I was driving home last night when the Beatles came on the radio and I remembered that look that Dad always had when we heard “Let it be”. His brother died when that song was popular, just two weeks before I was born. I found myself wondering not just about Dad and the uncle I never met but about how things happen – life, death, death and life. We so often think that death and suffering are things that are meant to be completely avoided and yet they are unavoidable. It’s easy to find a balance of life and death when someone in the same family is born just weeks after another dies: when something is given, something else is taken away.
Am I clearly expressing what I think of as balance? When I was teaching History, many years ago, I tried to show my classes about balance. In particular, when studying WWII and the Nazis, I also talked about The White Rose. For those who are unaware, a group of university philosophy students began printing leaflets denouncing the Nazi government for their evil practices, including the mass slaughter of innocent, unarmed people. The students were rounded up and the ringleaders – including a girl called Sophie Scholl – were tried and beheaded for the crime of speaking out against tyranny. To my mind, the sacrifice that Sophie Scholl made was as significant as the Final Solution. I’m not saying that somehow her sacrifice nullified the evil that was The Final Solution, but I am saying that it is significant that a full-blooded pedigreed German, without arms, stood up and said “no”. I do not know if there were any other German resistance movements (aside from Operation Valkryie) but the knowledge that there was one makes me hope there were more. Of course she died for her beliefs but in that day and age, what other choice was there? How can I find balance amongst war and death? Is it because Sophie died to get the message of tyranny out to the allies – and succeeded! I find the actions of the group The White Rose to be a beacon of light amongst so much darkness. Is it because hope is much more exquisite when it is under threat of extinction that I equate it with balance?
Perhaps this is a better example: I worked for a guy once who had to return to Britain when his mother developed Alzheimer’s and his brother was too sick to look after her because he had cancer. Now you would think that this was the most unfortunate man on earth. His mother recognised him as if he were his father. His brother was dying. Having said that, I considered him very lucky: he remarried and while on honeymoon to India his new bride developed a stomach bug which turned out to be no stomach infection but a baby! It was as if the life of his youth was being taken away from him in one movement and, at the same time, he was given a whole new support system to help him through the rest of his life. I think this is what I mean when I talk about balance: what is being taken away on the one hand, other things are being given with another. Life is replaced by death which in turn is replaced by life.
Balance in our day to day lives, with any luck, isn’t life threatening. It should consist of loving relationships, tolerance of the rest of the world and endurance of whatever suffering life throws at you. The good bits, in the long run, balance out the bad bits. I’m not saying that we can ever avoid suffering, but with the care of friends and family, we can endure whatever life throws at us.
Peace in our time.