03 March 2021

In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind. 


Blaise Pascal

The speed reader in me completed this sentence with "with you" instead of "in your mind". So, yes, it came as a relief to realise it's just in my mind and I don't have to lug around any of the nice trinkets or whatnots that go for beautiful in my life right now.

Difficult times, yes and no. Repetitive, boring times more so for us. Slightly cabin feverish. But seriously, nothing to get worked up about. I had a bit of a row with a friend who lamented the trauma that #thecurrentsituation is inflicting on us. Really? I am not traumatised. Not by a long stretch. But the children, she cried out. Missing school, their career prospects, their social contacts, who will employ them in later life and so on.

Here is what I think. My father missed out on five years of school due to WWII. (Without internet access.) Instead, he was sent to dig air fields, harvest grains, bake bread and clean out stables. He stole stuff, he was often cold and food supply was poor. He also raised chickens in a broken shed, grew tobacco to sell on the black market and discovered his love for agriculture. After the war, he had to wait another year before school could start again. (Without internet access.) And without libraries or any teaching materials because all had been confiscated by the US army to check for nazi content - and why not. By the time he graduated from high school, he had to wait another two years before he could go to university because the returning war prisoners and refugees etc. were first in line. He spent these two years travelling from farm to farm, working and learning. He had a brilliant career as an agricultural scientist, a somewhat patchy one as a father and husband. He had his share of trauma but nothing compared to my mother, who also was an excellent scientist but a most disastrous mother.

When I asked him how his experience compares with what kids are living through right now, he was quiet for a while. I think, he said, I think we must always search for the lessons. There is always something to discover. Don't waste your time feeling sorry. And with that he put down the phone.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to belittle anybody's fears and worries. I lie awake at night, too. I worry, I fret, I get angry. I am an expert at that. So here is my offer, try to carry something beautiful in my mind.


  1. I think school is overrated to be honest. My oldest two both dropped out of school and still have university degrees. And as you said, your dad did well despite the huge interruption in his education.

    We're not being bombed. It's the monotony that sucks but we're okay. The kids will be okay too.

  2. I think it's important to remember all the suffering that has come before to understand how we weather these challenging storms. Your father's story is incredibly sad. He really worked so hard to succeed. I so appreciate you sharing this story. It reminds me of the story of when my mom was young. She and her sister used to walk the railroad tracks after the coal cars had come through. They would gather the fallen coal and bring it home to heat the apartment. It's important to remember all the stories.
    Thank you for the music. I hadn't heard it in such a long time, and I love hearing it.

  3. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. There was a blog called Something Beautiful in my early blogging days. I wouldn't be surprised if the woman who created that blog took her blog title from the quote from Pascal. She lived in New York State and had an Irish name. What I remember most from her blog was that she was fond of illuminated manuscripts, including the Book of Kells, and posted links to extensive online art collections of great beauty. Just now, despite some serious Googling, I was unable to find any trace of her.

    It occurred to me early in the pandemic that the restrictions due to the pandemic recreated my childhood experience of what was normal for being in the world, with very little social contact and no affectionate physical contact. Given that childhood situation, I discovered that there was something beautiful in books and in long solitary walks and in music. I learned to be able to entertain myself, not to need other people, including my parents or sisters. I had only rare contact with aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom lived at great distances from us. My grandparents had all died by the time I was 7 years old. Only one grandparent was alive by the time I was a few months old.

    The marked difference between my childhood experience and now is that when I turned to those same childhood sources of something beautiful beginning in March 2020, it was without the emotional background of terror that was such a major part of my childhood. The lessons learned in childhood have served me well during this past year. I have felt a level of emotional safety that is profound.

    Re-reading what your father said, I realize that I didn't feel sorry for myself as a child for having the childhood experience I had. As far as I knew, all children had parents that were like mine in one way or another. I discovered books and the freedom of wandering in beautiful places alone. I learned lessons about being self-sufficient.

    On the other hand, it took nearly four decades of life for me to feel safe in the world, except when I was alone. I am not discounting the trauma that so many others, adults and children, have experienced this past year when I say that, paradoxically, I have felt unusually safe, protected and loved in the past year in this time of social distancing.

    Those feelings will only deepen when the time comes that I am able to meet freely with my local friends as before, without masks and social distancing. I look forward to that day.

  4. Between the ages 5 and 10 I lived through the war. If you have to live through a war those are the best years. You've nothing better to compare it with. There were no birthday toys in the shops; my parents made a special effort and looked for second-hand things: once an all-brass microscope though that may have been in 1946. Also at the end, the whole street turned out to welcome the RAF son of our next-door neighbour back from POW camp. It was my first experience of community

    However there was one horrifying event. We lived in the North where bombing was sporadic; on very rare occasions the sirens went during the night and we trooped down into the cellar. There, once, I fell asleep and my parents - out of misguided kindness and because I've always been a poor sleeper - chose not to wake me and left me in the dark. I awoke, not knowing where I was, screaming my head off. I can still sense those feelings of desertion and helplessness. After 75 years.

    As to lockdown I write, receive my weekly singing lesson by Skype and rehearse songs alone in my study, extend my brunches with reading, doze a little. Money accumulates because we do not eat out and I spend the surplus at The Wine Society. Skype my daughters twice a week (the video genuinely helps). Had my first jab at the end of December; will have my second on March 19. I have been incredibly lucky and it would ill behove me to complain. To re-create a somewhat artificial sense of "doing my bit" I consider death which can't be too far off now; I find I'm philosophical about it for the moment but my innate curiosity (the basis of a working life spent in journalism) confirms there are no guarantees. I may scream my head off again.

  5. I think what your father says is wise. I wonder what I would do if my children were school age in this year of covid? I hope I would encourage to explore freely, read widely and let their interests be their guide.

  6. Your father's response makes a lot of sense. My in-laws escaped from Stalin's brutality with hair-raising adventures and many detours along the way, arriving in West Germany just in time for my husband and his twin sister to be born. How they survived, and managed to feed those two, is a miracle. As your father said, there's always something to learn from every situation. We were going along, going along, taking everything for granted. This has reminded us, among other things, to be grateful for all that is good in our lives. we're still so much more fortunate than many of our fellow humans.

  7. A sense of perspective is valuable at times like this. Your father's words seem wise! They were a good reminder for me, as I was feeling quite cranky about all this Covid stuff today.

  8. my kids and grandkids are grown, I live in a house with a big yard in a small community plus I'm basically anti-social with a small group of friends that didn't socialize all that often to begin with plus all my stuff is paid for. I'm very lucky and I try to be exceedingly grateful for what I have and where I am at this point in my life and so covid hasn't had that big of an impact on me. as such I probably shouldn't have an opinion. but of course, I do. I would never use the word 'trauma' to describe covid times. inconvenient, boring, financially uncertain (most my adult life was spent financially uncertain living hand to mouth never knowing how much I would have or when I would have it, the life of a working artist so I know how that is), finding new normal, etc, yes, but not traumatic. traumatic is living in London during the blitz, for example, traumatic is barely escaping something with your life. the current crop of 1st world humans are spoiled beyond belief. even just two generations ago life was very different. my paternal aunt's best friend grew up in a two room cabin without running water or plumbing. my neighbor visited her grandmother as a child and they had to walk a distance to get water for the day. our great grandparents' lives were even more primitive and hard. unless you get it and get really sick or die, covid is basically just an inconvenience and essentially a temporary one at that even if it takes two years to get it fully under control. but you know it's not the first disease that has had a huge negative impact. smallpox, polio. so unless the person I'm talking to that is crying about the trauma of these times has lost half their family, lost their house or been evicted or something comparable, I'm not likely to be very sympathetic.

  9. I get impatient with people who feel like it is a total disaster that the kids are losing school time. Good grief. It' s not ideal, perhaps, but also not the end of the world. I just want us all to live through this and then we can use it to re-evaluate our lives.

  10. On a different topic. You've got me thinking about my fish consumption. Due to many food intolerances, including legumes and dairy and nuts, I've chosen to eat large amounts of fish as a source of protein. Now I'm thinking that it would be wise to limit my fish consumption to once a week and rely more on turkey from our community food co-op for protein. In this part of the world the indigenous people have thrived on salmon and other seafood, as other cultures have thrived on bread or rice. The local tribes work to preserve and enhance wild salmon populations. I wish that I didn't need to eat fish and turkey, but my body protests vigorously with itching and respiratory problems when I have tried to obtain protein from legumes, nuts, and dairy foods. Always looking for balance between taking care of myself and thinking globally.

    1. Thank you for this comment. No matter how we look at food and diet - and also especially as women - we will come up with something that causes concern.
      While I was raised on a really healthy diet, I have had my share of junk food over many years with no regrets. Never an allergy or an intolerance. My sister has celiac disease and almost died of it when she was in her 40s, which is when it was eventually diagnosed, the "real" celiac disease, not a dislike of wheat because too much causes indigestion, btw, no, she has the one that shuts down your intestine step by step, very painfully. We siblings all got tested and in my case, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a distant cousin of celiac disease I have been told - almost 20 years ago now - and I ignored all advice and medication for 10 years in the belief that I can handle this with diet (and ignorance/arrogance), a path that resulted in a deeply scarred large intestine and the inability to process certain food groups without pain. Lucky for me - and the planet - I cannot handle saturated fats, all red meat and most animal fats. But sadly also nuts and oily fish.
      I don't follow any diet guidelines, I eat what I can digest without trouble. For the past decade or so, my daily diet looks like that: warm porridge (water, oat flakes, some seasonal fruit, a dash of low fat milk or yogurt) and far too much black tea for breakfast, one cup of coffee with hot milk for lunch, 1-2 slices of wholewheat/rye bread, maybe with avocado or a vegetable spread, tomatoes when in season, a bit of low fat cheese, homemade jam, German curd cheese (quark). We also love all types of Mediterranean antipasti and Turkish mezze. I could eat my way through a tray of roasted artichokes any day. Afternoon snack is fruit and or rusks (I am a sucker for German rusks, Zwieback). Dinner is usually vegetarian, whatever vegs are in season, as a risotto or with pasta or just roasted in the oven, we love to cook at home and trying out stuff. Saturday is soup day and Sunday, I cook a midday lunch - yesterday this was a tray of thick roasted cauliflower slices mixed with our own dried tomatoes, chunks of mozzarella, olives and a breadcrumb/parmesan/lemon crust. Occasionally, we bake a sweet treat but rarely. We don't have sweet tastes.
      Also, R has strong opinions on seasonal food and food waste and packaging and well, he is strict, no other word for it. We are in a local food co-op where we get local vegetables and fruit and we are in a crowd farming group where we get boxes of organic vegetables from various growers in Europe, just received a box of tangerines from Spain, by train.
      I used to be concerned about protein and iron and vitamin intake but apart from one capsule of vitamin B12 supplement/week, I don't bother and have my vitamin levels and micro nutrients tested from time to time and all is fine, even protein. I do eat some tofu from time to time and lentils maybe once a month, at a push. But there really is no plan to it. R eats some meat and fish maybe once a month and depending on how things are, I nibble some of the fish, provided it's a white bland one.
      Our then teenage daughter stopped us eating food from factory farming meat and dairy decades ago.
      I supposed I got carried away here. What I mean to say is, I love to eat good food.

  11. Sabine! what a beautiful post. Thank you. I'm not one to compare trauma for trauma. All I know is that my fear level has gone up and down, round and round. Depending on what my media diet has been that day/week/month. There is much suffering in this world. I recognize my privilege-roof over my head, enough resources etc and know there is a homeless shelter right down the street. In my little pod in my neighborhood, there has been abundant kindness and I'm grateful for that, for the goodness that I've seen. We humans are a bit of a mess and we can be so kind. The Ravel is perfect.