Heaven On Earth is an Accident of Birth

I see getting old as an achievement rather than a given. Throughout my life I’ve witnessed through the wonders of modern technology millions and millions of people dying prematurely because of famine or war: usually one caused by the other. Throughout my decades the story has remained the same, the images terrible. Since I can remember little envelopes have been pushed through our letterbox baring the photo of a tiny frail and probably dying child. I’d take little self-assembly collection boxes home from church in the 60’s. One bright light this week  was that the British government has pledged £814m to help vaccinate children around the world against preventable diseases like pneumonia. Now all we need is for every government around the world to do exactly the same: not just today but consistantly. Today in Zimbabwe we see whole families being wiped out because of a preventable disease yet those with the power within those countries to end suffering refuse to do so. All we can do is watch and condemn despotic, war-mongering, greedy leaders. There are still places in the world without adequate sanitation or access to clean water supplies or food and sometimes I witness a report from one of these sad places and wonder how on earth anyone manages in such torment  to live beyond their teenage years. When Geldoff and Ure wrote the song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ back in the 80’s they said it all: they don’t care what time of year it is, they just want to be fed, clothed, housed, loved and treated with respect. Yet the unnecessary suffering, torture and killing continues. I’ve just entered my 57th year with the mind of a 23 year old. On the one hand this is a good thing; on the other hand my body won’t let me act in the same way. Why does that happen? Mind over matter doesn’t seem to work with a history of back pain or just ‘old bones’. The other day I was asked two seemingly impossible questions by my grandson. ‘What happens when we die, and does it hurt?’ ‘Well’, I answered, trying, unconvincingly, to appear sagely, ‘Let me ask you a question. Did it hurt before you were born?’ ‘Well, no..silly’. ‘Well’ I said, ‘At the very worst that’s what it’ll be’. He thought for a little while and then he said with a smile on his face, ‘So what will it be at the very best?’ Now, I really had to think about this one until, suddenly, a line from a Monty Python song leapt into my head: ‘perfect’ I thought. I looked at him and said ‘Why, every day is Christmas in Heaven’. My mind went back to all of those images of starving babies and families who live a life of pure hell and pergatory on earth and I thought to myself, for their sakes, for all our sakes, I hope to God I’m right!

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