Saturday, November 02, 2013


The only thing I can think of is the gardening I did earlier in the week. But it’s what I normally do; I didn’t fall over or lift any heavy bags. Pull any deep roots. Ooh – it hurts like hell and nothing seems to help. I’ve got to get it sorted or I’ll lose my mind.’
Mrs Allen shifts her position in the armchair, then stares at me with a baleful expression, her thick glasses magnifying her anxiety.
‘I tried to ride it out but these pills are just no good. I can’t go on like I am.’
‘Well, look. There are two things we can do, Mrs Allen.’
She leans forward.
‘One is to get the out of hours doctor involved again, the other is a trip up the hospital.’
‘The hospital please,’ she says. ‘Here – when I’ve locked up can you pop the keys round to number eight so she can feed the cats?’

* * *

Mrs Allen sits on the ambulance with a walking stick planted firmly in front of her, both hands resting on the curved handle.
‘I’m not the old lady you think I am,’ she says.
‘In what way?’
‘I’m normally so fit! Fitter than this! I do my yoga every day. I don’t eat wheat or animal products. Oh – it’s terrible what people do to animals in this world. I keep in touch with things on the internet and television but sometimes I wonder why I bother. It’s so depressing. So much cruelty. I think basically, people are horrible – present company excepted. Don’t you think? The things people do to animals? And now my hip’s gone, I’m in pain all the time, and I think Why go on? What’s it all for? Not that I’ve planned anything, you understand. It’s just a low mood. But it gets you down. ’
‘Well it’s not a nice thing, being in constant pain. We’ll do our best to get it sorted.’
‘Last night when it was bad I felt like praying to God, but I didn’t, because I thought He’d probably got better things to do with His time.’
She pushes her glasses back up her nose and stares at me.
‘Do you believe in God?’ she says.
‘No, I’m afraid I don’t.’
She leans away from me.
Don’t believe in God? Oh my love. Why not? You must!’
‘But why go on? What’s to live for if you don’t believe in anything?’
‘It’s not that I don’t believe in anything. I just don’t believe in God.’
‘But if there wasn’t a God, there wouldn’t be any morals. There wouldn’t be a point to anything. The world would be full of cruelty and pain.’
‘It’s pretty bad as it is.’
I don’t feel able to carry on the conversation. It’s interesting, but I don’t want to upset her. It comes down to personal choice, after all, and this isn’t the time to explore these things. But Mrs Allen won’t let it go. She’s genuinely appalled that I can think of carrying on without a belief in God.
She’s quiet for a moment, frowning at me. The she raps her stick on the floor, like Black Rod at the doors of Parliament.
‘But what about Hell?’ she says.


Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Incredible isn't it, the lengths some will go to to try and convince you that you simply Must Believe in their version of god. I like to remind them that I believe in only one Less god than they do; the Hindus believe in thousands of gods. My late sister missionaried to Moscovites until, literally, the day before she died at 5:30 on a Monday morning which I gathered was too early for a service or she'd have been at that one too. It's difficult being the only non-believer in a family Full of born-agains.

I salute you for speaking truth when asked, Spence, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Lynda.

I completely understand why religion is so popular, and some of my best friends are Christians of one denomination or another. Life's difficult, and the support & structure of something that organised would be fantastically helpful. But however interesting all these different faiths are (and they're based on some powerful stories), that's all they seem to me to be, the stories that people have told each other at one time or another to make sense of the world.

I've had that thing before, where I've told someone I'm atheist and they've been profoundly shocked - and worried, on my behalf. As I suppose you would be, if you genuinely believed someone was going to hell. It's a bit alarming, but sweet in it's way. That they care enough to be concerned.

But I don't feel cast adrift on a sea of meaninglessness. I've accepted that ultimately the 'mystery of life' is just that - a mystery. It's too big for me to understand. So I'll narrow it down to what I can cope with, which is family & friends & people, and I'll be as good with that as I can.

There's a line in a Woody Allen film (Hannah & her sisters?) where WA is having an existential crisis and he asks his dad why if there's a god there would also be nazis. And his dad says something like: 'You're asking me why are there nazis? I don't why there are nazis. I don't even know how a can-opener works.'

Cassandra said...

I find it interesting that directly after lamenting the awful state of the world and how terrible people are, she uses that as a reason why God must exist or else the world would be... as she says it already is. I've heard many of the reasons, of course, as I was a hardcore Christian evangelist/missionary for years.

I do understand her woes about chronic pain, though. I'm a chronic pain fighter myself; can't function without regular doses of prescription pain killers. And yes, it does wear you down and bring you to low places. A belief in some bigger plan or purpose might come in handy at such times. It used to for me.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit like one of those pictures with all the swirls and lines that have a face hidden in them. Once you see the face, you can't unsee it and by contrast, when you can't see the face, nothing and noone can make you see it. I think that's why ultimately believers like myself end up being so unhelpful, cos it's just something you can't explain. It's a different way of looking at things and life.

Spence Kennedy said...

Cassandra - That's why ultimately logic doesn't get you very far with this, because the faith aspect overrides anything else. It struck me that her emphasis on the darker side of humanity did sit a bit oddly with the idea of God, but then maybe that's where the devil comes in. I've always wondered about that side of God, though, the figure of love that could allow such dreadful things to happen. An old argument, I know, but difficult nonetheless.

Chronic pain must be horribly debilitating. I can certainly imagine turning to anything to help - and if it does, great!

Anon - I think that's a good analogy about faith. I'll always be interested (and even a little jealous), but like you say, if you can't see the face... :)

tpals said...

It is interesting though - I was raised in a very religious family yet here I am now, firmly agnostic. :)

My son, with zero religious upbringing, has high ethical standards.

Would it really be a worse world without fear and guilt being the motivation to do right?

Spence Kennedy said...


Sometimes it's hard not to feel that religion deals in guilt & division as much as it does peace & love.

Mary said...

Never seek to dissuade the sort of person who does the "without God there's no morals" bit. Because if their belief in God and their fear of Hell are the only things making them think that it's wrong to do immoral things, then they're going to be bloody dangerous if that threat is ever removed.

Spence Kennedy said...

Well that's a fair point, Mary.

I had a job working in a warehouse once. Two of the guys who worked there were Born Again Christians, which was always a relief, because before that they served time in prison for drugs & violence!

jacksofbuxton said...

Very occasionally religion rears it's head in the shop.I'm a non-believer,but I have nothing against those that do.So I tend to change the subject as neither will change the other person's mind.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's only 'cos she asked me whether I believed in God - and then almost fainted when I said no. Normally I just smile and wave... ;)

PattiL007 said...

Whether you believe or not, it doesn't matter. Just as you said, Spence, you care about family and friends and others and you do your best to be a good person and to do good...nothing else matters. Religion is the cause of the ills of the world. Trace anything (war, poverty, racism, homophobia) back and you will find it's rooted in religion. Every seems to need to be somehow "better" than someone else (in their own minds). It's horrible-this mucked up thing called religion, and it brings nothing but fear and elitism. It's almost funny to me that people call that "God." It's not that I don't believe, I do...I believe in US...people. I believe we can create amazing things, accomplish greatness, come to the aid of the suffering and the downtrodden...and we can also use our abilities to maim and kill and destroy. The choice belongs to each of us individually. We have all these wonderful things inside of us and we choose what we will do with them. That's my "higher power," people as a whole working to become better people. It begins with each of us reaching into ourselves and pulling out those bright and shining pieces and showing them to the world. Improving the world and life itself by improving ourselves and each other; thus, appealing to our own "better angels."

Spence, you're a giant among men...don't ever let anyone tell you different. Thank you for all you work and at home...and for sharing some of it with us.


Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, Patti. Not sure about the 'giant among men' line. More like a dwarf giant - in a model village. In a crocodile costume (it's been a long day...)

I don't know that I think religion is the cause of the ills of the world, though. In itself it's a perfectly laudable and beautiful thing - it's just it gets horribly bent out of shape by the practitioners (sometimes). Why? I've no idea. We're flawed ('fallen'). We're human. We have to fight against centuries, millennia, of aggressive, acquisitive tendencies. Depressingly, fighting and cruelty seem as much a part of the human condition as love and creativity. It's a prolonged and dreadful battle - perfectly illustrated in religion between good & evil, I suppose! But we have all these things inside us, and we have to do the best we can to make the good come out on top.

Thank you so much for reading the blog and for your encouraging comments, Patti. Very much appreciated. I hope everything's good with you & yours x