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  • Writer's pictureTrisha Lord

We live in interesting times

I woke up one morning thinking of Helen Keller. Well, I woke up thinking how we live in interesting times…….which was one of my mother’s favourite sayings. Helen Keller came later on in my musings.... as she will in this newsletter. I suppose, throughout the ages, people have always thought their times were unusually interesting. I remember back in the day (and I’m old enough now to be able to use that expression), I was studying English and Drama at University. My fellow students and I did a skit in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral based on the UK government’s recently distributed pamphlet on what to do in the event that either the Russian or American President really did hit “that button”. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was busy in those days.

There was a whole section devoted on what to do with grandparents who might not make it to the bunker on time. For such a grim subject, the pamphlet seemed deeply farcical to us (as most things do when one is 19 and profoundly cynical as only teenagers can be!) We felt daring choosing the Cathedral grounds as our stage, and indeed the police did politely move us on. We were all fired up and proud of ourselves, for taking a stand.

And here comes Helen Keller now…..what an amazing woman. I’m dedicating June to her beginning with this quotation:

"Science may have a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”

Helen died on June 1st 1968, in a year of tremendous political agitation: the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War with the North Korean’s launch of the Tet Offensive, Paris’ May ’68 riots, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, to name but a few of the events of that year. We could easily look back on those days as anything but apathetic.

I’m not given to being political, but these days political life is hard to ignore. I’m under-qualified to comment, however I’ve got Helen Keller’s words ringing in my ears. “I don’t know enough to speak up” is apathy masquerading as reason. The idiocy of Donald Trump’s behaviour on line and off would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, and the disintegration of South Africa’s once fierce and proud liberation party, in its gut-wrenching inability to stand up to the rotten-to-the-core behaviour of its leader, makes me rage-full and grief-stricken in equal measure.

Denial is a well-worn defence against the anxiety provoked by these and the long list of other issues we face in our times. I reckon denial is apathy’s favourite bed-fellow. I’m speaking to myself here, as much as to anyone reading this. It’s time to channel the Treeshaker/Troublemaker (see for reference the meaning of his given name: Rolihlahla) that was South Africa’s first democratically elected leader. It’s time to recall the length of the lines of people who queued all day on 27th April 1994 and voted to break the grip of one of modern history’s most evil periods of man’s inhumanity to man.

For added inspiration I thoroughly recommend the documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower about Joshua Wong, who at 14 years of age began his stand against the tyranny of China in Hong Kong, a fight to which he is still dedicated with every cell of his being. Joshua turns 21 this year and has already accomplished more of a disturbance against oppression in his life-time than many of us will do in three or four times that number of years.

It’s not a competition either: it’s not about whether a documentary gets made about our efforts. It’s that we make the effort at all. It can be measured as much by an internal journey that no-one but ourselves knows about, as by accolades and recognition in the outside world. I guess I want to encourage us all, in these interesting times in which we live, to cultivate courage where we need it the most. In honour of Helen Keller, no stranger to courage-cultivation, I’m inviting us to face what we already know needs our attention, and to allow ourselves to be called into action in our lives. In the documentary, Joshua says that the most important thing in life is independent thinking. I would agree with him on that. As Nancy Kline’s mother said: there is no greater loss than the waste of a single human mind. Wouldn’t you agree?

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