Saturday, December 27, 2008

Harold Pinter 1930-2008


Two quotes from Harold Pinter who died over the Christmas holiday:

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false” (1958).

A long life-time later:

“When we look into a mirror we think that the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of the mirror that the truth stares at us.”

“I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.” (2005, Nobel Prize for Literature Acceptance Speech).

These two sets of statements strike me as inconsistent with each other, unless, of course, one accepts the premise of the first that life is paradox, mystery, impenetrable, un-pin-downable. In which case we can either ignore or accept the implicit condradiction in his words, or do both simultaneously.

An interval of fifty years separates the mind of the young, emergent Pinter and the older, wiser Pinter. Pinter the Elder lays down the Law of Obligation, an inescapable call to duty, to mental struggle, to the obligations of citizenship, concluding, “If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man” (Nobel acceptance speech ).

Now I do wonder how he came to this point of pessimistic certainty, this dogmatism. Perhaps he was frightened into it by the thought of how his Nobel acceptance speech might be received, although he had little time for critics, once saying, “I find (them) on the whole a pretty unnecessary bunch of people”.

I don’t share his concerns about human dignity, or think that maintaining human dignity is the province of politics, the responsibility of a political citizenry, or even a social project to be embarked on by writers. Less tinkering, say I- less “building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”, less chariots of fire and ceaseless strife, if you please. Less doing - more being?

I do like Harold's portrait at the head of this page. So very intense, so very "fifties" - the angry or at least agonised young man of the day, amongst many. He was very handsome too, as well as gifted.


My contract to serve as an Honorary Hospital Chaplain to Mid-Essex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Farleigh Hospice has recently been renewed for another year, although I can hardly be said to have discharged it very completely over the last year. There are very few calls on the services of a Buddhist Chaplain in Mid-Essex, and I haven’t “put myself about” very diligently at the Chelmsford hospitals that comprise the Trust, although I’ve responded to the infrequent calls that have been made from time to time.

I’ve also taken occasional Communion with the Christian ministers and volunteers, a very agreeable and uplifting ‘ecumenical’ ceremony held each Wednesday lunchtime.

The Trust already offers meditation classes for staff, so there seems little point in setting up another “stall” for potential meditators, even if I had the time and the skill to run classes, which I don’t.

Work is progressing in Buddhist circles, I’m informed, on developing a structure to accredit and approve Buddhist Hospital Chaplains more widely (there are at present very few of us in post). I have reservations about this move - not that I’m against a Buddhist presence in hospitals, but because it seems unnecessarily restrictive and bureaucratic, and I’m not sure who will come forward to do the approving and accrediting the new scheme calls for.

I wouldn’t feel in any way equipped to approve another person for the role. Who am I to judge another, and what would I be using as a yardstick to measure their acceptability? Some people toss criteria like “trustworthiness”, “empathy”, “reliability”, “warmth”, “well-versed in Buddhadharma” and so on in to the arena. But what do these mean, and how are they properly assessed or quantified?

Others would require an attestation from a “Buddhist spiritual leader or teacher” about the candidate’s “good standing in the Buddhist community”. Well, I don’t know how I would meet that one - I couldn’t, not ever.

But if you are interested in a chaplaincy or chaplaincy volunteer role, write in to me and I will put you in touch with developments, so you can bring your own influence to bear on what is decided, before the die is cast, so to speak.

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