We’d been talking about the world in general and our small bit of it in particular, when my friend said thoughtfully “Change and decay in all around I see…” “Where did that come from?” I asked. Notoriously uneven in her recall (all the words of all the Frank Sinatra songs, but not the name of “that actress who played the Queen – you know, the blonde …”) Slad said “Oh, the Bible I think ..” so I came home and looked it up.
It’s from the hymn “Abide with me” and I had never read it all before – lyrics by Henry Francis Lyte, to the music of William Henry Monk. And I wonder what does abide – stay – with us, when so much is changing? I have been “off” the David Attenborough voiced over nature films for some time because they are saturated with music. The filming is often wonderful but I object to having my responses half-cued, half directed as though by an invisible traffic cop. And I know animals kill each other so I wasn’t open to programmes devoted to The Hunt – until the last in the series which was about conservation when I watched three teams – two in Africa working respectively with African wild dogs and cheetah and one in somewhere darned cold working with polar bear – and was moved by the real tenderness expressed to these animals in this unremitting work.
The range of the dogs is so extensive that the teams travel with them all the time, occasionally sedating one to check for health, growth, blood and parasites and then watching as the dog staggers to its feet and rejoins its group. “Best thing in the day” said the beaming group leader “ when you see the dog get up and recover.”
The group working with cheetah actually move the animals around to new ranges, for their own wellbeing. I was struck by the contrast between the interference to the animals to save them and the way they were handled, visibly gently – as if the humans knew the animals would sense something of the positive from the way they were handled.
Polar bear are 20 per cent smaller than they were some years ago, which means in turn smaller cubs which would stand up less well to the rigours of the climate – and if they failed to survive, it would mean the end of the polar bear – while we saw skilled hands measure, weigh and log data on a sedated polar bear (which even out for the count looks menacing large) and then, as the harness was stripped away and the team made to withdraw, a man rubbed the ear of the beast affectionately.
Appalled by cruelty, misuse and abuse, we forget to celebrate the positives which are often difficult to quantify, subtle and open to interpretation. Sometimes there isn’t even touch.
In a French film about a small country school and its school master (acted but based on a true and best selling story) there is a scene in which the teacher talks to a boy who has been away from school because his mother died of cancer. What struck me was that the words had to cross the space, there was no touch. Touch however kindly meant might have confused things, when it was imperative they were clear or touch might have made the exchange unbearable. The boy had to be left to be alone, he had to learn to bear it, the teacher witnessed what the boy had been through, the words were acknowledgment of suffering and endurance.What stays with us is the effort, the offering somebody else made at a time when we were alone, in great pain, unhappy or ill. What struck me last night was the same kind of offering in a highly scientific – you could say artificial – context. All the people involved were specialists – this was training, life’s work which has to be evidenced to be funded – and yet still there was joy and sweetness.
Never mind the toys and the food and the shining things for a minute. I want the best of humankind – those small often wordless kindnesses – I want them to “abide with me.”