EXTRAORDINARY ourPouiuNGs of hysteria followed the death of Kurt Cobain, "grunge rock idol" and role model to thousands of borettand unmusical teenagers. At his public wake in Seattle, which took the form, we were told, of a candle-lit vigil "a mental health worker urged fans not to consider suicide, while others handed out cards for a crisis hot-line number".
No doubt the death of this particular hero was the cause of great grief to his immediate family; but why on earth should anyone anyone else consider it to be a matter of crisis? We seem to be facing a collective abandonment of perspective. a world in which pain and suffering are perceived as abnormal, and therefore tend to generate a panic response ("We must do something"). We have infantile expectations of Society whatever that might be and expect, as a right, to be picked up and kissed better when we are hurt. Batteries of carers and counsellors bear testimony not merely to the break-down of previously effective social mechanisms, nor again to a proliferation of previously unrecognised stresses and traumas, but to a growing acceptance of the view which has now become orthodox that we should not be expected to cope unaided with life's slings and arrows.
Yet it is arguable that this attitude is not only bad for us bad for our spiritual development, bad for our development of practical skills it is also counter to the lessons that Christ taught us, inimical to our growth as Christians. If we are to praise God as Christ did, we must surely try to accept life in its totality including its grey areas and its apparent negation, death without undue surprise, without panic.
Another generation would have said that we should attempt to face the world with courage. But courage has become a much-abused word, scarcely now used without a rider, as implied in the phrases "courage to feel" or "courage to confess". This may be because of some quaint notion that courage, as in stiff upper lip, implies hypocrisy of a Victorian, Imperialist kind; images of repressed boys in cold dormitories, a brutalised soldiery, a cannon-fodder underclass often spring to mind.
Not everyone believes this, though. Stiff Upper Lip of the Year Award for my money goes to the lad from Essex who was accidentally ejected, last month, from his brother's aircraft, with a faulty parachute controlling his ejector seat: "I first realised I was in big trouble", he said with an engaging grin, "when I found myself outside the aircraft". I would like to think that the lad from Essex showed qualities not unworthy of our consideration during these post'-Easter weeks.
One of the qualities shown by Christ on the cross was, of course, courage. hi the agony of his last hours his courage and presence of mind showed itself time and time again. He commended the care of his mother to his disciple John. He was able, despite the appalling rigours of crucifixion, to turn away from his own pain and towards the penitent thief, to whom he promised redemption. He put in a plea for his tormentors, saying "they know not what they do". We see here that courage is not only an end in itself. It has a purpose, which is control of circumstances. Courage gives the strength to cope, the strength to carry your own weight and, if necessary, the weight that others are smuggling with as well. There is a common army maxim, typically succinct: carry your own kit. The theory is that if you do this, you will, at all times, be self-sufficient; and that being so, you will be more likely to have strength to spare for others who may need it, whether through injury or exhaustion. It is a striking sideeffect of our obsession with schmalz and sentimentality that we are determined to promote the idea of helplessness, to give power to the elbows of those who would sink their elbows into the cushions and weep with the luxury of admitting the inability to cope.
would not wish for one second to deny that most people need some sort of help at certain stages of their lives, nor that some people need much help at all stages of their lives; but I would suggest that we are fast approaching if we have not already passed a
stage where common sense and perspective are being lost.
Unless we are psychopathically incapable of forming attachments, unless we are in every true sense alienated, we shall all have to face the sorrow of bereavement, the testingground of physical pain, the acceptance of our own mortality. It would not be normal or sensible of us to expect anything else, and it would therefore be foolish of us to make a crisis out of every incident, to expect the guiding lieu of the counsellor the new, improbable deus ex machina to see us through.
Equally, given the fact that we have the enormous advantages that go with living under a stable regime in a comfortable part of the world (let whoever doubts this thank God for not having been born in Rwanda) we are likely to know happiness, satisfaction and good, simple fun; this should not blunt our awareness of the darker elements of human experience.
Recently I lost a friend to cancer; he was loved and loving husband, a father of four and a man who had had a brave and remarkable career. On the night of his death, my friend's widow of a few hours' standing was folding and ironing her children's clothes for the morning. She has courage.
One of my tasks as a friend was to fend off the would-be counsellors. What are we to make of a society in which such courage is commonly at best regarded as eccentric, at worst as dysfunctional?
If, God forbid, He were to be crucified again today in Newcastle, neither St John nor His mother would be allowed anywhere near the Cross without a plague of counsellors in tow, probably fortified with the heady dramatic sense of being as painfully involved in events in one sense, at least as the primary participants. And if He were on the Cross in such lamentable circumstances, I like to think He would have the courage to smile wrily upon our caring new world with all its fads and fancies. t