This is a bittersweet time of year for Monkhice. October used to be a month of celebration, since all our children were born in October (the rhythm method of conception). There are still birthdays of course, but now with anniversaries of funeral and requiem. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness comes with unwelcome ambivalence. It will never be otherwise.
And then November.
Remembrance Day brings anger. The stupidity of strutting generals of the Great War, using people as disposable toy soldiers in the pursuit of their family squabbles. Contemporary politics is differently deplorable, with the wholesale telling of porkies to gain the approval of the even more powerful. The words “lying turds” come to mind.
Remember the stupidity of war. Remember how killing never achieves anything other than bitterness. Remember how bashing people on the head to get them to agree with you never works. Never.
Maybe what we really, really want is forgiveness.
We need to forgive the wrongs of others. Let go of them, let go of retribution. Our resentments don’t hurt the person that did us wrong—they hurt us. They grow inside, a cancer of the mind, making us bitter and twisted. More surely and more swiftly than any malignancy, they destroy us. Think of Miss Havisham. Hold your resentments in your hands and throw them over your shoulders. Leave them behind.
Most of all, and most difficult of all, forgive yourself.
In the news today is a man who joined an Iranian group opposed to the Ayatollahs. He has been in exile for 30 years. He is 60 and has never seen his son since infancy. He can’t forgive himself for his decision to join. Poor man. How I sympathize with him, even though my own actions might not have had such sad consequences. And then I hear a voice within say “it’s perverted pride, you know, and a kind of arrogance, to think that your sins are unforgiveable”. Well, be that as it may, it doesn’t help much.
Re-membering. Think of it as putting the members, the pieces, back together again—what all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t do. Reintegration, restoration, anabolism as opposed to diabolism or catabolism. The rubble cleared away so that new foundations can be laid. I wish this were as easy to do as it is to write.
The poppies of Flanders grew because the machinery of war churned up the ground, provoking dormant seeds to life. We can hope that the turmoil of confronting the past will allow dormant seeds to flower within us. Who knows what wonderful things might result? This is healing—nothing to do with cure, but rather working with the reality of our situation.
I repeat: maybe what we really, really want is forgiveness. Self-acceptance.
So, relax. Celebrate your joys. Acknowledge your mistakes. Cuddle them. Love the hell out of yourself.
Then you might be able to change yourself a bit. You certainly won’t ever change anyone else.
Great to make contact again
Stanley, I loved your reflection. I have only recently come to deeply understand that love and compassion are intrinsic to forgiveness. When I struggle, I hold the image of Jesus’ loving face in my heart. Agape, (Christ’s love) reassures me that I am loved and so self love can blossom . Thank you. I am blessed in knowing something of your wonderful heart and mind.
The feeling is mutual. I got to know you a bit at RCSI but I wish I’d got to know you better. I’m in Dub 23-27 Dec. email me stanleymonkhouse@gmail etc if you’re free to meet. I know it’s a silly time and you’ll be occupied with family crap (as am I), but still …
I look forward to it…26th or 27th are possible at my end…I will contact you via your gmail address.
“You certainly won’t ever change anyone else.”
Professor Monkhouse, I hope you remember me, almost as much as I expect that you won’t. I remember once you said to me in the elevator of RCSI, “we are living in an intellectual dark age.” I have never forgotten that off the cuff remark. I use it often to pat my ego, and remind myself that thinking differently is as much an anathema as it is an essential to the evolution of thinking.
You made the point during one of your lectures, actually it was an aside to one of your lectures; one of those famous little detours into your own wisdom that invariably proved more valuable than an ocean of ink on the cranial nerves. You said, ‘a medical student might learn more of relevance from a book of Greek Mythology than any of the required medical texts.’ I study Philosophy at UOL, part time, on-line, my own little private world outside of medicine. Its the little church I go to when the kids are asleep. Philosophy has given my life some of the meaning that the meaningless of medicine continues to strip away. I thought of you when I began my studies.
During one of your lectures a student entered that big lecture hall at RCSI, he was late again. This one on the embryology of the testes. You called out to him: “Mr Culpepper, you are the case in point! Like an un-descended testicle, you arrive late, and when you do; you are no bloody good to anyone.
You have taught many and a few of us have learned a little from your wisdom and your courage to do and say truthful things differently.
I don’t know if I could have lasted in medicine, were it not for the memory and knowledge of wise men such as you.
You have changed me. You have changed many, and I hope you will continue to do so for a long time to come.
Oh Marcus I most certainly do remember you – with great affection and always a smile. I remember not only your willingness to stick two fingers up at silly convention, but also your hatred (too strong a word?) for a certain drug company. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all evil. I think – maybe I’m wrong – that you’re a GP in Skerries or nearby. I bet you do well for your patients. I tell everyone that asks me about their health to avoid doctors if at all possible unless there’s plumbing or carpentry to be done. They expect to to feel at 65 like they did at 25. Life is a terminal condition – but they don’t get that,
Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve much more to write to you – Greek myths etc – email better. Thank you for contacting me, and thank you for your kind words.
Did i press the right button
Richard Rohr also wrote something profound today, about holding people in our “heart space”. Prayer without asking the sky pixie for anything. Lots to think about. Thanks for your wise words.