Friday, 7 October 2011

Seize the Day!

Lots of changes in my life. My prison work looks like it will finish in March and funding seems to be tight for almost everything else these days. Carpe diem is my motto, so I’m not likely to stand still. I had a tattoo done the other week just to highlight the fact. Then I spent the whole of last weekend on my bicycle. What glorious weather and lucky me being able to get out and enjoy it.

But, you know, I really do think we make our own fate. I’m reminded of Stations by the late, great Audre Lorde –


Some women love to wait for life
for a ring in the June light
for a touch of the sun to heal them
for another woman's voice
to make them whole
to untie their hands
put words in their mouths
form to the passages
sound to their screams
for some other sleeper to remember
their future
their past.

Some women wait for their right train
in the wrong station
in the alleys of morning
for the noon to holler
the night come down.

Some women wait for love
to rise up
the child of their promise
to gather from earth
what they do not plant
to claim pain for labor
to become
the tip of an arrow
to aim at the heart of now
but it never stays.

Some women wait for visions
that do not return
where they were not welcomed
for invitations to places
they always wanted to visit
to be repeated.

Some women wait for themselves
around the next corner
and call the empty spot peace
but the opposite of living
is only not living
and the stars do not care.

Some women wait for something to change
and nothing does change
so they change

I’ve started my training with the British Humanist Association and am through to the second stage. If all goes well, I shall be up and running as a celebrant next year. So, if anyone out there wants a funeral ceremony, I’ll be happy to help you plan it.

Happy? Well, yes. Aren’t we happy remembering people we love? Didn’t they give us fun and joy? They probably gave us love, too. A person’s life is bigger than their death. Death is just the exit. Like birth’s just the entrance. Oh, I know entrances and exits are important and they can pack a huge emotional weight. But they only do that because of the bit that goes in between.

Some of the most nourishing funerals I’ve been to have been humanist ones. The glitter, the laughter, the tears, the music, the poetry, the memories, the warmth and humanity of everyone involved, including the celebrant. The absolute worst was a church one – I can’t remember the denomination and it’s irrelevant. I just remember the vicar saying my friend deserved to die of AIDS because he was a sinner. You can imagine how his mother felt. It was brutal. I felt cold for days and days after that. And so angry. It’s one of the reasons I’ve joined the BHA and started training.

There’s a big debate going on at the moment about religion versus secularism. For the record, I don’t mind people learning about religion. In fact, I want people to learn about religion. I’d rather they didn’t just learn about the one their parents or their immediate community have. And I’d rather children didn’t have it foisted on them, too. Children have their whole lives ahead of them in which to make decisions. They’re not empty vessels to be filled up.  

Human beings have had belief systems for centuries. We can trace belief systems back to prehistoric times. Some of our best literature comes from religious texts. There’s some terrific poetry in the Bible, for example. Religion has given rise to some of the most profound music, too. I’ve found absolute stillness when listening to Tibetan monks and Cree drummers. When human beings transcend the everyday, we are at our most magnificent. But we don’t need religion to do that.

Belief systems – faiths if you prefer – also generate moral codes. These, in turn, form the basis of human laws. Most societies will probably agree that it’s not very nice to murder somebody or steal from them. There’s an underlying humanitarian view informing our understanding about what’s ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. I have no problem with this. It’s the god bit I struggle with. I’m an empiricist. I’m a suck it and see sort of person. If it works, keep it, refine it. If it doesn’t, try something else. A heavenly reward doesn’t interest me. I’m not ‘good’ because a god will find me a nice place in heaven. I strive to be a better person because I can see that it helps to make the world a better place.  My concern is with people, not a hereafter that no one, incidentally, has ever managed to prove exists. There’s something wildly selfish and egocentric about extreme religiosity. What kind of person puts their reward in heaven above the common good? People like that vicar, I suppose.


  1. Excellent piece Pat and I so agree with you... (except I wouldn't have a tattoo! )