Himself, at the door of my office with a look of consternation on his face. Me, engrossed in editing a piece of text on a subject too dry to mention, trying but failing to ignore the hovering. Himself, with a proclamation: We have a bit of a peach crisis. Cue end of my evening. Read more
I started writing the Grateful series back in 2012. With so many years of practice, you’d think being grateful would come naturally to me by now. But no. I still have to work on it. I still have to remind myself that there is something to be grateful for in everything. Read more
I’m back in my happy place. Since I got up this morning, I’ve only spoken to two people. One was himself. The second was a chap who says his name was Boris. I picked up my phone without checking the number and answered. It was Boris. Read more
I’ve been writing this weekly grateful series for eight years. I’ve been practising my daily grateful litanies for longer still. And even with all that practice, there are nights when it takes a while to come up with ten things to be grateful for. Read more
A good mate, and former boss, characterises himself as a dirt man. When we worked together, we’d have long conversations comparing his need for facts vs my comfort with faith. Our mutual respect was tinged with a dash of incredulity, neither one of us completely buying into the other’s point of view. Read more
I’ve been feeling a different sort of gratitude these days. Not gratitude for stuff that has happened – although there’s plenty of that in me – more being grateful for things that haven’t happened, with two big ones this week. Last summer, in Ireland, in Lidl, I bought a kettle. Mad you say. Surely they sell kettles in Hungary. Even ones not made in China. And yes, they do.
Another week over with me sitting here on a Monday evening wondering where it all went to. It’s the end of January already. And it’s been a mad opening to what promises to be a mental year.
There is so much to be grateful for after the full week I had last week and there’s more to come on that when I get my head around it all. But for now, after a long, long series of disbelieving cries and loud exclamations of incredulity, I am ever so grateful to MK for drawing my attention to Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator speech, one apparently he penned himself. It’s a timely reminder of what we should be striving towards: a world of reason.
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. …..
Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!
I heard once that what you do on New Year’s Day determines what you do for the rest of the year. At 11.55 last night, I was standing on my balcony, sipping a glass of bubbly, looking into the dark. All was quiet. Even the geese. I was reminded of Pico Iyer’s piece on the Eloquent Sounds of Silence:
We have to earn silence, then, to work for it: to make it not an absence but a presence; not emptiness but repletion. Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.
Then 2017 came flooding in and the silence was shattered. The geese kicked up quite the racket down by the water and the village dogs howled at the fireworks that were going off all around the lake. I had my own private viewing point. It was pretty spectacular. No people. No crowds. Just me and the geese and the bubbly and the cold. When the fireworks stopped, the stars looked all the brighter.
Cold but happy, I went downstairs and, in true Hungarian tradition, ate a spoonful of lentil soup that I’d made earlier. This, apparently, will ensure that I have enough of everything in 2017. [Enough is a concept that is underrated. If we had more appreciation for it, we might be a lot happier.]
I fell asleep with Cormoran Strike, the detective created by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) [an excellent series, btw] and woke this morning in time for 8 am mass. Someone else was in what I’ve come to regard as my seat in the church – visiting family no doubt – and we’re not due a priest till next Sunday so it wasn’t the full Monty- but it was a lovely way to start the day.
Since then I’ve been cleaning and cooking and making beds in preparation for The Visitors who are wending their way down the north shore of the Balaton as I write. At last contact they were in Tihanyi. The table is set. The beer and wine are chilling. The fish is prepped. And the lentil soup is just waiting for its ham.
All is good in my world. My closing Grateful piece of 2016 spoke of restoration and my hope that 2017 would be a restorative one. So far it’s off to a great start. Life is good.
But in Istanbul, hundreds of people trying to make sense of more senseless deaths. In Russia, families of those lost in the plane crash on Christmas Day are in mourning. In Syria and other war-torn parts of the world, people woke up to a different sort of day. I have a blessed life and with that blessing comes a duty, an obligation, to make the most of it. And remembering to say thanks is just the start.
I started this series of blogs back in 2012. Five years later, I can’t imagine not taking the time to appreciate just how good I have it. This is how it began:
Many years ago I worked with this very bubbly young American girl whom I avoided like the plague in the mornings. I just couldn’t handle her effervescence; I liked mine soluble, in tablet form. Working late one evening, we were chatting about whatever, when she told me that every night, before she went to sleep, she tried to think of ten things that had happened that day for which she could be thankful. And some nights she fell asleep before she reached No. 10.
She challenged me to try it. I was sure that I’d have no trouble finding ten things to be thankful for. And I’ve been doing it every night for the last eight years because it keeps me focused and it keeps me positive…well, sort of positive ?
It’s way too easy to let go and submerge myself in the daily horrors of 21st century living. It’s far too convenient to spend my days worrying about global problems that I cannot hope to fix or even effect and in doing so miss out on today. It’s really not all that difficult to lose sight of what’s important – and who’s important – as I spend my time moaning about what might have been.
My nightly lists will never be published in a miscellany. David Letterman is unlikely to ask to borrow them for his Top 10. But ranging as they do from the ridiculous (I am grateful that I noticed my skirt was tucked into my tights before I walked out on to the street) to the sublime (I am grateful to Árpád at Kadarka wine bar on Kiraly utca for introducing me to Fecsegő), chalking them up each night has become a ritual and as close to meditation as I can get.
I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more people took the time to give thanks – to themselves and to others. Thanks for the little things that make life worth living. Thanks for the people in our lives who keep us sane. And thanks for karma – who, will, at the end of the day, make sure that all wrongs are righted.
Inspired by the inimitable Biddy McD in Australia who has kept the world amused by her photo album Grateful 365 and posted a pic a day of something she and her two sons are grateful for, I’ve decided to be less adventurous but equally committed and focus each week on something I’m grateful for. Introducing Grateful 52.
Today, as 2017 gets underway, I’m grateful for gratitude and the comfort it brings.
Boldog új évet – Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh – Happy New Year
And so, three years of being grateful draw to a close. It was back in 2012 when the inimitable Biddy McD put me on to this grateful kick with her daily photo posts capturing her gratefulness. I thought it a lovely way to stay mindful of all the good that happens to me rather than get bogged down in what ifs, whys, and wherefores. While I enjoy the occasional wallow in self-pity, they’ve been few and far between in the last few years and this I attribute to bring consciously grateful for the smallest, most insignificant things in life.
It need only be something as simple as public transport cooperating with me. And it happens seldom enough to make it notable 🙂 There’s a lovely sense of synchronicity if I venture out in Budapest and each time I get to a tram stop, a metro station, or a bus or trolley stop, they arrive, unbidden. And when it happens a few times in succession in a given day, I feel like the gods are watching over me and paying special attention. And that day becomes special.
It might be something as banal as a change in schedule that, while irritating at the time, has a domino effect and frees up the day to let better things happen. It could be a phone call, an email, a text message from someone I haven’t heard from in a while or any of the same from someone I hear from every day. I’ve had my world turned upside down by two people telling me how proud they were of me and I’ve been ever so grateful for silence.
There’s nothing to overthink. No matter how bad life is, there’s always something to be grateful for. It is or isn’t raining. The postman brought or didn’t bring a letter. The alarm did or didn’t go off on time. It’s a matter of choice to be thankful.
I have some fascinating friends: one I lost this year, another continues to be there for me in his own quiet way, others open new windows for me and offer me a different perspective on the world. I get to travel as often as I can make it happen and am fortunate enough to have friends around the world who always make me welcome. I might only see them every few years, but it always feels as if the time in between could have been measured in days rather than decades.
Gratitude is somewhat divisive. Stalin reckoned it was a sickness suffered by dogs. The great Dorothy Parker thought it the meanest and most snivelling attribute in the world. But, for my money, it was Chesterton who captured its essence: When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. And yet Nietzsche also has a word of caution: There are slavish souls who carry their appreciate for favors done them so far that they strangle themselves with the rope of gratitude.
There’s a balance to be found, and three years in, I think I’ve finally got the hang of it. Thank you for letting me practice on you.