Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Of mice and men
The verse for today - You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32) has been resonating today in so many odd ways.
Firstly, you can't mention the word "truth" without another voice in your head whispering "what is truth"? Like Pilate of old, searching for a meaning, for something concrete and true, questioning what is, or is not, true has been a raison d'etre for so much of mankind since first we climbed trees, painted ourselves blue and clubbed each other over the head with a hearty "ugg". What is truth?
Can it set us free?
When so many are in prison because of the truth - the truth of human rights, of freedom of speech, of religion, of humanity - can it set us free? Maya Angelou in her writing spoke of a cage of social and educational and financial making, and yet she called herself a caged bird that could Sing, and sing from the heart. Has the knowledge of being imprisoned, and an optimistic resignation to that state, made one free? The assurance that we who are bound may be ransomed, that our spirits and our souls can never be enchained - does that truth make us free?
But after pondering this on the bus, as one does, I stepped off the 109 and onto my train, pulled out my book (Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders) and the first line my eyes glanced upon was: "He will be baffled by the truth. The mediocre always are."
Does the truth indeed enlighten us, set us free - metaphorically and/or physically? Or does it actually confuse us, binding us more closely in confusion or sorrow? Supposing our friend's husband has had an affair and we find out. The truth must be told. But in doing so - does not that lead to great heartbreak? Then we are sometimes guilty in telling the truth. Telling the truth has not set anyone free apart from our own consciences - and so we place truth at the top of our list of priorities, over and above the happy and blissful ignorance of our friends.... and yet... it is so easy to lie to help a friend... If someone has lost a person dear to them do we not tell meaningless lies to make them feel better? Are we not then guilty for lying to them? But if we were to tell the bald, ugly truth - we plunge them into deeper sorrow of spirit.
I'm not sure the truth does set us free. It comes with a price, a cost. It is of course imperative that we are honest, that we are true to our beliefs, that we speak of One who came to bring Truth and Light and Life - indeed, Jesus described Himself as The Truth (the truth being a person)... and yet yet yet it is so hard a course, so rocky a road and full of pitfalls that only the very brave must dare to be honest regardless of torment or torture. And only the very wise can tell the truth at all times without hurting others; only the very kind can add pure honesty to their virtues without causing other people to be trapped or chained up.
This morning we caught a very little mouse in the office. He was tiny - half the size of my thumb. Which is a useless description unless you have seen my thumb. Well then, he was just bigger than a 50 pence piece, with a tiny little head, miniature pink hands and feet and large black eyes fringed with delicate, twitching whiskers. Richard wanted to stamp on him but others and I objected. It ended up with me holding the little fella in a cardboard tube, and running downstairs to let him out into a nearby churchyard. I thought he would enjoy the abundant flowerpots with their profusion of covering leaves and scented blooms. He certainly seemed to be happy enough, scampering around. I felt pleased that we had set him free.
Five minutes later we heard the growl of distant thunder, swiftly crescendoing into a roar and the rain lashed down. Then I wished we had not set him free in the cold and the rain. Has his freedom come at a price? And what is the life of a little, motherless mouse worth? A slower death outside or a swift one inside the warm, waiting for the Rentokil man. What was the truth here?