The build-up to advent this year has been hard. For everyone. All over the world.
Mass shooting after mass shooting in America.
Terrorist attacks in Israel, Palestine, Somalia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Chad, Cameroon, France, Nigeria, Mali, the Philippines, Tunisia, Libya and Bangladesh. All in November.
Refugees arriving continually on the shores of Europe. Walls being built to keep them out.
Our own parliament voting yesterday to prove once and for all that ‘the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.’ And the bombs already falling.
Climate change meetings detailing the absolute devastation that our planet, and our children are facing unless we take drastic action.
It’s tough. For everybody. No matter where you live.
There’s precious little good news going around right now. And it’s impossible to know what to do.
Unless you’re me, of course. In which case there’s an instant solution to all these problems. Utterly failsafe. With a proven 100% success rate.
Just worry. It’s absolutely that simple.
Worry. Comprehensively and continually until I’m in such a state of nervous tension that my blood pressure is stratospheric and just the sound of the children’s voices is enough to send me reaching for the gin.
Works every time.
I imagine that there are people who can hear the news and react logically. Who sit and consider the viable options, make wise decisions and do something proactive. I’m pretty sure they change the world.
I’d like to meet a few of them. Just sit somewhere close, and listen in. Maybe brush past them a few times in the hope that some of their magical powers rub off.
They’re amazing. But I don’t understand them.
I can’t think logically about any of this stuff. Because I’m too busy feeling it. All of it. Over and over and over until all I can do is pass out asleep on the sofa.
Glennon, over at the utterly brilliant Momastery, has a name for people like us. She calls us canaries. I think it’s perfect.
Back in the day, the miners took canaries into the pits with them. Because there are gases down there. Bad ones. The kind that can kill you before you even smell them.
Which is where the canaries came in handy. If your canary keeled over and died, you knew the gases were around, and you got out. Fast. And still alive.
Coalmine canaries gave the miners a fair warning. A shot at survival. A chance to react to a situation they couldn’t even see.
Human canaries don’t inhale gas. We inhale emotions. We breathe in events, and disasters, and fears and we feel and feel and feel until we keel over. And hope that the sensible people pick up what’s left and do something useful with it. Maybe even change the world.
I can only hope so.
It’s been a rough few months for canaries. Particularly those who only came off their medication in the summer. Every single day is swallowed up in holding-things-together and deep breathing and trying to focus on the positive. It’s hard to fight the panic, and the fear, and the utter desperation for this world.
And then along comes advent. Christmas. The season of joy, and good will. And all those things that seem way, way too distant right now. I’ve been struggling. Trying to find a way of celebrating that doesn’t feel pointless, under the circumstances.
This is what I’ve come down to. The fact that actually, all those years ago, there was a baby. Born in less-than-ideal circumstances. Practically outside. Far away from home. Whose parents emigrated, in order to keep him safe from a slightly maniacal King.
A whole generation of baby boys were killed. There were mourning parents. A grieving nation. Fear. Panic. Desperation. And ordinary people thrust into situations that they had no way of comprehending.
So far, so very, awfully, familiar.
But, in amongst it all, there were angels. There were stars in the sky. There was singing. There were miracles. Births. Dreams. Beauty. Acts of kindness, and hope. So much hope.
That’s what I’m praying for this Christmas. Miracles. Dreams. Kindness. And hope.
I’m turning off the news. Because my poor canary brain just can’t take it. Not if I want to function in the real world as well. Which I do. Most of the time. In fact I’m not watching anything unless it involves food, dancing, pottery, celebrities eating insects or Kirstie Allsop making festive wreaths in the snow. And Cbeebies. Obviously.
Instead, I’m going to be mainlining candlelit carol services like my life depends on it. Lighting candles at home. Every single day. Filling the house with light, and beauty. Even in the midst of it all.
And I’ll be reading. Over and over and over again.
The story. The baby. The stars. The angels. The hope.
Two thousand years old it may be.
I can’t remember a year when it felt more relevant.