Gratitude: a Christmas Update

I have been receiving lots of Christmas letters (thanks, you know who you are) and given my crazy life pattern, was pondering how to reply, when Gloria came by for tea and offered a gift “just saw it and knew it would be for you“- Oliver Sacks’ Gratitude – since she left I have been reading.

“… I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Gratitude for Gloria’s thoughtfulness, for Sacks’ ability to write, to inform, to say so much that I would like to say and at the same time show his uniqueness and thus underline mine for me. My envy of writers disappears even though I know I would love to write more, better, etc etc.

Family update:

Neill, Edinburgh son is spending his Christmas with his Dad in Donegal. All well there – Neill handed in his M.Res dissertation (gobsmacked – I have a brilliant academic son) and George went to China last month and enjoyed his stay with …


Guangzhou son, Donal, and grandsons Louis and Ali, now 8, who are all thriving at the British International School in their respective roles as head of EAL department and year 4 students. Louis sings in the BSG choir, Ali, as far as I know, continues to grasp anything mathematical or technical, and makes friends all round, though he is quite shy and does not talk very much. Cindy is in Auckland (I think) but as she is ever enterprising and on the move she may be with them – but China offers more family time at Chinese New Year. Face-time keeps us in touch (gratitude again, amazing tech capability) and Block Island internet makes sure we do not take it for granted.

Rory and Ruby and new pups

Block Island son, Callum, and his wife Wendy, and Fiona (15) Ruby (13) and Rory (11)  are nearby, 20 minutes walk up Spring Street past beautiful sea and scenery. I will be with them and Finlay (dog) on Christmas day. The birth being celebrated here is that Finlay has become an uncle as his sibling Sullivan gave birth to 12 pups last week. That other more well known birth is being celebrated too – so far – by school concert, ecumenical choir concert, a visiting Imam at Harbor Church, and probably much more I do not know about but what I do see is all good, effort and inclusion and friendships. Megan Hennessey does a wonderful job with 120 kids at BI school, this year the songs included wishes for peace in six different languages, including sign. And everyone has something to do, or play. She is a genius! Watch this video to see the Unbelievabelles playing at the Rhode Island State House Christmas concert, Fiona is third from right, Ruby on the extreme left of the lineup. One of the best bits is 9 minutes in when they make a mistake starting off and you see all the smiles.

As I said, I am living in what must be one of the most beautiful parts of the world – and I am well so I get out to walk every day. I no longer have a car and I laugh when I think of how much I worried over making that decision. Apart from enjoying myself, I spend time being passionate about inequalities, distress and injustice. [Why when there is so much that is enough for us all? How can all that violence be stopped?] A few years ago via the miniscule amount of work I do for KK, a Pakistani Women’s NGO I became interested in micro-finance and islamic banking because I knew nothing about either nor indeed any economic theory. Then came a very steep learning curve and a UK group called Positive Money. I have been spending far too much of my time this year trying to influence others / anyone / to see the idiocy and destructiveness of  the current world wide monetary system. A major cause of all the other stuff! Surprise surprise, money is not neutral – it is the root … oops – sorry … wrong sermon here. I even created a couple of personal petitions that some of you will have received (though very very few have signed.) Try again – UK friends on 38 degrees, and all friends, on Sumofus. Thanks to Marek from Edinburgh who suggested I read Michael Rowbotham’s 1998 book “The Grip of Death”. Apart from that horrible title, the book is wonderful and how I wish I could write with such clarity and analysis about wide-ranging affairs that are usually tedious stuff. [extract here]

Gratitude again… there is always someone somewhere, and many many somebodies everywhere who do make things better. Gratitude is my buzzword this Christmas, so love to you all.

And a favourite poem – whether summer or midwinter –

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver (from New and Selected Poems, 1992, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver. All rights reserved.)

Another writer who says just what I would love to say. Thank you. Happy Christmas 2015.


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