How should people of good will live in this fractured time?

Here are some bullet points to consider, some suggestions of how to survive with integrity in an environment which seems to have become inimical to good sense, tolerance and civilised values:
  • Listen to others, be polite and attentive, while holding firm to what you believe to be right.
  • Do not provoke, or allow yourself to be provoked, but don’t feign agreement when you disagree.
  • In general, keep quiet, until you know it is the time to speak.
  • If asked for your opinion, give it – straightforwardly and unapologetically.
  • If people do not understand you, or cannot hear what you are saying, walk away. (Do not ‘cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces’ [Matthew 7:6].)
  • Do not engage in pointless abuse.
  • Do not crow when you are proved right (this might not be until after you are dead anyway).
  • Maintain a quiet dignity. Do what is honourable, just and true.
  • Remember that, even when you are justifiably and absolutely convinced that you are more right than those on the other side, you are still a fallible human being and never entirely right about anything, never able to see the complete picture or fully understand yourself, let alone anyone else.
  • Be careful in what you read, and how you read. Keep exercising discrimination. Do not be taken in, or succumb to the temptation to believe in/accept easy answers.
  • Stay centred. If you decide to participate in ‘this twittering world’, as T.S. Eliot so presciently described our milieu in Burnt Norton, do so with care and try not to lose yourself in it.
  • Do not become desensitised. Do not become so detached, so accepting (through familiarity, tiredness, or despair) that, when the moment of individual testing arrives, you fail, or just fail to notice its arrival.
  • Stay fully alive to the moment, do not turn away from it or refuse to live in it. Be your best self, so that your truth will come into play when it needs to, whatever the personal cost.
  • Recognise the moment when we have to go to war (literally and/or figuratively).
Two texts to ponder, in relation to the above:
From T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton:
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
And J. Russell Lowell’s great hymn, best sung to the tune Ebenezer:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight –
And the choice goes by for ever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses,
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever
With the Cross that turns not back.
New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong –
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

Portrait of an Old Man

i.m. Miron Grindea

Miron Grindea

A sultry afternoon; I identify the house;
walk twice round Emperor’s Gate
not wanting to be early …

A tousled grey head from an upstairs window:
– Who’s that? Are you the plumber?
“I sent some poems; you called me.”
– You haven’t come to mend the sink?
Well, never mind… I step inside the entrance,
have no idea which door to choose.
Querulous, the voice calls out again:
– Wait downstairs! I’m coming …


… that’s a portrait of me by Picasso,
and here I am with Jean Cocteau …
there’s a dedication from Chagall …
fifty years of Europe have visited this flat …

My wife’s out playing the piano …
I can’t go on alone, cancer, and too old …
Do you know someone who could help me?…
they all mysteriously disappear …

Have you been published in magazines? –
I mention the names of editors.
– Yes, he’s an alcoholic; as for him …
I try to help them when I can …


Next time I’m shown into the upper room
where chaos is revealed:
a round table piled with paper,
a dozen efforts at an editorial,
some previous helper’s notes ignored,
a scribbled card from Iris Murdoch …

– I used to see Eliot from this window,
he lived in the mews with his wife …
I spent half an hour with his corpse in the church …

I’m trying to write my memories … look …
and this one’s on the Jewish question,
Why does anti-Semitism exist?
… that may need more than just one article …

What can we do? I’m so embarrassed …
Can you put it on computer disk?
but what exactly shall we put?…
Edit this, but don’t change anything I say …

The Queen subscribed to ADAM once …
I reminded her when I got my MBE;
she looked vague and non-committal … English … –

You insist we sit together on the bed
to watch John Major make a speech.
You stroke my leg. The heat and hopelessness
make me too inert to move it.
You pour me sherry later;
I feel we’re celebrating
though I don’t know what.


Then phone calls:

– Will you take me to the ICA tonight?
You’re doing something else? well, what?
I’d put my hope in you …
– Listen to this letter, is it idiomatic?
Would you say very here or not?
Do you think so?… I prefer my version …

I left my ansaphone switched on,
didn’t return the call immediately …

– I needed you yesterday, it was urgent,
they’re taking me to hospital in half an hour.
Why didn’t you call me back? Another mystery …
Stop all this hypocritical politeness!
We know I won’t get better …


©Virginia Rounding, 1996