Fünf Uhr morgens

Ich liege seid 5 Uhr wach und fühle mich allein. Zwar kann ich die Stimmen und die Schritte der Schwester auf den Flur hören, doch sie war kurz hier und hat mir zu verstehen gegeben, sie könnte nicht andauernd hereinkommen. Sie hat mir den Fernseher angemacht aber nicht gemerkt, dass ein Sportsender läuft. Es ist nur Werbung für Heimtrainer und Fitnesskurse zu sehen – und ich liege hier mit amputierten Beinen.

Ich weine sehr viel, obwohl ich eigentlich ein Mann sein soll. Doch seit meinem Schlaganfall erlebe ich die linke Hälfte meines Körpers nur als Belastung, fühle mich nicht mehr als Mensch, geschweige denn als Mann. Ich bin 85 Jahre. So alt wird kein Schwein. Und ich liege hier und warte auf die Ereignisse des Tages.

Ich liege auf meinem Bett voll mit Kissen, Decken, Oberbett, Wärmeflasche, Taschentücher, wie auf Watte. Ich kann mit meinem gesunden Arm mich ein wenig mit dem „Galgen“ bewegen, doch nicht viel. Wenn ich es nicht aushalten kann, so drehe ich mich zur gelähmten Seite – nur ich kann dann nicht mehr zurück. Die Schwester drückt mir ein Kissen in den Rücken und sagt: es muss sein! Schlimmer noch, sie nehmen manchmal eine gefaltete Decke – wie Steine im Rücken fühlt sich das an. Doch die wissen nicht, wie es ist, stundenlang hier zu liegen mit Steinen in den Rücken.

Sie wissen ohnehin nicht, wie mein Leben abgelaufen ist. Sie wissen nicht, wie es ist Diabetes zu bekommen, wie schwer es sein kann, Diät einzuhalten. Sie sagen mir nur, dass meinen amputierten Beinen auf das Nichteinhalten meiner Diät zurückzuführen ist. Also, selbst schuld! Sie wissen erst recht nicht, wie es ist, einen Schlaganfall zu bekommen und im Krankenhaus aufzuwachen. Damals habe ich niemanden verstanden und konnte mich nicht äußern. Ich konnte mich überhaupt nicht bewegen und sah auch nichts, was links von der Mitte war.

In meiner Jugend war ich sportlich. Ich war, wie die meisten, auch in der Wehrmacht. Mein Vater war auch Soldat gewesen. Nur er ist nicht so wie ich gestorben. Ich habe viele Menschen gekannt, war auch bekannt bei vielen und konnte mitreden. Ich gehörte dazu. Nun bin ich abseits, liege in einem Zimmer mit jemand anders – manchmal weiß ich wer es ist, manchmal kommt es mir vor, als wäre jemand aus der Familie dort. „Alles Quatsch!“ sagen die Schwestern. Was wissen sie schon!

Es ist immer noch halb sechs. Erst um sechs Uhr kommt die erste zum Frühdienst, aber erst um acht Uhr werden sie bei mir die Tür aufmachen. Bis dahin werde ich diesen Mist im Fernsehen ertragen müssen – die Fernbedienung finde ich nicht und die Schelle haben sie weggenommen – glaube ich zumindest. Erst um acht Uhr wird Schwester Maria durch die Tür kommen. Sie lächelt dann freundlich und wird mich waschen und anziehen. Sie ist Ausländerin, wie so viele Mitarbeiter hier im Heim. Doch sie ist freundlich.

Manchmal bin ich ungehalten, weil ich schlecht geschlafen habe. Manchmal habe ich „Phantomschmerzen“, wie sie sagen. Phantom, das ist wie ein Geist oder sowas, aber meine Schmerzen sind real. Manchmal habe ich so einen Heißhunger oder Durst bis unter beide Arme, doch ich komme nicht an das Wasser heran. Da kann ich ungemütlich werden. Manchmal komme ich an die Flasche, kann aber mit meinen eine Hand die Flasche nicht öffnen. Es ist schon mal vorgekommen, dass ich die Flasche gegen die Wand geworfen habe. Da kam jemand – aber nur zu schimpfen, zu trinken bekam ich immer noch nicht.

Das Schlimmste ist, wenn sie so tun, als wäre ich ein Kind. Ich bin kein Kind, auch wenn sie mich drehen und wenden müssen. Auch wenn sie mich aus dem Bett in meinen Rollstuhl heben müssen, mir den Stecktisch an den Rollstuhl befestigen, oder ein Lätzchen umhängen. Aber, was bin ich eigentlich? Tagsüber bekomme ich von einigen manchmal das Gefühl, wichtig zu sein. Aber nur einige. Die sagen: Er ist schwierig! Doch sie sollten das erleben, was ich erleben muss. Das ist kein Leben.

Aber meine Kinder sind noch berufstätig. Sie können mich nicht pflegen, sagen sie. Sie kommen jeden Tag. Ich sollte wohl dankbar sein. Mein Sohn ist auch noch geschieden … scheiß Leben. Ich habe schon der Schwester gesagt, die sollen mir eine Spritze geben zum Schlafen – für immer. Doch die tun‘s nicht. Sie haben ohnehin den falschen Beruf. Ich habe den Chef, so wie sie alle sagen, gefragt, ob er immer noch an dem Beruf Spaß hat, er sagte ja. Doch es wäre nichts für mich.

Er ist auch freundlich, kann mich eigenhändig aus dem Rollstuhl heben – aber ein Griff hat er, da bleibt kein Auge trocken. Aber er ist freundlich und spricht mit mir, als wäre ich ein Mann. Er würde sagen: Sie sind ja ein Mann! Ich glaube, er hat auch Ahnung. Die Schwestern fragen ihn immer, wie mein Po behandelt werden sollte – und er sagt immer: „Es sieht besser aus heute,“ oder „da müssen wir was tun.“  Oder er kommt und sieht die Wunden an den Stümpfen an, die immer noch nicht zugewachsen sind.

Vielleicht kommt er heute zu mir. Aber, er ist nicht so oft da. Irgendjemand wird kommen – nur bis dahin werde ich wahrscheinlich wieder eingeschlafen oder vor Durst oder Hunger umgekommen sein. Manche reden so laut, dass man Kopfschmerzen bekommt – andere sagen nur das Nötige. Da kommt man sich wie ein Stück Fleisch vor, das zubereitet wird. Was soll‘s – ich kann nur nicht mehr diesen Fitnesswahn im Fernseher ansehen. Ich mache die Augen zu, vielleicht kann ich schlafen, vielleicht träumen – vielleicht ….

German and British work culture

When I left the army after marrying and deciding to stay in Germany, I was moving away from a society in which I had found it difficult to find my place and had embraced the chance for a fresh start. To begin with, it was not easy, but a series of events left me convinced that I was being protected in a way that I had not expected. Especially when I fell ill with anal fistula, which had to be operated and took an awfully long time to heal, I was amazed to find that I kept my job. Additionally, there were times when I was told by my employer to take a few days off, after turning in with a stinking cold.

Even in the army after a week with tonsillar fever in the sick bay, I was sent back to my unit on “medicine and duties,” despite not having eaten more than soups in a week, and still very weak on my feet. Trying to get the camouflage net onto my vehicle was virtually impossible, and I only received assistance after I had fallen off. At the time, I thought this was normal, and expected no more in Germany, but it was quite different.

Germans are highly regarded around the world for their efficiency in the workplace and office, and it has been proven true that German workers are more productive than the rest of their European neighbours, despite taking more sick days and vacation days, especially compared to British workers. Fullfact.org claims that British workers, as measured by GDP per hour, are less productive than those in Germany and France, so much so that the average German would get done on Thursday what a Brit would get done on Friday. One of the reasons for this is probably the Germans’ better understanding of work-life balance. By finding the happy medium between work and leisure, Germans can be much more productive in the office while also relaxing and unwinding better. There are many references to this balance in the German vernacular.

“Bridge days” (Brückentage) is one term that expresses this balance, meaning that some workers, unless they are scheduled for shift work, take a holiday day or two around the holidays, or cut back on overtime to recharge and keep themselves mentally fresh for work. Another common German saying is “First the work, then the pleasure!” English has similar phrases, but you do not hear them often and even less often adhere to them. Thus, there seems to be a deep-rooted culture in Germany to work so productively that one can then relax.

There has long been a trend among British office workers to go to work even when they are sick and then downplay the illness to management. While this results in more time being spent in the office, it has serious negative effects on productivity and risks passing on illness among colleagues. In Germany, however, the prevailing opinion is that people should stay home when they are sick. They say, “If you’re sick, you’re sick.” This mentality not only protects other office workers, but also allows individuals to rest and recover so that they can be back at work and more productive in a shorter period.

In Germany, there has traditionally also been a much more generous type of social benefit. This is especially true of unemployment benefits, where someone who becomes unemployed receives a remarkably high percentage of their last income for one year. Patricia Hogwood, a lecturer in European politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster, who specializes in German politics and the welfare system, has said that she, as a university lecturer, for example, would receive 80 percent of her current salary and be very well off. She found that this would not be much of an incentive to get back into the workforce.

In 2003, however, the Social Democrat-led German coalition government introduced the so-called Hartz IV welfare reforms to tighten the conditions for receiving long-term unemployment benefits, which proved extremely unpopular. In contrast, if British workers became unemployed, they would immediately face radical income cuts, except for the Job Seekers Allowance, which pays a consistent, age-based personal allowance per week, creating an incentive to find a job as soon as possible. It is true that the unemployment rate in the UK has been lower than in Germany, although it has been similar in recent years. The advantage of German workers is that they can take their time to find a suitable employer, while they have only a slight disadvantage in terms of income.

Germany’s set of social programmes implemented in the German Empire by Otto von Bismarck in 1883 as remedial measures to appease the working class were centred squarely on insurance programs designed to increase productivity, and essentially served as the model until the mid-20th century, after which the systems diverged and Britain “opts for a kind of peculiar version of the contributory system of national insurance,” as Chris Renwick, senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of York, puts it. “So what Britain goes for is a flat rate system: So flat-rate contributions and flat-rate benefit payments out of the system. “If you’ve paid in for 20 years you get the same amount as you do if you paid in for six months.” (“Welfare state: Who′s bigger on benefits, Germany or the UK …”)

Patricia Hogwood says the Anglo-Irish model was always intended to provide comprehensive emergency coverage. “It was never intended to replace income in the event of an emergency. So if you became unemployed, you got a lump-sum subsidy from the government. If you had a well-paying job, that wouldn’t come close to covering the expenses you were used to. If you had a low-paying job, it would be about what you were used to. And the payments were short-lived because it was assumed that people would find a new job fairly quickly.” (“Welfare state: Who′s bigger on benefits, Germany or the UK …”) (https://www.dw.com/en/welfare-state-whos-bigger-on-benefits-germany-or-the-uk/a-42522407).

By comparison, Germany has developed a strong social contract with workers over decades since WWII. There are many laws and regulations that employers must follow to ensure the welfare and fair and equal treatment of workers.

Patricia Hogwood also argued in 2016 that the German system has already shown weaknesses, using a historical analysis to argue that the erosion of the principles of social justice underlying the corporatist system of health administration in Germany represents a change in basic assumptions in service delivery. It noted that the German welfare system has faced a number of internal and external pressures in recent decades, including fiscal constraints, the impact of globalization, demographic crises, and the near collapse of the eurozone.

It is true that over the years, political leaders have increasingly moved the state away from direct service delivery and outsourced services to private organisations, which are subject to stringent controls. The goal in implementing these changes has been to introduce financial sustainability, but without sacrificing social equity, a value that continues to arouse great interest among the German public. The tension this creates is unmistakable, and the reduction in hospital beds, as well as nursing staff, has been clearly felt in the Corona crisis. And yet, the number of nursing beds in Germany is significantly higher than in the UK, with eight per one thousand inhabitants in Germany and 2.5 per one thousand inhabitants in Great Britain. (https://www.indexmundi.com/g/rank.html).

What we must also not overlook, is the fact that the long-term sustainability of the NHS is being discussed and suspicions have been expressed that the Tory government is seeking to “sell out” the NHS. A House of Lords Select Committee, chaired by the crossbench peer and obstetrician Narendra Patel, came in 2017 to the conclusion is that unless several changes are implemented, the NHS and adult social care system will be unsustainable. The Lancet reported in 2017:

“More funding for the NHS is recommended in the report, with funding needing to rise at least as fast as increases in the gross domestic product for 10 years after 2020. A decade of pay restraint has led to low morale and made recruitment difficult, especially for low paid staff. The report concludes that the biggest internal threat to the sustainability of the NHS is the lack of a long-term strategy to secure an appropriately skilled, well trained, and committed workforce.” (“The future of the NHS – The Lancet”) https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)30994-7/fulltext#:~:text=The%20future%20of%20the%20NHS%20and%20social%20care,debate%20on%20insurance%20for%20social%20care%20must%20happen.

However, a paper by the Health Ministry from 2006 also states, “Over the course of its nearly 140-year history, the German healthcare system has proven to be extremely robust. In order to overcome the challenges ahead, we must continue to adapt our health system to changes in society.” The challenges are there for every country it seems.

Of course, the pressures brought on by the economic environment around the world are also being felt in Germany. It is the protection of labour law and social benefits that help to cope with the encroachment on health when it comes. For people working in Germany, this means that their health concerns are considered without jeopardizing their social status. I know several people who developed mental health issues at the end of their working lives, caused by stress and burnout, and were able to use the social safety net to retire without suffering significant loss of income along the way. Judging from the examples I know of this seems to be extremely difficult in the UK.

I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have worked and retired in Germany. What the future will bring, we will see.

Integral Theory and Celebration of Life

In Integral Theory, founded in the 1970s by Ken Wilbur, human development was described as a series of developmental stages. He drew from Eastern traditions and blended them with Western ideas of structural theory and psychological development, explaining the importance of integrating the stages of development and growing into a global “we.” He claimed that levels of consciousness such as the archaic, magical, mythic, mental, and integral, as developed by Jean Gebser, could not be ignored, and must be integrated into our personal and social understanding of development. It may sound a little optimistic, given the situation we find ourselves in, but we all tend to slide up and down the scale during our lives, depending on circumstances.

Looking back in history, in the “we-centred” but authoritarian Greek society, mythology was used as a basis for a large system of ritualised annual processes, which were largely based on seasonal changes and astrological observances. Some of these rituals still have meaning in some areas of the world, and are celebrated in a modified way, but their original purpose was to promote social cohesion. The Romans, with their power structures, also adopted many of these rites and enforced them because they believed that observance of the rituals was important for the permanence of their empire. This was a collectivist attitude that valued cohesion among individuals and the primacy of the group over the individual. Individuals who endangered the collective in any way were punished, and the moral imperative was to preserve society. Today in the West we see this in the form of patriotism or loyalty to groups, but we also have an individualistic attitude, and the two sometimes get in each other’s way in certain situations. In other parts of the world, especially where society tends to ritualize life, collectivism is still an expression of a religious commitment to a particular form of faith and a belief that this will protect society from malevolent forces.

This was also the case in the West for a long time, until the spread of individualism, a doctrine that states that the interests of the individual are or should be ethically paramount. The term individualism was coined in the 19th century, first in French around 1820, and then quickly spread to other European languages, showing how young this way of thinking is. Initially, it was seen as barely distinguishable from anarchy, and indeed it was the starting point of many subversive movements. However, in Germany, England, and the United States, the negative connotation was soon eliminated. In Germany, individualism became closely associated with the aspirations of Romanticism; in England, with utilitarianism and laissez-faire economics; and in America, with the basic political and social values of democracy and capitalism. It was also the time when a more materialist view of the world took over.

It is around this time that the Christian church in Europe was going through a critical phase, with the 19th century witnessing the rise of biblical criticism, the spread of religious diversity from other continents, and above all the growth of science. This led many Christians to emphasize the brotherhood, to seeing miracles as myths, and to emphasize a moral approach with religion as lifestyle rather than revealed truth. However, another characteristic of Christianity in the 19th century were Evangelical revivals in some largely Protestant countries, especially America, promoting a fundamentalist and literal interpretation of the Bible to preserve the tradition. Since the church was the main custodian of ritual tradition in the West, social cohesion changed, despite a general turn towards the importance of consensus and feelings, nationalistic ideologies took the place of religious ritual, which was utilised, but no longer central.

It led, of course, to the worst century for armed conflict in history, and millions died. Added to this, in Russia and China, displaced or killed even more people during their communistic revolutions. The twentieth century is an example of a regressive development, primarily because of the influence of destructive philosophies which placed ideological group identity above previous alliances, like family, neighbourhood, or nationality. Emerging from the turmoil of the world wars, the West split into two factions, with America turning in substantial numbers to fundamentalist Christianity, despite a large minority remaining sceptical, and Europe generally turning away, even though the principle of religious freedom remained, and protestant theology incorporated historical criticism.

Of course, rituals still have a place in the West, but they are mainly those that are entertaining. There are still traditional rituals, such as wedding ceremonies, coming-of-age rituals, and funerals, that provide structure to the complicated emotions and dramatic social changes that accompany these moments of profound transition. Rituals, though often short-lived, express a sense of belonging to a group, such as family, friends, and neighbours, as well as clubs and countries-especially at sporting events. Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA, has attracted many tens of thousands of visitors since 1986. People also flock to the changing of the guard in Athens, London, Denmark, and Norway, as well as other countries. A lot of pagan rituals have become popular in recent decades, as have the rituals of indigenous peoples.

The problem with these examples is that they no longer have the broader impact on society but are individual preferences. Even the faith-based examples of ritual have limited audiences in the West, and evangelical communities even contradictorily speak out against issues of social cohesion, climate change, and ritual-based religions, including Catholicism, and push for freedom in terms of individualism. The lack of cohesion is evident in politics, where the electorate is in many cases divided among multiple candidates, and especially in social media, a true bastion of individualism where bullying and abuse are rife. At times like these, when the West faces Russian militancy, there is a willingness to help and give out of the surplus we have, but whether that conviction will hold up under the threat of war will hopefully not be put to the test.

I don’t want to make the mistake of saying that things were better in the past, but we must ask ourselves where this relatively new individualistic attitude is taking us. The rituals of early societies and even indigenous traditions, which some call “primitive,” had a holistic approach and included the environment in their considerations, which has at least as much impact on our well-being as being able to express our opinions or do things we want to do. We need to consider the interaction between individualism and collectivism, because our habits show that both play a role when it suits us. At this point I come back to Ken Wilbur’s Integral Theory and the effort to inspire humanity to move up the scale.

There are people in the world who are currently in “survival mode,” which is practically a throwback to pre-civilization times; others live in a kind of “tribal order,” with strong religious feelings or superstitions. Then there are those who live in an “exploitative society” that promotes fears and anxieties, where it matters who your friends are, and where the people who live in an “authoritarian state” have a small advantage over them and enjoy a certain material security. Only when we reach the “capitalist stage,” when more people can develop strategies for their lives and set goals, can they gain material security at the expense of consumption. It would be hoped that human societies can evolve to the next stage of “social consensus,” where the caring dimensions of society are explored, and the inner needs of individuals are met. Unfortunately, the latter stage is viewed critically by many conservative politicians, who prefer the previous capitalist stage. The next stage to an “integral self”, which can integrate the development stages as learning phases in life but is also integrative in the sense that it accepts the diversity of humanity but with a discernment of what is harmful. Very few people have been able to achieve the “holistic self”, which is effectively a collective individualism, in which these opposites can be incorporated and used effectively.

The way to this development, should people want to pursue it, which is debatable at present, is to find a common understanding of the nature of our existence – our being. It may have different names, and different cultural backgrounds, but a consensus would help us forward. Only if we share a basic idea of who and what we are, will we seek a way ahead together, instead of competing against each other for our limited resources.

Thomas Merton found that common to all, love and friendship are part of our encounter with Being which includes a “…metaphysical intuition of Being . . . an intuition of a ground of openness, indeed of a kind of ontological openness and an infinite generosity which communicates itself to everything that is. ‘The good is diffusive of itself,’ or ‘God is love.’ Openness is not something to be acquired, but a radical gift.”

This is a feeling shared by many so-called “mystical” traditions around the world that acknowledge the ongoing mystery of existence itself, and especially our conscious perception of it. There are many people, including scientists, who believe that consciousness is the grounding foundation of existence, and that matter and energy are manifestations of it. It seems that without this metaphysical perspective, we run into a dead-end. With it, we could perhaps find a way to celebrate life together and find ways to share this planet with each other, without destroying it.

My mixed relationship with CS Lewis

CS Lewis was a favourite of mine, whether his Narnia series, or his multiple books on Christianity that he wrote with such preciseness. He was famous for his radio series on the BBC from 1941 to 1943 from London while the city was under periodic air raids, which ended up as a book named “Mere Christianity” and was a best seller. However, he held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). Reading the Narnia books as a child, I had no idea of his underlying message, and it would take some time before I did. The rationality of arguments has rarely convinced me; rather, I have always been receptive to poetry or literature, classical music and certain works of art have been able to move me. It is rather like an enchantment, but it makes people who speak about notes, words, rhymes, stanzas or colours, brushstrokes and shades seem to me as if they were in another world.

I suppose I am still the “impressionable boy” I had been as a child, who, failing miserably at school, played truant, and sat in Cafés scribbling the pages of notebooks full of inspired lines, trying to work out that which caused his unrest. No one could advise me as a pubescent child, although my mother sought advice from the family, and once a journalist, an acquaintance of my grandmother, was asked for his opinion on what I had written. He was probably very diplomatic when he told my mother that I should try harder in school and keep at it. Unfortunately, school was a cluster of conflicts, and the public library was off-limits for a kid who was supposed to be in school. I was confused, because I saw that many people around me talked about being riveted by a book, unable to put it down, and often depriving themselves of sleep as a result. But no one seemed to understand that which filled my senses and caused a longing for something still unnamed, unknown.

When I joined the army, everyone suspected it was a mistake, and I struggled to keep my head above water. There was a pay sergeant that seemed to take pity, although since I had reason to doubt his intentions, and he took me to Bavaria. When I stood on the Zugspitze at 2,962 meters and looked over the Wetterstein Mountains from the highest mountain in Germany or walked in the beautiful castles of southern Bavaria, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, I relived the awe and bubbled over with admiration. The perception of the beauty of such moments was a feeling that this was what I lived for, like water for my thirst, overriding all rational considerations. This kept something alive in me that the brutal masculinity of the army threatened to kill.

A year or so later, I met a teacher in the barracks cinema who was also interested in movies, we began a conversation about those books which had been made into films, and the book club I’d joined, and we struck a chord that people around us had trouble understanding. She was engaged to a corporal in the Signals, and our interest in each other, except for a brief moment, was not romantic, but was about the magic of stories. Before we were separated and she and I were officially no longer allowed to see each other because of the intervention of the army hierarchy, she gave me a list of books to read. I watched her marriage from a distance and realized that she had given me a very personal gift for which I was very grateful. The fact that we had gotten along so well made me suspect that I needed to find a woman with whom I could communicate on that level, and I set out to find that person. For most of them, I was just funny or a fascinating conversationalist. One approached me on the stairs of the bar we had in the basement of a barracks and tore my shirt off, but no one caused the harmony I had experienced talking to this teacher. This would take some time and require further effort, which was noticed by some of the officers I sometimes talked to on the radio watch in manoeuvres, all of whom thought I was in the wrong place.

It is amazing sometimes that there are people like me going through life, a victim of a failed schooling, lost and disoriented, despite all that we pride ourselves on in our society. Perhaps it is the conflict that fosters personal development, and the suffering that matures us and leads us from the nursery to the tragedy we call life’s struggles. I met many soldiers who, by all appearances, should not have been there, but perhaps they were supposed to be. Perhaps it was an important episode in my life, despite the sudden and desperate attempt to change things after I returned to Germany following a deployment in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, a girl who had been sitting across from me at the bar and had initially avoided me showed up. We talked. I hadn’t had this kind of conversation with most of the girls I knew, and this was personal, searching, and a relief. She was also a soul caught up in circumstances that she hadn’t been able to change, and in relationships that were unfulfilling, and I had the feeling that, with our combined effort, we could change things.

After a relatively short time, we decided to get married, much to the surprise of everyone around us. Shortly thereafter, I applied for early discharge from the army, which also caused unrest in the unit. As if to prevent our marriage, I was transferred to northern Germany, but I met people who had known my father as young soldiers and were now serving as officers. They helped me, and soon I was on my way to England to disband. Everything happened in a fever, and my excitement was mixed with foreboding, for it was another episode I was beginning, with an uncertain outcome. When I arrived back in Germany and fell into the arms of my new wife, I could have cried, but I rarely did. We struggled to become independent at first, and when we finally had our own apartment, it was a bit dilapidated, and we both struggled in our jobs, but we felt like we were free. I was free to embark on an inner journey to seek the cause of my unrest and seek that which had installed that feeling of enchantment in me. I learnt German rapidly, engaged in conversations with students living above us in that ramshackle house, enjoyed the company of my wife’s friends, and had the feeling of making progress.

The reunion with CS Lewis came shortly after, amid a flood of other books that I quickly devoured. When our son was born, five years after we were married, my perspective changed and I began to think about what stories I could tell our son, and of course Narnia, which had been partially translated into German, came to mind. I still didn’t know who the wise, compassionate, magical authority Aslan was who served as a mysterious and benevolent guide to the human children who visited Narnia; or that C. S. Lewis had described Aslan as an alternate version of Jesus, the form in which he might have appeared in an alternate reality. When I read “Surprised by Joy” in a German version, a theme returned in me that had been circling around me since conversations with the pastor before I married Monika. Later I read “Mere Christianity”, this time in English, but the rationality of his arguments did not seem to appeal to me, and I remembered a passage in “Surprised by Joy”:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Christianity, or “Him who I so desired not to meet,” nudged me as seriously as Lewis, I felt, but there was nothing rational about it. I didn’t particularly like Christians, except for my Methodist great-aunt, who was an extraordinary person. I didn’t like the moralizing and the morbidly sweet songs that were sung in church. On finding a German booklet on Abraham in the ruins of a community house, I found the story strangely appealing, but I was unsure where to find people telling this kind of story, so I asked a Pastor, who brought us together with a couple, with whom we have been friends ever since. They belonged to a group that tended to think that the Bible was literally true, which was entertaining for some time, because it made me aware of the internal consistency of the stories. But after a while I noticed that they were mixing the biblical world for the real world, and rather than exiting after putting down the book, they mentally remained in that world.

I had read other, more critical writers at the time, who pointed out that the pragmatic way of thinking that we use to get along in the world has its limitations, and that the biblical stories focused more on the elusive, mysterious, and tragic aspects of the human situation that pragmatic thinking could not cope with, that would be more apt to be labelled myth. The lay people I talked to expressed concern about the books I was reading, and some of them even cited CS Lewis as a better choice, though I knew his background prevented him from sharing more than a few similar beliefs with fundamentalist Christians.

On the subject of myth, for example, he stated, “Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history… nor diabolical illusion… not priestly lying… but at its best, a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination” (Miracles, 138). Thus, it must be understood that what Lewis calls myth is not merely a story skilfully told, but a reality wrapped in a narrative that, when properly understood, can convey great truths to the reader. I developed this position in early discussion forums and also in the lectures I gave, which were welcomed on one side, mostly by women and young people, but rejected by others, mostly older men. Above all, the influence of poetry with its suggestion of everyday enchantment, which was also a part of the Narnia stories of witches and magical beings, made me more convinced that we should encourage people to perceive the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount and the fact that these speeches captivated his listeners and stimulated their imagination. I was rebutted with the emphasis that “the Word of God was sharper than a double-edged sword”.

Recently I was drawn to a report that evangelical Christians in America were demanding that CS Lewis be banned, for not complying with their teaching. I suppose they caught on then.

Soul Searching and Pooh the bear

I have been an avid reader of many authors from the beginning of the twentieth century, and Joseph Conrad, Thomas Mann, HG Wells, Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, J.M. Barrie, E.M. Forster, Somerset-Maughm come to mind, but there are many more. In fact, more than I could read, given the speed, or rather slowness, with which I tend to read. When I was working, I was grateful in some ways for the long drives across the country and for Audible, which gave me a wealth of authors and narrators to listen to. Since I no longer drive alone, or for long distances, I have returned to books and my Kindle.

One author has come to my attention, whom I previously only associated with Winnie the Pooh, for which I was grateful as an adult, rather than as a child. In fact, as a child I never took notice of him. But as rewarding as a meditation of the Pooh books are, I have realised that he had a (of course) a far larger repertoire, and I am grateful for a book that makes that clear to me.

A.A. Milne was a humourist, and played in a cricket team with HG Wells, which on and off also included J. M. Barrie, Kipling, Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, and G. K. Chesterton, who, no doubt gave him much to write about. But he was also a pacifist before WWI, up until 1915, when he was also drafted as a signals officer, and the American edition of his autobiography was actually called What Luck, which seems to express his feeling about surviving the war. Cottrell-Boyce comes to the conclusion that “Milne’s gift to write amusingly about the most trivial things is far from trivial. It’s a kind of blessing.” That certainly inspired an American author, Benjamin Hoff, to write a small book in commemoration of Milne, entitled “The Tao of Pooh”, in which he found similarities between the wisdom of Pooh and Taoism.

The book “Happy Half-Hours” is an interesting collection of essays, covering literary, married, home, public, meditative, and peaceful life. Some of them very thoughtful and critical, but mostly of a very witty mind considering things that we seem to take for granted, but which have an important lesson to teach. At the same time, his humour and self-criticism prevent one from thinking that he is being moralistic. The list of books he found muddled after taking up residence in a new house is even a source of bemusement, considering how some books found themselves to be neighbours with their opposites. For example, poems from Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who wrote such as this:

I am the refuge of all the oppressed,
I am the boast of the free,
I am the harbor where ships may rest
Safely ‘twixt sea and sea.
I hold up a torch to a darkened world,
I lighten the path with its ray.
Let my hand keep steady
And let me be ready
For whatever comes my way–
Let me be ready.

These were found next to “Anarchy or Order”, by the “Duty and discipline movement” in London, which was sent to him hoping that he would become a member of that movement. “What I Found Out, by an English Governess, shares a corner with The Recreations of a Country Parson; they are followed by Villette and Baedeker’s Switzerland.” He was also a biting critic of writing in which he had the impression that the author couldn’t be bothered, especially when writing for children, which he relished.

“‘Being the easiest way in which to write.’ That is the secret of nine-tenths of the Christmas Books – now so many that they demand a supplement to themselves. Inasmuch as the average father stops being a solicitor or a stockbroker (jobs at which he is an expert) in order to become, for the amusement of his child, an extremely indifferent actor, novelist or draughtsman, so is it assumed that, even in the more formal making of a book, this amateurishness, this sense of relaxation, is not only ‘good enough’ for a child, but is, in a way, a kind of guarantee that one really is amusing the kid, rather than exhibiting oneself priggishly, in one’s own special line, as an expert. For, seeing the author so much at his ease, nobody can fail to realize that he is writing ‘for the young’, and not, the selfish cad, for himself.”

The rights for Winnie the Pooh were eventually given to Walt Disney corporation, which made films, cartoons and merchandise on the character, but I felt that, as amusing as it may have been to some, Milne wouldn’t have liked it. The point of Pooh the bear was his naïve thoughtfulness, expressed in statements like this: “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”, or “How do you spell ‘love’?” asked Piglet “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” said Pooh”

What else is there to say? I found the soul searching that goes on throughout Milne’s work is as discrete as Poohs’ outbursts of common sense, which are least common. It is refreshing to read someone who manages to mix such introspection with humour and wit.

Sexual Ambiguity

She had bright blue eyes that seemed to sparkle when she looked up at me and smiled, as she often did, and we laughed a lot together. We had met at the celebration of my twenty-first birthday, she was invited by my mother, who was her colleague at work, and we had agreed to go out together afterwards. She was eager to show me her world, her friends, where she hung out, and her excitement was palpable. I was still a late bloomer in some ways, even though I was already sexually active, and she made me a little giddy and unsure of where this would lead me. This was the wrong country for anything serious. I had intended to leave the UK when I joined the army at eighteen and although I wasn’t sure where I was going at the time, it wasn’t the UK.

One evening we had arranged to visit friends of hers, and she picked me up in her bubbly way, eyes bright and smile radiant. When we stopped in front of the house where her friends lived, she became unusually serious, looked me in the eye, and said, “Rob, I have to tell you that these girls are lesbians, so don’t be shocked!” I was more confused than shocked and had no concept of lesbians, no prejudice, and really no opinion. Not knowing what I was in for, I replied, “Okay,” and we rang the doorbell. When the door opened, it was rather an anti-climax, as there was nothing visibly unusual about the two young and attractive young ladies who greeted us effusively. I noticed from the staring eyes that I had been the subject of a conversation before.

After we settled down and had a drink in hand, the conversation got going, and bounced about as it usually does with young women. Occasionally I managed to laugh at the right moment, but I still felt like a stranger in the group, so I held back a bit, listening, and trying to figure out why my friend had made such a point of telling me about her friends’ sexual preferences. Gradually they started drawing me into the conversation and once I had acclimatised, I started talking freely. I was asked to tell one of my stories and, because they were usually adlib and spontaneous, I thought something through and began. It was well received, and we all laughed jovially. At that moment, one of the young ladies sat down at my feet and casually leaned against my shin. At first, I thought this was strange, but I had become accustomed to the conversation and have always been able to participate in conversations that my male friends found problematic. Suddenly, the girl at my feet leaned on my knees and asked, “Why are you in the Army, Rob?” I was taken aback by her demeanour and words and confessed to her that I wanted to go abroad to see other places. She shook her head and said, “No, that’s not what I mean, you’re such a gentle spirit, I can’t imagine you with a gun!”

I made a joke about being a lousy shot and told a story about getting in trouble at the range for firing a shot before I was ordered to, but I could tell by the way my friend was looking at the girl at my feet, who showed no intention of moving, that the mood had tipped. She tried to salvage the conversation by saying suggestively, “I can assure you he’s gentle in a very manly way!” and laughed nervously. We all laughed, but the girl at my feet shook her head and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “No, you’re the spirit of a woman in a man’s body!”

I smiled and said that I didn’t think storytelling was just a woman’s domain, and the second young lady nervously offered to get us something to drink, but my friend said it was time to go. She said we had somewhere else to go, and it was nice to see them again, but we shouldn’t disturb their privacy for too long. It was clear that the conversation had taken a turn she hadn’t expected, and we all got up and headed for the door. She was not quite so cheerful as we got into the car, and at first, I thought she was going to cry, but she reached out and kissed me passionately. That’s when I realized she was staking her claim, and I was expected to accept that.

That was also the turning point in our relationship. The next week became difficult, and I understood her advances more as passionate pleas, but which had the opposite effect of what they intended. I struggled with this for a while, but eventually I had to make it clear to her that I was not coming back to the UK and could not start a serious relationship there. This broke her heart and she realized, I think, that her overzealous attempts to beguile me had had the opposite effect. I also felt bad and blamed myself for not making it clear from the beginning. But then, we had just been having fun, I thought. When we parted, I could see from the living room window that the car hadn’t moved and that the person behind the wheel was slumped over, probably sobbing. I didn’t stay there to watch her drive away, but went to bed, but couldn’t sleep.

European Army?

In the UK there were voices concerned about a European army, which Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were discussing back in 2018. Angela Merkel called for the creation of a “real, true” European army, echoing a similar call by her French counterpart. The German chancellor’s backing for the force came amid a spat with the then US president Donald Trump, who took offence to a suggestion by Emmanuel Macron that such an army could ensure Europe’s security. Envisioned was a pan-European army relying on European-made and -owned weapons and machinery instead of American ones. A Europe even defended by its own nuclear weapons.

In fact, it was Donald Trump who took offence at the military budgets of European NATO partners, even though since 2016, several European nations had begun, against internal opposition, increasing their military spending. Together, the European Union’s member states, including Great Britain, spent about $227 billion in 2017 on their national military budgets, the third most after the United States ($639 billion) and China ($228 billion). However, that equated to only about 1.3 percent of the EU’s gross domestic product, and not the agreed 2%.

With the surrender of the German Wehrmacht on 8.5.1945 the Second World War ended in Europe. The Allies liberated Germany from National Socialism and the victims of Nazi crimes were mourned. Tens of millions of people had lost their lives in the Holocaust and the “Total War”. Russia, America, England and France were the victors of the war and took over the country. They divided Germany into four zones: The Russian-occupied zone later became the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the three Western zones occupied by America, England and France merged to form the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Europe was considered a continent defined by catastrophic wars and the clash of empires, and demilitarisation in Germany was considered a priority. The Wehrmacht and everything military or useful for military purposes were dissolved. The almost complete demilitarization was followed by political decentralization.

However, only ten years after the end of the Second World War and the German surrender, the Bundeswehr was founded because a new confrontation had broken out: The Cold War. The intensified confrontation between the Western world and the Soviet Union paved the way for the founding of the Bundeswehr in 1955-56. The Soviet Union had already used the currency reform in the West German occupation zones in May 1948 as an opportunity to cut off West Berlin, which was controlled by the Western powers, from West Germany by land. Via an airlift, the Western Allies supplied West Berlin until May 1949, and although the Soviet Union eventually abandoned the blockade, the dispute continued to simmer.

When I think back to the 1970s, as a British soldier I was told I was part of a friendly occupation of Germany, together with other European countries, by American and British troops, which was intended to serve as a defence against the threat from the Soviet Union. That will have been a primary goal of the troops stationed in Europe, but we can’t forget that there had also been the intention to prevent Germany from becoming a military power again. Schools and Universities in Germany were being utilised to invoke a spirit of pacifism. The call “Nie Wieder Krieg!” that was heard in protests against the Nuclear Armament of NATO wasn’t new, it had followed WWI, when the socially and politically committed artist Käthe Kollwitz supported these efforts in 1922-23 with a series of woodcuts entitled “War”.

When the Soviet Union began to disband after 1989, NATO gradually pulled its troops out of Germany, which was a sign to all that it was assumed that the threat of Russia had subsided. There were even calls for NATO to disband, but the Baltic States were looking for membership. They weren’t convinced that the ruminations coming from Russia were a sign that the political class were happy with what had happened.

Klaus Richter, Reader in Eastern European History at Birmingham University, wrote:

“As someone who has spent all his career studying the history of the ‘small’ states situated between Russia and Germany, I am very concerned about the framing of the Russian war against Ukraine as a conflict between Russia and NATO. Of course, NATO should not forcibly expand, but it also hasn’t: Membership is sought through application. If we want to respect the agency of ‘small’ states, we need to respect their wish to join NATO. None of them were ‘seduced’ into joining NATO.

It is difficult for people in the ‘West’ to understand what security means to these states. Security has been ingrained into their foreign policy ever since 1991. It’s not something abstract as it is for many in Western Europe. Ukraine’s, Lithuania’s, Moldova’s or Estonia’s security concerns are much more objective than Russia’s.”

This is another perspective given to the struggle back in 2018 with Donald Trump, who even threatened to take America out of the Alliance. If we imagine the consequences of that, the membership would have been worth nothing and in the Casus foederis (derived from the Latin for “case for the alliance”), which in diplomatic terms describes a situation in which the terms of an alliance come into play, such as one nation being attacked by another, there would be no military strength worth mentioning to back it up. Britain, it was speculated, would follow America.

With military spending increased in response to the invasion of Ukraine (even though it will take years to replace old military equipment) and the possibility of a new Donald Trump presidency, talk of a European army ultimately has a dual impact. On the one hand, people are concerned about a new military force in Europe; on the other, support for the international alliance among key Western nations had fallen since 2017, and fewer than half of Americans (44%) supported the United States’ place in the agreement at that time. If Putin is successful, which seems very likely at this point, and the Baltic states lose NATO protection, at least Germany and France, possibly along with the Netherlands and Belgium, could form an alliance to protect at least their own states. Given the prospects and the time such a project would take, it might be wise to start now.

Of course, Putin’s invasion changed the views of member states, and in 2021 there was a 71% majority for NATO among allies overall, with the U.S. at 67%. Of course, the Baltic states were clearer at more than 80% and Lithuania at 89%, which could be even higher now. So, is there a case for a European army? I think so, if only to free Europe from ultimate dependence on the US and the UK and to build a credible defence of its values.

I don’t play poker!

We are approaching spring, and the days are getting brighter earlier, which is in contrast to the news that comes across our TV screens. People are doggedly going about their business, trying not to be influenced by the news, and it is becoming abundantly clear that we have misjudged the geopolitical situation, and in particular the threat posed by Russia. The depressed get more depressed and the paranoids get upset, but the vast majority of people are overwhelmed by the cruelty of war and feel victimized, albeit far from the action.

I can’t help thinking that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj was playing a blind poker game, knowing only that he had a queen of hearts and hoping for a royal flush. If so, he underestimated both the opposition and the cards in his hand. I hate poker, especially when played in geostrategic politics, because the loss is catastrophic. The threat posed by Putin, the arguments for sovereignty in the decisions of the Baltic states to apply for NATO membership are easy to see, and they are all correct. If anything, Putin has proven how right the Baltic states were in seeking the alliance as protection against the ridiculous attempts at “reunification” by the former Soviet states. It is just that there is more to this story, and this is said behind closed doors.

There is always more behind such conflicts, and it is the task of politics to assess the opportunities and risks of policies. My impression is that the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine was allowed to happen and no one really wanted to know what was going on. Another revelation that has been suspected from the beginning is that Putin has been working to disrupt relations between countries in the EU, funding and lobbying for Brexit, trying to get a foot in the door. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder inexplicably made himself Putin’s lobbyist in Germany, assuring Merkel that the offer to supply gas was friendly. The ideology of economic interdependence, which seemed to work well for many countries, was ruthlessly abused by Putin to force dependence.

The Chinese are waiting on the side-lines for a similar venture in Asia, which they are now likely planning as NATO gets involved in the Ukraine war. The world has become a different place, and everyone who suffers is a pawn of these people, sacrificed in a game that has many victims but no winners. Some say, probably rightly, that the West cannot complain because we fought in Afghanistan and Iraq without any significant withdrawal strategy, resulting in the death of millions of people and leaving a mess that is still causing suffering. Others say, “But we were right!” as if we can claim the moral high ground because we fought for a democratic ideal that is already losing its appeal in our own countries.

America already has its numerous private armies, armed to the teeth and bearing a frightening resemblance to the situation in the Weimar Republic in Germany before Hitler. He too used these forces to bring down the then young republic and establish a dictatorship. Initially he was opposed, but appeasement helped him rise, and other parties misjudged the determination of this “ridiculous little man.” We seem to be good at being wrong, and looking at the situation in our democracies, we would do well to reconsider our judgment of the world situation, which seems to be as changeable as the weather.

So let us not be misled by the sunny days but be prepared for what is on the horizon. Let’s be on the lookout for signs of storms and downpours so that we are not caught off guard.

Hypocrisy – the curse of the world!

It doesn’t make much difference where you look, it’s all around us. Sometimes blatant, sometimes covert – a hidden agenda or a well-intentioned strategy. And if a saying attributed to Keanu Reeves is true, depression is not so much a disease as it is the result of seeing the world as it is. To wit: The human society we have built, not the natural world.

We suffocate under hypocrisy because it makes us powerless and destroys what we value and what we need. We are like drowning people gasping for air, trying to save ourselves from the exhaustion of keeping our heads above water. We have occasionally struggled and pushed people underwater, which we normally wouldn’t do, but when you’re gasping for air, you do the strangest things.

Sincerity and honesty are like air. We need it to breathe, we need it to live fully, we need it to build up, we need it to share, and we need it to love. That’s why hypocrisy is hidden because we all know that too much of it ruins everything. People are convinced that it is a necessary evil in certain circumstances, but it gathers like smoke in a room and suffocates us unless we step outside.

We like to point out the hypocrisy of others and call it a threat, but the elephant in the room is our own hypocrisy. There is no doubt that the hypocrisy of others is a problem, but “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me pull the mote out of your eye,’ when all the time you have a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite, first pull the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly and remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” said a wise man (Matthew 7:4-5). The problem is that old.

In the current crisis with Russia, our position is weakened by the West’s inherent hypocrisy. When Putin or others point this out, we are embaressed. It is embarrassing because we claim the moral high ground while our pants are around our ankles. The way we present our liberal democracies on social media, or the internet makes any traditional society cringe at what they see. The videos that go “viral” or invade social media suggest that we have lost our minds. It’s easy for authoritarian regimes to point to this and ask: Is this what you want? Is this how you want your children, your daughters to be exploited?

You only have to consult a thesaurus to find out what the antonym of hypocrisy is, and the words that come up make it very clear what sincerity and honesty mean. To some this may seem like hogwash, and some may just turn away, but if you want to know what single word explains what is going wrong in our world, I’d say it is hypocrisy. Because our society is so complexly interactive and interdependent, it affects everything we do, and we can’t escape it. But rather than enumerate where hypocrisy can be found, I would rather list the antonyms of the word that are more inspiring.

What is the opposite word to Hypocrisy? 

Sincerity, honesty, genuineness, sincereness, truthfulness, fairness, forthrightness, frankness, openness, trustworthiness, truth, uprightness, straightforwardness, integrity, probity, ingenuousness, candidness, candour, honour, veracity, naturalness, authenticity, verity, innocence, impartiality, accuracy, reliability, directness, legality, wholeheartedness, legitimacy, earnestness, unaffectedness, faithfulness, validity, seriousness, justice, indisputability, authority, humility, good faith, respect, modesty, loyalty, scrupulousness, fidelity, voraciousness, constancy, blessing unassumingness, unpretentiousness.

Honesty by Billy Joel

If you search for tenderness
It isn’t hard to find
You can have the love you need to live
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind
It always seems to be so hard to give

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

I can always find someone
To say they sympathize
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve
But I don’t want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

I can find a lover
I can find a friend
I can have security until the bitter end
Anyone can comfort me
With promises again
I know, I know

When I’m deep inside of me
Don’t be too concerned
I won’t ask for nothin’ while I’m gone
But when I want sincerity
Tell me where else can I turn
‘Cause you’re the one I depend upon

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you