

If it’s a white poppy you choose to wear then that is your choice, that is why those men were sent senselessly to their deaths and be thankful that so many fought selflessly so you may make that choice.  Or do you wear a white poppy to remember all those who died in peace time??

Just don’t expect me to respect or even like your choice, and don’t tell me I am glorifying war by wearing my red poppy. 

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