I’ll do a review of the responses to my Radio Times article once I know I can post the article itself on this blog. In the meantime, I’ll just say I have been inundated by comments in various media – most of them reasonable in their judgements.
Easter Day began for me in a hospital chapel where easy platitudes about ‘healing’ don’t work. When people are facing their mortality in more than philosophical ways, easy language has to be avoided. We had a great celebration of Easter, rooted in the conviction that ‘God raised Christ from the dead’ – so there is hope.
But, an article in today’s Independent on Sunday struck me and brought back other memories. Titled ‘A ringside seat to the Russian Revolution’, the article is based on an interview with a brother and sister who lived through extraordinary times and now have reached their century. It is a fascinating interview.
It brought back to my memory a man I met in 1980 when I was learning Russian. Dr Vlod Ototski , then in his late seventies (?), came in several times a week from his home in London and gave us conversational practice. He would occasionally slip into Polish, but then come back into Russian. (If I remember correctly) he had been born in Russian-occupied Manchuria, witnessed the Russian Revolution, fled to Poland (because he was on the wrong side), escaped from Katyn, joined the British forces, was on the wrong side of post-war Poland and lived as a member of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London until his death.
He was a remarkable man – the sort whom you know it is a privilege to meet and from whom you can get glimpses of history while it remained one man’s memory. First-hand recollections of the Russian Revolution were hard to come by even in the 1980s for ordinary young people like me.
What struck me, however, was his recognition that when people speak of the ‘end of the world’, they forget that this represents the experience of people in every generation: those millions who died during the Revolution itself and the ensuing decades of Stalinist brutality; the ordinary people of Central Europe who were moved across Europe from one oppressor to another; the officers slaughtered at Katyn; and so on. Each individual had a story, a network of relationships, a potential future – and worlds were torn apart every day in the most brutal ways.
But he also saw that every generation has to make its own history and shape its own character. People survive the most appalling cruelties and losses and go on to live fruitful lives, have families, build new societies and create hope for a different future for their children and grandchildren.
One of the messages of Easter is that death, violence and destruction do not have the final word in this world – even when they seem to be insuperable. And that is one of the powerful messages of the Gospels as well as one of the challenges Jesus poses to our notions of might.