Count our blessings - Madonna Magazine

Count our blessings

Gillian Bouras 09 November 2021

The world is a sad place at present. This sadness is not caused solely by the long shadow of the apparently interminable pandemic, for when we try to count the additional troubles and trials that various groups of people are enduring, we run out of fingers within a minute.

Then there is the matter of individual suffering, since many people have to suffer alone, and surely cannot be blamed for succumbing, not just to a sense of hopelessness, but to despair. Said despair is often considered to be the unforgivable sin, but how are we to fight it?

That sense of hopelessness has always been part of the human condition. Think of Job: ‘My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and are spent without hope.’ (7:6)

If ever a person was sorely tried, Job was, with huge personal losses of family, wealth and physical affliction, but even though he fretted at what he viewed as God’s unjust treatment of him, he had a spark of comfort and of hope: ‘I know that my redeemer liveth.’ (19:25.)

Much closer to our own time, the remarkable Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps and considered one of the moral heroes of the 20th century, saw many people lose hope many times.

Importance of attitude

In his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote that such people developed a certain look and eventually died, for they were living in what he termed ‘an existential vacuum,’ with the feeling that nothing mattered any more. But Frankl also pointed out that while we may be unable to change our suffering or the cause of it, we can choose our attitude towards it. Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

I have recently discovered that this choice can be made even by very young children. My son’s Athenian flat was burgled recently. I was on my first visit to Athens in more than a year, and one evening we went on a pleasant family outing, but the mood changed abruptly when we arrived home to scenes of chaos: every drawer and cupboard had been opened and the contents strewn over every surface, and of course valuable items were missing. The worst part of this episode was the terror felt by my eight-year-old grandson and his five-year-old sister, for their glass bedroom door had been shattered, and so had their sense of security. It took quite a lot of time and effort to calm them down.

But it was noticeable that the arrival of the police helped: the children’s attitude was one of trust and confidence that the police were there for them. At the children’s age, however, I would have been quite frightened by the men’s all-black garb, their matching masks, and the fact that they were armed to the teeth. And in that moment, I was not reassured by the fact that they all looked about 18. But after they had given their instructions and left, I was struck again by the children’s attitude.

Counting their blessings

‘Look,’ said my grandson to his sister, ‘we’ve still got our bikes, and they didn’t touch our books.’ (He has a favourite series of 12.) My granddaughter took her cue, and announced her relief at finding a special Christmas present; then they went through the whole flat, accentuating the positive. They were doing what their Australian great-great grandmothers invariably recommended: they were counting their blessings. And hoping, I think, that their familiar routine would be resumed.

I’m so old that I can remember when the song ‘Whispering Hope’ was popular, and often sung at informal church gatherings. Composed by American song-writer Septimus Winner in 1868, it has had a long life, being a hit in 1949 and again in 1962, when it was recorded by singing stars Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae.

‘Hope is as soft as the voice of an angel’, ‘making my heart in its sorrow rejoice’, and the listener is instructed to ‘Wait ’til the darkness is over, wait ’til the tempest is gone.’

It has always been with me, this song.

I live quietly in the rural Peloponnese, which is no stranger to tempests, but am a newshound, so today, the day of writing, I watched the early BBC world news as usual, and then gloomily asked myself why I do, also as usual.

Of course, the round of seasons continues despite all, so autumn is encroaching. After a long period of predictable summer drought, torrential rain fell two nights ago, with thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow. Today began with gentle rain and enveloping grey cloud. More gloom. But I looked up from my desk a while ago and saw a perfect rainbow. A symbol of hope.

Whispering Hope lyrics

Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard
Hope with a gentle persuasion whispers her comforting word
Wait till the darkness is over, wait till the tempest is gone
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the shower is gone
Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice
Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice