Thank you for your letter yesterday. I’d like you to know that the car is going in for its MOT tomorrow and that the cranberry sauce didn’t burn. I’ve already given gingerbread snowflakes to the reception staff at the health centre and the pharmacy staff, and to the driver who delivered the chest of drawers, and more are here ready for the postie and the refuse collectors and the hooded teenager who delivers the paper, and that I made the pair of rag doll jeans I’d promised to the 10yo’s best friend and that today I’m going to make the nougat glacé that James’ mother looks forward to every year (as do we all) and wrap the presents we can deliver by hand. I’ve fallen short on the Christmas cards, though, and the house is a complete and utter mess and I keep finding little bits of dried lavender in things and thinking we’ve got moths. I know, I know, it was my idea to buy the lavender, and my idea to get the children making lavender bags at our Christmas craft party, so I have no one to blame but myself.
Which is Often The Way.
But I am trying.
And here are three corks that won’t stop bobbing to the surface of the sea of doubt and curiosity that is my tired Advent brain:
One is life. We can argue till the cows come home about evolution and the big bang and extinction and creation and why on earth we have to suffer wasps, but no one can explain how life came about in the first place. Whether I’m reading the Victorian catechism I found in a second hand bookshop, which declares that ‘The Earth was created six thousand years ago,’ or looking back to a time before the dawn of time in which a coincidental concatenation of atoms resulted in animation, Life is a pretty convincing calling card.
And the second is music. Maybe, once upon a time, a caveperson knocked two sticks together (I don’t know, they were trying to light a fire or something, work with me here), and noticed that the sound was a little different to the last time they knocked two sticks together, and they began running round the forest knocking sticks together and eventually came up with the world’s first xylophone. That might explain how music came about, but it doesn’t explain why it answers a human need. Purely scientific explanations of evolution can explain why (some) humans have ended up in houses, wearing clothes and inventing the Internet. But they can’t explain why music became an integral part of human expression. In evolutionary terms, the early human who invented the xylophone should have been abandoned by the tribe for wasting precious mammoth-hunting time; instead, the tribal heart leapt and they shared their meat and furs for a return that was intangible.
And the third? I believe you are there, because the alternative is a black emptiness of unimaginable horror. It is terrible enough to witness the pain and devastation that human beings wreak upon one another. To contemplate that and know there is nothing beyond is unimaginable.