How People Cope

People are finding words to talk about the war. “Those poor people,” being the three most common words used. Those poor people are so nearby. Those poor people are our near neighbours. Those poor people are two and a half hours away by plane. They could be us. We might be them.

Ubuntu: An African philosophy that can be summed up as: I am because we are, I am because you are. Community. Each other. Connections. Oneness. It is the opposite of: “I’m alright Jack. As long as it doesn’t affect me, then it doesn’t matter to me.” It matters. We are links of an oiled chain. We might have inner turmoil, family rows, community conflicts – but these are grazes rather than ruptures, and largely we managed to rub along in bumpy peace. Until suddenly, seventy-seven years since the end of WW2, the bumps are ruptures, the chain comes right off, and the tenuous peace flips, quick as the toss of a coin in a bar, into war.

What can we do to help make it better? How can we contribute to peace outside of money and prayer? By doing the things that make you you and me me. Get back to simplicity. Walk, talk, sing, cook, eat, share, notice what we have, don’t take for granted the small things, sleep, be happy when you wake. Listen to the wind drop and hear (Alan said he heard them in Fife last weekend) the song of the newly arrived skylarks. Do Wordle with your morning coffee, a glass of wine after your evening walk. Think about all the things we do have and be glad we still have them. “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till you’ve gone.”

Anne Tyler was on Desert Island Discs a week or so ago. I love her writing and was waiting for her to say something profound and beautiful between discs. I wanted her to speak the type of lines that fly from the pages of her novels. She didn’t. Nobody ‘speaks’ literature; we don’t have time to draft and re-draft our conversations. If someone tries to speak this way it sounds contrived, because it is. Tyler sounded like a woman sitting in the hairdresser’s chair. A few reminiscences, some of them sad, some less so. A few observations, all of them simple. She lingered a while on the subject of endurance. “I think it is the most moving quality in human beings. Sometimes I am just astonished at the day-to-day endurance that humans show… getting through lives that sometimes doesn’t seem as if much will come of them, but people keep on trying.” Because of her fixation on endurance, she says she ends up writing about “how people cope.”

I know a man who copes by pulling on his hiking boots on a clear night, strapping a lamp to his head, and climbing hills to look at the stars. I know a woman who copes by religiously feeding a sourdough starter and making batches of loaves. I know an old, old man who copes by letting his dog walk him each day and stopping to talk to every passer-by. Those poor people are doing their best to cope without access to the small daily coping tools we take for granted. They could be us. We might be them.

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