Winter

The following article appeared in the Winter 2023 edition of Roqueta, Menorca’s English-language magazine.

Illustration 364387 © Connie Larsen | Dreamstime.com

Winter brings us into a season that may be characterised by two factors. We descend into increasing darkness, but then we emerge from it. And we enter a time when we celebrate the gift of childhood, whether or not we do so willingly, or consciously, all based upon the birth of one child.

To be a child in the 2020s is vastly different from being a child in the mid twentieth century. There’s a line from Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie, that I have quoted before in these pages: ‘I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life.’ He was writing in 1959 about life in the 1920s, as the industrial revolution belatedly made its presence felt in his Cotswold village and the surrounding countryside. In the hundred years since then, childhood has undergone numerous changes. At one level we indulge (many would say, over-indulge) our children nowadays, and we are zealously protective of them. And yet: what is the net effect of that sort of ‘protection?’

I have watched the children of a family who came to Menorca within the last ten years as they played, without any real restriction, in the fields and hills around their home near to the Favaritx road. Very few children of their generation have had that sort of liberty to roam freely in the environment around them. And something is lost as a result of the kind of care that stifles play.

There are, of course, many places in the world where the value attached to children is honoured more in the breach than the observance of care. Khaled Juma, a Palestinian poet wrote, ‘On The Rascal Children of Gaza,’ in 2014.

Oh rascal children of Gaza,
You who constantly disturbed me with your screams under my window,
You who filled every morning with rush and chaos,
You who broke my vase and stole the lonely flower on my balcony,
Come back and scream as you want. 
Break all the vases.
Steal all the flowers.
Come back.
Just come back.

It is a poignant reminder that while many western children are closeted without the freedom to roam in their environs by a protective culture, many more children cannot have that freedom for a very different reason, because they are trapped in a world where adults play violent games in which death prowls relentlessly through cities, towns and villages, indiscriminately claiming lives without regard for race, religion, gender, class, and especially age.

In 1919, Eglantyne Jebb founded Save The Children in London, with the belief that ‘every child deserves a future.’ She saw pictures of children starving because of Allied blockades and protested against them. Many people turned a blind eye, not wanting to acknowledge that governments acting in their name could allow lack of humanitarian concern to prevail. Because of her protest, she was arrested and fined, and went before a judge to plead her case. The judge was so impressed by her fiery determination to help children, that he paid her fine himself and joined her cause.

In the wake of the first world war, Eglantyne Jebb wrote: ‘All wars, whether just, or unjust, disastrous or victorious are waged against the child.’ In the world we inhabit that is still true, with increasingly destructive arms. The now-prevalent waging of war against civilians inevitably destroys the lives of children, who, even if they survive, are left with physical and emotional damage and trauma. The term ‘collateral damage,’ was first coined in 1961, but really came to the fore during the Gulf War in 1991. It originated as a term to distinguish the death, injury and damage inflicted accidentally during military operations. However, it seems to have degenerated into a euphemism that trivialises or even dehumanises those who are not primarily involved in military conflict. And many of those are, indeed, children.

We know this. But we often choose to look the other way, often because of what has been termed ‘compassion fatigue,’ when we see so much devastation and need in our world that it becomes overwhelming. It would be easy to descend into despair. But despair is a temptation: a temptation to be resisted.

In the nineteenth century, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, complained of the rich that they had no idea what ordinary lives were like. He said that many do not know because they do not care to know. He challenged those whom he saw as being guilty of pleading voluntary ignorance as an excuse for hardness of heart. In today’s world we have no excuse for not knowing, other than an even worse kind of voluntary ignorance to justify indifference to suffering. We have plenty of opportunity to direct our attention, to see, rather than to look blindly, to hear, rather than to listen with deaf ears, and a responsibility to act upon what gains our attention.

Well, winter is upon us, and we are moving into darkness, but winter is not really a season of darkness. It is a season when darkness approaches, but then recedes. The Christian focus of Christmas is on the child whose birth is celebrated (the clue is in the name!), who grew up to show how human lives can be beacons of light in dark places. We live in testing times when we search for wisdom, as well as for imaginative, compassionate, energetic, ethical leadership that really is needed for global and societal challenges that are interconnected, unprecedented and unavoidable.

Christmas reminds us that days can become brighter, and that while we cannot alter the trajectory of the earth as it rotates and circles the sun, we can take a lead from the example of the child whose birth is celebrated at Christmas. For example, that child models how to direct love, in all senses of the term, into the world: ‘Love came down at Christmas,’ we sing in a carol. Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth century friar, priest, scholar, influential philosopher and theologian, once wrote that love is work, work that involves a choice to will the good of the other. In other words, love is more about decision than emotion.

in terms of paying attention, Jesus is the model of someone who listened, intently, especially to those to whom no one else would listen: children, the ‘unclean,’ women, those who were ill, foreigners, even Roman occupiers. As a result he often elicited a change of heart, or a change of circumstances, and that is something within our grasp today, if only we will listen.

Let’s look beyond the darker aspects of winter, remember that it is a time of transition towards light, and in our own way do all that we can to lighten the darker areas of life around us, especially where children are concerned.

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