Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Ordinary and the Extraordinary

Quite early, before I was really awake, I heard, for the first time, the voice of the father of one of the murdered children of Newtown.

He did not, as one might expect, speak of rage or blame, not even of disbelief or shock or grief. What he said was that he was remembering what a remarkable human being his daughter was, and how lucky he was to have had her.

I wish I could remember the exact phrasing, it was so beautiful and filled with grace. It was an extraordinary example of courage and heart, to speak not of the black act, but to talk of the light that was his child. I was stunned with admiration. It made me cry.

I don’t generally cry during the news, however bleak it is. I cry for specific, personal things, mostly my own dear departed. Very occasionally, if it is late, and I am overwhelmed, and the world has gone very mad, the sorrow and the pity of it all can bring tears. But mostly I have an armour for the news. So much of it is bad and sad, if one were to cry at every awful story there would be weeping all day long. Yet this brave man shot straight through my daily defences. It was his staunch goodness in the face of horror that was so very moving.

I think a lot about the ordinary griefs. They are what I have experienced in the last eighteen months: the loss of a dear old man, the departure of two aged dogs. These deaths were crashingly sad, and the depth of the sorrow for my eighty-year-old father did shock me, rather. I had thought I was prepared, and I was not. But all the same, they are circle of life griefs. This does not diminish them, but it makes them easier to bear. At the time, I got furious when well-meaning people said things like: well, your father had a good innings. What does that matter, when the beloved gentleman no longer exists, leaving a gaping hole behind him? Yet it does console, in the end, when time comes along and does its thing. The innings counts for something. It is why the death of children is so searingly horrible, because there was no innings.

The griefs that are crashing through a small community in north-east America today are not ordinary. They are what I call the rip-up your life griefs. It is as if some unseen hand has come along and trashed a good, hopeful life as someone would tear up a piece of paper. All the hopes and dreams, the optimistic expectations, the mapped futures, are wiped out, in an instant. There is no future, only a black void.

The thing that astonishes and heartens me about the human spirit is how resilient it is, how it rallies in the face of mighty odds. I do not know how a person rallies from this. I do not know how they put one foot in front of another, get out of bed in the morning, clean their teeth, dress in clothes, eat food. I think of them, as Christmas comes, and do not know how they will go on.

The other thing I do not understand is the numbers. Numbers are being thrown about, just now, in furious incomprehension, in outrage, in sorrow. I once had to look up comparative gun deaths between Britain and America, for an article. They are quite hard to find, and are often old. You will find a number from 2008, and wonder if it still stands. After a lot of research, I found that in one year, murder by gun stood at 69 in Great Britain, and 10,016 in the United States. I could not believe this could be true, the disparity was so crazed. The numbers coming out now are pretty much the same; in the end, my baffled mind must accept that they are true.

There is a much worse number. The total number of gun deaths in America, to include, I can only assume, suicide and accident, is over 30,000. A year. If terrorists killed that number of American citizens, there would be a national emergency, a bombing campaign, probably some kind of invasion, somewhere across the world. Troops would mobilise, emergency legislation would be passed. The newspapers would write of nothing else. The warring tribes would put their differences aside and join in bipartisan determination to do something.

As it is, these 30,000 most un-ordinary griefs will hardly merit a paragraph. 30,000 mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, brothers and sisters will weep in obscurity. That is too much damn grief. America is a great country, with a remarkable citizenry. It is so clever that it wins almost half of the Nobel Prizes in science, medicine and economics. Surely, in those massed ranks of brilliance, there must be someone who can work out how to stop its people dying unnecessary deaths. Surely, someone, somewhere, must say: enough.


A world away, in my quiet little corner of Scotland, there was a sharp, glittering minus one. I did the sweet daily task of seeing to the comfort and happiness of my horses. I took the hay, carried the water, mixed the morning feed. I checked their legs and straightened their rugs and gave them love. It is one of the happiest parts of my day. There is something very real and honest about doing physical work out in the air, about attending to another creature’s well-being. My fingers may freeze, and my arms ache from carrying heavy buckets, and I may totter about on the treacherous, icy ground, but I have the lovely satisfaction of setting them all to rights.

The pony was particularly enchanting this morning. We did a little join-up, for fun, and she followed me around the field in figures of eight and I was so delighted with her cleverness that I spent ten minutes just stroking her and rubbing at her sweet spots and telling her, over and over, of her own brilliance. The other two ate their hay, and dozed in the sun, and Stanley the Dog did a few acrobatics around the place and tried to pretend that he was not at all disconcerted by these huge foreign creatures. The girls take him amazingly in their stride, even when he gets a bit freaked out and starts jumping and barking.

‘No, Stanley,’ I say firmly, making him sit and calm down. ‘These are your friends.’ He is not yet quite sure whether to take my word for it or not.

It was quiet and ordinary and good. It is that very ordinariness that I do not take for granted. It is ordinariness, today, that I think of as a very great gift indeed.


Today’s pictures:

Are, it turns out, of very small, very ordinary things, which are precious to me:

16 Dec 1

16 Dec 2

16 Dec 3-001

16 Dec 3-002

16 Dec 3-003

16 Dec 3-004

16 Dec 4

16 Dec 6

16 Dec 7

16 Dec 8

16 Dec 9

The frozen floods:

16 Dec 3

16 Dec 5

16 Dec 6-001

16 Dec 6-002

Stanley the Dog, inspecting the frozen floods:

16 Dec 15

16 Dec 16

My girls, unfazed:

16 Dec 20

16 Dec 23-001

Look at the little Myfanwy face, peering out from below her manger:

16 Dec 19

Stanley gets some more pictures, because he was looking so handsome today:

16 Dec 21

16 Dec 22

16 Dec 23

Notice the special new collar. It was sent to me, all the way from Northumberland, by my most wonderful and kind aunt, the sister of my late father, who always makes me think of him.

Hill, taken twice today, once before leaving to do the horses, and once on my return:

16 Dec 34

16 Dec 35


  1. Without question Tania, we must celebrate the ordinary, for therein lies Life.
    The gun culture of the US will have to change before anything can or will be done about the horrendous ruin. The numbers are staggering.
    If one more person says guns don't kill people; people kill people, I think I shall scream. People with guns kill lots of people.
    I'm constantly reminded of two things: Einstein's definition of insanity - to keep doing the same thing but expect a different result.
    And the slightly obnoxious Dr. Phil asking the question "So how is what you are doing working for you so far?"
    Something has to change.

  2. Tania you make the ordinary extraordinary.

    The right to bear arms? This is the insanity, things have to change or these horrific tragedies will never end.

  3. What perplexes me, and what I cannot understand despite having lived my whole life in the US (and my whole adult life in the state of Texas, as pro-gun as it gets-- the city of Seattle, where I was raised, is almost entirely in favor of banning all guns everywhere for all time), is that the people who interpret the 2nd Amendment as being intended in 1789 to include semi-automatic assault weapons are genuinely afraid of government tyranny. I do not know what form they intend it to take. But in their very souls and with total sincerity they believe that the day will come when their AR-15 is going to protect them from... something... governmental. And they believe that the only reason the government hasn't already taken this nefarious action is that so many Americans have an AR-15 or six stashed away at the ready. This terror of government is deep-seated in a certain American psyche, which I don't share with my fellow citizens and cannot even begin to comprehend (but you saw what those people look like during the last election). They are the literal reason that we cannot move forward in any way with any type of weapons ban, as far as I see it. Perhaps other American readers will share a different perspective?

    We also have a culture of hunting and sportsmen, which is another issue for another time, but I think that everybody knows that you don't have to sacrifice that culture to at the very least crack down on semi-automatic assault weapons. Nobody goes deer hunting with a machine gun.

    Thank you for today's photos. They were especially lovely. Stanley is looking so dapper in his new collar.

  4. I hate guns.
    I LOVE Stanley's new collar.
    I don't understand the world.
    And i don't know how to move from anonymous to named. Will keep trying.

  5. Ellie, as a fellow American (who has lived abroad most of my adult life but still regularly visit family in the U.S.), I, too, am baffled by this "us & them" attitude certain Americans have about the government. I mean, who do they think the (need I add, democratically-elected!?!) government is!?!
    And then there's the enormous contradiction of believing you live in the "greatest country in the world" AND that it's some sort of police state. I can't fathom it!

    Back to you, Tania. And Stanley looks most distinguished in his new collar!

    1. Exactly! Exactly! I think taxation has a lot to do with it, pathetically enough. They don't consider how goods and services come to them, or who provides them. The other day I heard somebody refer to taxes as "extortion and theft," and I wondered to myself if he thought that roads come from the Asphalt Fairy or that the ground is just naturally honeycombed with ready-made sewer systems. I do not know why they think that the US is the "greatest country in the world" if they hate pretty much everything about the US, which they seem to, honestly. And yet you and I are "un-American" in their view. I...aaagh. And now I will stop hijacking Tania's blog! Sorry!

  6. As an American, I find our country so puzzling. And in the wake of this tragedy, so many more puzzling facts emerge. Rachel Maddow says that polls of the National Rifle Association reveal that 70-something percent of the members favor more control of guns (not abolition, but more safeguards than we have). So why can't we have more?

    And then there is the reading of the second amendment. As Ellie says, it doesn't say 'fine, keep your assault weapons.' In fact, it says, 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.' So . . . why do people think they need all these war weapons just for fun?

    And then there are the hysterics who say teachers should be armed ('Wouldn't it have been better if they could have pulled their guns out and blown that guy's head off before he could kill any of those little angels?'). Exactly how long do they think it would be before one of those little angels got caught in a crossfire?

    One wonders why it is that some people seem to have no concept of a social contract.

    Tania, saw an interesting interview that you would have liked. A CNN reporter was speaking with the owners of Luther, Prince and someone-whose-name-escaped-me, golden retrievers who are 'comfort dogs.' They are in Newtown, answering the call. Mothers are saying that their children, who have not smiled in three days, are smiling for the first time as they crouch down and pet the dogs.

    PS Myfanwy is, as usual, just amazing.

  7. this post is why i come to read your blog every day, and the comments too. i remember a favourite poem (called Advent by Patrick Kavanagh)where he talks about the beauty of the ordinary. so so right to focus on the small things in the face of all the horror...


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