This was the title of Diana Mitford’s autobiography, the story of a member of that extraordinary family who lived (one of them still lives) life to the full. Diana’s contrasts included marrying into the Guinness family, divorce, marrying Mosley the politician, embracing Fascism, imprisonment during the 1939-45 war, friendship with the Duke of Windsor, and kind-of self-imposed exile in Paris (there are worse places). Life is not plain sailing. All our lives are lives of contrasts.
I minister to men and women who find it difficult to cope with the contrasts that life throws at them—indeed, I am such a person. I’m struck time and again by the way that men feel unable to talk about their troubles, sometimes with tragic consequences. Of course, women find themselves in difficult situations too; it’s just that society allows women to talk about them in a way that men feel unable to. What can we do about this? Be attentive, and listen. Provide the environment where people feel safe to unwind without being condemned. And don’t expect men to be less sensitive than women.
Personal health issues provide more contrasts. Discovering a suspicious lump can turn what begins as a good day into something quite different. Hearing deteriorates, vision deteriorates, joints deteriorate … and it’s not just older people who suffer these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. What can we do to help? Same again: be attentive to people’s needs and do what we can to help—but help in a way that they find useful, not in a way that we think they would find useful because it makes us feel good to do it.
In amongst all these contrasts, hope springs eternal. I’m cheered by the resilience and good heartedness of people I meet. Life is indeed full of contrasts: contrasts in our inner selves and our emotional responses as we go from elation to despair and back again time and time again. We need to be attentive to ourselves and listen to our hearts. Even if we can’t do what exactly our hearts tells us, we can at least approach it as best we can. If we don’t, we kill off part of ourselves—often with disastrous consequences.