Taking Measure

Taking measure of the life we’ve lived is an unavoidable part of being 80; psychologists agree that, as the end draws near, we feel a desire to be somehow ‘reconciled’. In the novel I’m reading, an 80-year-old man receives a diagnosis of cancer with surprising calm. His carer explains: “I think he’s come to terms with old age – he probably thinks that, by and large, he would live the same life again if he had the chance”. I’m pondering whether I have the same composure about my performance in the game of life.

            In recent times, Neuroscience has discovered that the key decisions which shape our lives are affected by a range of neurological and psychological brain functions, largely unknown to our consciousness; a rerun of our lives would unfold in the same way. This has caused writers, many whom I admire, to conclude that ‘free will’ is nothing more than a powerful intuitive illusion of humans; that most of what happens in our lives is predetermined by our genes and early experience. Some argue that, if our behaviour is inevitable, feeling shame for harm we’ve caused in our lives, is a morbid waste of time.

            Probably from a Catholic childhood, my own ‘life appraisal’ tends towards severity; so, this neuroscientific ‘inevitability’ is a welcome softener. But I can’t help believing that ‘proportionate’ shame comes from the healthy part of our psyche – where human decency is defined. For me it’s ‘as if’ there is free will.    


On Monday, John Major delivered a masterful half-hour speech which I believe will prove influential; I felt I was spoken to as an adult and his natural authority showed how much the calibre of our politicians has deteriorated. He was scathing about Brexit lies (it will be more brutal than anyone expected); about English nationalism (the UK is no longer a great power) and about the decline of political integrity. An avowed unionist, he spoke about growing Scottish demands for independence – even offered a solution: that Westminster should approve a referendum – conditional on a second one when terms have been negotiated. This could even work. Typescript and video of speech


No doubt there remain months of uncertainty and frustration – but there is clear evidence this week that our global pandemic can be brought under control by vaccination; what a huge emotional relief. There will now be an interesting debate as our politicians decide who gets priority of access.


My rational brain knows that the democratic process has removed Donald Trump from office; but part of me remains anxious about the harm that will continue to flow from the ugly ideology he has fostered in the USA. This article by Dr Claire Loughnan of Melbourne Uni. picks on his open flouting of his disrespect for the office of president.


The economic illiteracy of the general population seriously limits progress towards a wellbeing economy; most of us simply don’t understand the steps required to separate the essentials of a decent life from the market. This article from Open Democracy reviews two new books about how our economy increasingly favours the ‘asset owners’ to the detriment of everyone else.


Alongside Scotland’s missing tier of local democracy – the glacial pace of Land Reform is a constant reminder of how ‘conservative’ the SNP is. This article by Lesley Riddoch spells out a range of measures available to a Scottish Govt right now, if they had the will. She quotes Peter Peacock of Community Land Scotland: “100 years of present policies would make little difference”.


When I think of my past it is usually judgemental – I wish I approved more of who I was.  I’m trying to understand and befriend the person I used to be. This poem makes me feel hope:

‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott:

“The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here, eat. You will love again the stranger who was yourself. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.”