Time plays strange tricks on us. Last week, without warning, it struck me that it has been forty years since John Lennon was murdered. How can it be that long since we lost such an amazing and complicated individual? It also means that he would be 80 years old today, had he lived so long. That may seem hard to imagine, but think: the other surviving Beatles are also up there. Ringo is 80, Paul is 78, and George, the youngest, would have been 77. That may not mean a lot to anyone born in the last three or four decades, but, believe me, your time will come too. One day, you’ll suddenly realise that, no matter what your head says about how old you feel, your body does not agree.
But that’s another story. Today, with the insight, hindsight, and out of sight age brings, I have to look back and see what a really odd time it’s been, long before covid and Brexit and Trump. In my lifetime, to choose just a few at random, I’ve seen the murders of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy; and that was just the Sixties. Imagine that.
On December 6, we marked the 31st anniversary of the massacre of women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, where 14 students were murdered because they were women. The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women is marked on that date each year, and, each year, there are yet more deaths to remember and mourn. This pandemic has only increased the number of acts of violence against women and children. Imagine that.
It is simply astounding that we have become used to hearing about mass shootings, murder-suicides, massacres of ethnic or religious groups. But, hopefully, we have not become immune to the shock and the horror and the rejection of such things. It can be hard to know how to respond to such barbarity. It can seem impossible for us to do anything about them. But there are things we can do. Imagine that.
Although they were complex, imperfect people, it is an odd thing that the victims of the most famous murders, people like Lennon, King, the Kennedys, and others, were people who inspired. They may not have been perfectly consistent in living their vision, but they tried to break down barriers, to teach a better way for us to live together. The women of École Polytechnique were breaking down barriers too: as women moving into professions and workplaces traditionally closed to them. Ironically, for all of these individuals, it was that very attempt to give a different vision of what life could be that provoked others to kill. Imagine that.
We can learn from this. It can be complicated, and it can sometimes be simple. I often think that the man who wrote the most wonderfully poetic Strawberry Fields Forever, could also put vital lessons in such simple words: All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance. What would that mean, I wonder? I think, in this world, there are those whose work is to share a vision, no matter how impractical or impossible it may seem. The work of the rest of us is to find ways to bring the vision to pass. Think of the numerous women who worked for decades to bring some form of political and social equality to their gender. Think of the generations of Blacks who believed in freedom and equality and civil rights, were beaten, attacked by dogs, and murdered, by what seemed to be all-powerful forces working against them. And things changed and continue to change as the struggle goes on. Imagine that.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not believe that humanity can be perfected and that we can enter an age of universal peace and love. I am a child of the Sixties, and I know our limitations. But we try.
As we approach Christmas, we can think about another who preached peace and love, equality and dignity for all. The one verse of Scripture everyone knows at this time of year is: “Peace on Earth; goodwill towards men”. [It is enlightening to see the actual verse] This is a time when we are, in theory at least, inspired by Jesus’ birth to consider others more. We give presents, we donate to food banks, we smile and wish each other good things. We look hopefully to a new year and promise ourselves to be better next time.
Of course, it has become more of a secular excuse for indulgence and excess, but, at its core, we remember the original intent and inspiration. Someone who preached love and forgiveness, whose coming was a promise of a better world and better people. And they killed him too.
But, some of us believe that this is not the end of the story. There was death, but there was resurrection too. But this is Christmas, and it is a time of giving and sharing and caring for others in a way we don’t usually do at other times of the year.
The food banks really need your help. The homeless need shelter. The isolated need contact and care. In this Time of Covid, all of this is more so than in any other time. We can do things to make a difference. Now is the time, so that the results can reach people before its too late. In the words of that lost leader: And so this is Christmas; and what have you done?