Christmas is an odd time if one writes a blog. One option is to studiously avoid any reference to it. Another is to debunk it a la Scrooge. Or one takes some kind of spiritual view of the festival. I’m hoping to try and write something of my own thoughts about it – and link it to some wider ideas. In 1919 W.B.Yeats wrote a poem called The Second Coming which has the lines “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” The link is to a reading of the poem
I’ve always liked the image of a beast slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born. This is no triumphal entry, no birth announced with trumpets and fanfares. This creature waiting to be born, travels holding its breath. As if by no means certain of reaching Bethlehem – or anywhere else for that matter. But it carries on, hoping to get there in time. (I always think this creature would be much happier out in the fields with the sheep than accompanying the Great and the Good. And even in the fields I always suspect it would stay on the edges, near shelter. Not certain what welcome would meet it if it made itself known.) For me this creature is Hope. The birth of any baby is a hopeful time – albeit mixed with anxiety. Babies represent many things but at best they stand for hope. A desire to make things as well as possible for it. To look after it, care for to nurture it. From my work as a psychiatric nurse I have been involved in a few cases where a woman has had four, five or six babies taken into Care (an odd euphemism!) because she is not considered able to look after them herself. Each new pregnancy represented another chance for these mothers. Their hope was that this time things would be different. This time they could look after a baby. The authorities decided otherwise and each child was taken away – leaving another generation of damaged individuals. The Christmas story is about a baby who wasn’t taken away and who represented a new beginning for both his parents and, we are told, all humanity. Hope was born in Bethlehem albeit, as T.S.Eliot has it “more like a death a birth”. Hope is like the Eliot line. It costs to hope. In my teaching the phrase that many of my students use is “I will offer reassurance.” When I ask them whom and what they will reassure they reply “The patient”. I then ask what reassurance will they give? Things go quiet at this point. I tell them “Reassurance never reassures”. We “offer reassurance” to make ourselves feel better. We cannot make guarantees about outcomes. The best we can do is to hope. I hope I will not be involved in a car crash coming home. I hope my children will grow into healthy adults. I hope that I will pass my exam. But this is not certain. An exercise I do with my students is to give them Brian Patten’s “Prosepoem towards a definition of itself.” I ask them to replace “Poetry” with “God” and then “Nursing”. The responses are aways fascinating. It also works well with “Hope” – Prosepoem towards a Definition of Itself by Brian Patten
In all clinical work, Hope is essential. (I have four psychoanalytic dictionaries. None of them have an entry for “Hope”.) Hope is not false assurance that everything will work out well. Hope is this can be survived. Together we can find a way through this. I tweeted recently that ” … some of the work of therapy is to decipher what can sound like babble and reframe it as a shared language.” A shared language gives us the possibility of a shared understanding. From this hope can be conceived. And born. And helped to grow. But Hope will never wear King’s robes. Or expensive vestments. It will be hiding in corners. Sitting on the sidelines. But always slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born.