Tag Archives: fortune

Gratitude and fortune

I am lucky. When my life fell apart I had enough inherited cash that I did not have to seek social housing. I can earn some money, even though I’ve been ill, and thanks to self-employment have been able to stay out of sickness related benefits. I do get some help from the government – you can get support alongside quite decent incomes, if you have children. But on the whole, I’m not as dependent on the system as many people are, and that’s pure, blind luck.

It was sheer luck that the bad choices in my history did not leave me in a mental health hospital, or out on the streets. It was pure chance that set me up in life with a decent genetic intelligence and some good teachers. Not everyone gets that. I’ve been able to roll with changes and challenges, survive setbacks and find ways round problems because I am fortunate enough to be passably bright and pretty well educated. Not everyone gets those breaks.

It’s all too easy to look at the successes in our lives, and put those down to how good we are. We deserve our winnings, our paychecks, our comfy homes, good health. Of course we want to believe that because it gives us an illusion of control. If we made it and earned it, then we ought to be able to keep it. This is just an illusion. Bad luck, an accident, a folding company, ill health, a run on your bank, a tree root undermining your house. The lucky amongst us are seldom more than a couple of missing payments away from total disaster. Should that happen, much depends on how lucky we are in our friends and family, and how much support we get.

Blaming those who get into trouble is a way of reassuring ourselves that it won’t happen to us. We’re too smart. We work too hard. We’re too together to have a mental health problem. We jog, so we aren’t going to get sick. No matter how hard you try, one mistake with a car can take all of that way from you in a space of minutes. We want the people at the bottom to be lazy scroungers, so that we don’t have to be afraid of that happening to us. Well, we should be afraid, and we should see our illusions of security for what they really are. Bad luck strikes randomly, and does not pay much attention to how clever, hard working or health conscious you are. There’s only so much you can ward off by doing the right things, and only so far a clever mind will carry you. I’ve seen it happen to plenty of people. There are lots of folk on narrowboats who got here because they were too smart to entirely go under. Businesses ruined by supermarkets. Lives ruined by violence and abuse. People plagued by ill health, or who lost everything in a messy divorce. But people who had enough left and enough imagination to take up boating, and survive. Not everyone has the inner strength to keep getting up when they’ve been knocked down more times than they can count.

Some of what pushes people to the bottom of the pile is not pure bad luck. It’s deliberate abuse by others. Unlucky to get a dose of that, but not wholly accidental. Robbed, raped, beaten, bullied, intimidated, forced out, mistreated, conned… there but for the grace of… go any of us. These things destroy mental health, destroy financial success, demolish lives. If we’ve avoided one of those disasters, it may not be because we’re too smart, it may just be we were lucky. Sometimes people fall because they are ignorant, or naïve, or gullible, or too willing to forgive, or not mean enough to take advantage of others. Are these things we really think others should be punished for?

If we recognise that luck, it’s a lot easier to stop assuming the poor are at the bottom of the heap because they can’t be bothered to arrange anything better. It’s easier to find some compassion, and not to judge everyone without knowing any of their details. As the job market dwindles, more and more people are pushed, wholly against their will, into poverty and dependence. People who want to work if they could, who would gladly take on anything. Why burden them further by stigmatising them for things beyond their control? So that we can hang on to the belief that we deserve what we have and it won’t be taken away. And because it suits the government as they take yet more money out of the welfare system.

When it is taken away, when you find life spiralling out of control, and you desperately need help and someone to pick up the pieces, there’s much to be said for finding yourself in a kind and compassionate system. Because the alternative is to believe that you deserved the fall as well, that it represents a failure to work hard enough or be good enough. You are a failure, then. Or the alternative is no safety net, and destitution, and no second chances.

Picture yourself (if you’ve not been here) suddenly out of a job, and unable to pay the bills, with the mortgage company threatening to take the house, and your relationship falling apart under the strain, and the anxiety making you feel so sick you can’t get out of bed in the morning, and crying for no reason sometimes and wanting to die. Picture yourself there, and then ask how helpful you’d find it to have the government treating you like a lazy scrounger who is destroying the economy.

We’re long overdue a culture shift on this one.


A hungry world

I heard a story yesterday about a girl collapsing in school, because it had been so long since she’d last eaten. In some parts of the world, the curious bits would be that a poor child was in school in the first place, and a girl-child at that. Hunger and deprivation are normal for so many people. But this wasn’t a developing world story, it came from a few miles down the road, from the green and pleasant heart of England, where that sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen anymore.

In this country of wealth and plenty, no child should have to go hungry to the point of collapse. Our government should hang its collective heads in shame that they have allowed such a situation to exist. Food banks are on the increase, as are the numbers of people who desperately need access to them. Where people are already in debt, living hand to mouth, one wage packet to the next, the loss of work can plunge a household into total crisis at no notice. This is happening. Where benefits are cut, support with housing harder to come by, budgets that would not make ends meet now cannot be stretched. What do you give up? The mobile phone that enables you to be contacted if a job comes in? Heating? The cost of fuel has been on the rise for some time. Maybe you give up the car that you depended on for shopping and that actually made you more employable. We have a structure that pretty much demands you have certain things, and increasing numbers of people who cannot afford them.

And yet in some households, perfectly good food is thrown away all the time.

I stood in a queue today and listened to an obscenely spoilt brat howling with dismay that he was being made to stand up, and was not allowed to sit in the car. From the fuss he was making, you’d think someone had told him he wasn’t going to have anything to eat that week.

It’s the perspectives that really gets me, the comfortably off who denigrate the poor and assume that poverty is proof of not working hard enough, for one. The line between viable, and unviable is thin, and seldom visible. There but for the grace of the gods, goes any of us. One big car bill you can’t pay that leads to debt, and never being able to quite get ahead again. Or that classic of a sudden health disaster that takes job, income, dignity and hope in one fell swoop.

Any one of us could wake up tomorrow and find that some personal disaster, beyond our control, has thrown us into a state of destitution. And it happens every day, to a frighteningly large number of people.

We’re so quick to blame those less fortunate than ourselves, and so quick to assume that some inherent quality in us is keeping us in better fortune. Not luck. Not pure, blind, irrational chance. I think luck has everything to do with it. I’m lucky. I can afford to feed my child. Another woman in Gloucester, could not. If only we had a culture in which failure to look after the weakest was a source of shame, not pride. If only we could collectively stop looking for reasons to blame, and put that bit of effort into finding ways to help. If only we cared enough to notice.

I’m in a fairly affluent area, there are no hungry children on my doorstep, as far as I know. I like to think I’d have a clue if there were, and I know that if I knew, I could not stand by and do nothing.


What do Druids do on Friday the 13th?

Last time this date came around, someone landed on my blog by googling just this question. I doubt they found much to help them, but, recognising that someone wanted an answer, I thought today would be a good time to wheel one out.

The short take would be: Nothing different. (For most of us)

There are important reasons for this though, and they merit exploring. Firstly, the Friday the thirteenth superstition I believe to be Christian in origin, having to do with Judas being the 13th (Jesus plus 11 nice guys) Good Friday being the day of crucifixion, and another strand to do with the persecution, torture and execution of the Knights Templar. I will happily admit to being hazy about all of this – it’s not my tradition, it’s not part of my sense of how the world works so I feel entirely comfortable knowing very little.

The thing is, that Friday the 13th is one of those many, many things that exists only because humans have all agreed to believe it does. As a Druid, I am more interested by what happens in nature, and by things that are discernibly real. If humans were all wiped out tomorrow, there would still be day and night. There would still be seasons, equinoxes, solstices, there would be full moons and dark moons. None of that depends on our noticing it.

Weeks do not exist without people. They are an arbitrary system for dividing up time into manageable units. They may be very old, but if we went, they would cease to exist. So, the idea that one day of the week could be more or less lucky than others, only works if you believe that arbitrary human systems are magically meaningful. I don’t.

Months have a loose relationship with the real cycle of the moon, but it’s too loose to be helpful. Again, these are human ways of cutting up the year into useful sections that help us keep track of what we are doing and manage our relationship with time and the seasons. Months are not real in any sense that they would exist without us either. Therefore the day of the month is just another human construct, signifying little. And if you’re a pagan, and you know that the coven is supposed to have 13 in it, you might not think of 13 as an unlucky number at all, but as a pagan-friendly sort of number.

Years are human inventions too – at least, the dating of years. We count from the year when a chap might or might not have been born in Bethlehem, and we stick with it because it’s what we’ve got. Without humanity, this would not be 2012, it would just be another journey of the earth around the sun.

So, I am taking no more precaution against ill fortune today than I would on any other day. I am not anticipating any more trouble than usual, and based on observation to date, the ebb and flow of fortune in my life has nothing to do with calendar dates. I don’t know enough astrology to know if the movement of planets has ever had any relevance to what’s happening to me. Generally, what is going on keeps me busy enough. My personal belief is that shit happens. Sometimes we bring it upon ourselves. Often we make our own luck. Just occasionally it feels like there are other hands pulling the strings.

Looking forward to hearing everyone else’s take now….