Thursday, October 13, 2016

Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving.

It's not Catholic, but it does give us an opportunity to think about the blessings of our lives and to cultivate the virtue of gratitude.

Thomas says:

"...since what we owe God, or our father, or a person excelling in dignity, is not the same as what we owe a benefactor from whom we have received some particular favor, it follows that after religion, whereby we pay God due worship, and piety, whereby we worship our parents, and observance, whereby we worship persons excelling in dignity, there is thankfulness or gratitude, whereby we give thanks to our benefactors. And it is distinct from the foregoing virtues, just as each of these is distinct from the one that precedes, as falling short thereof."

We do a pious act when we acknowledge that the things we have are not of our own making. I was just thinking this as I was sitting here darning a sock. I know so many younger people - and many who are not young any longer - who do not have basic domestic skills.

The 20th century was the Age of Destruction and everyone who is an adult today was raised in the second half of the 20th century and suffered from grave losses during that destruction, even if they are not aware of it. And a great deal of that loss was cultural. Children were not raised being taught things.

I'm constantly amazed at the helplessness of modern people. They can't do simple things. They can't light a fire in a grate. They can't cook a meal. They can't dig a vegetable patch. They don't know how to sew on a button or hem their trousers. I was horrified to learn that in England the skill of making a pot of tea is being lost.

There is an excellent series of fantasy novels by Ursula LeGuin about a marine world in which magic is known and used by a class of trained magicians. In one of the Earthsea books, the best one, a wicked magician, a man who has perverted himself by his lust for everlasting life, has torn a hole in the fabric of reality and all the knowledge of the people of all the island nations of Earthsea is draining out. The people are forgetting their songs and customs, their skills like fishing and building and writing are just being forgotten, and misery is growing though no one has any idea why.

Not only are their abilities vanishing but the memory that they once had them is slipping away, so that though they are in misery, and increasing squalor and poverty as they forget how to care for themselves and others, they have no memory of having lost these things. They become increasingly debased and savage, their ability to love and understand eventually disappearing as their memory of who and what they are drains away.

The main character of all three novels is given the task of pursuing the demon that has entered the world and stolen the memories, and he chases it across the whole world, the wide sea, and corners it at last, banishing it at great cost to himself and sealing up the hole.

I reread this book a few years ago and immediately recognised it as a parable. We have lost so much. It has just slipped into a hole where everything good and beautiful and true is draining away.

So, today I find myself grateful that I was taught things. My mother was raised in post-war England - a place that had next to nothing materially. Their extreme poverty necessitated a retention of those ancient skills that were lost everywhere else much sooner. She was raised in a world where women always had some knitting in their bags - no one had central heating and if you wanted to be warm you needed a cardie - where supper was always a sit-down meal around the table with the whole family. No one had a television, and entertainment was mostly being together and doing things together.

She was raised in the way that little girls had been raised for centuries in England, and because she could see no reason not to, this is how she raised me. So today I am grateful beyond words. The sock I'm darning is one that she knitted for me many years ago, and the ability to shore it up with a needle and a bit of yarn is something she taught me.

It is easy for me to forget or be unaware that these simple things that I think are normal are now very unusual indeed. I'm not very good at modern things. I don't have a credit card or a smart phone. I've never owned a car and never want to. When I want to travel, I go to a travel agent and get them to do all the booking and stuff. I can't figure out how to use the modern world very well, so I tend to ignore it. I moved to this old fashioned place so I wouldn't have to very much.

I feel a bit guilty about this. I'm not 70. I was raised by the TV like everyone else. But at some point the whole thing just got ahead of me. I felt a bit like the Coyote, watching helplessly as the arrogant modern world streaked casually away from me into the distance. I guess after a while, I realized I didn't really need it.

Thank you, Lord, for my mum, and for Nan who raised her, and for teaching me which things to value and which things aren't important. And I'd appreciate it if you would please keep teaching me these things, because I think I still haven't quite got the knack of it.