January 28, 2015

Seneca on the Shortness of Life

Life without any chance of death is hardly worth living
Health breakthroughs seem like great news, but we all need mortality as motivation

From this week's Brainpickings'  15 worthy resolutions for 2015 from some of history's greatest minds comes these quotes from Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. Seneca writes:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it... Life is long if you know how to use it.

To those who so squander their time, he offers an unambiguous admonition:

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire... How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

The cure he prescribes is rather simple, yet far from easy to enact:

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 PM | Permalink

The Curse of Cromwell

When Oliver Cromwell died, a gilt copper plate was placed on his chest and the Lord Protector,  after a funeral of great pomp,  was buried in a vault in at Westminster Abbey.  But he didn't rest there long.

Believing that the death and execution of the king was necessary to end the English civil wars, he was one of the signatories of the death warrant for King Charles I who was executed on January 30, 1649.    Cromwell then invaded and conquered Ireland.  His actions against the Irish were near-genocidal.  In 4 years, 500,000 Irish men and women in Ireland were killed, a quarter of the civilian population. YouTube video: Cromwell, God's Executioner

The public practice of Catholicism was banned and Catholic priests were executed when captured.  Wikipedia: "All Catholic-owned land was confiscated under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland of 1652 and given to Scottish and English settlers, Parliament's financial creditors and Parliamentary soldiers. … Under the Commonwealth, Catholic landownership dropped from 60% of the total to just 8%…..Faced with the prospect of an Irish alliance with Charles II, Cromwell carried out a series of massacres to subdue the Irish. Then, once Cromwell had returned to England, the English Commissary, General Henry Ireton, adopted a deliberate policy of crop burning and starvation, which was responsible for the majority of an estimated 600,000 deaths out of a total Irish population of 1,400,000"…..

…Winston Churchill wrote in 1957:  ……upon all of these Cromwell's record was a lasting bane.  By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. 'Hell or Connaught' were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred 'The Curse of Cromwell on you.' … Upon all of us there still lies 'the curse of Cromwell'."

Cromwell l is still a figure of hatred in Ireland.  In 1997,  Taoiseach Bertie Ahern demanded that a portrait of Cromwell be removed from a room in the Houses of Parliament before he began talks with Tony Blair

After the execution of King Charles I,  political and religious revolutions racked Britain which became a joyless, kingless republic led by Oliver Cromwell, a puritan who declared himself Lord Protector.

Once Charles I's son was restored to the throne, on the 12th anniversary of the king's execution, Cromwell's body and 2 others were exhumed, the corpses dragged in their coffins to the  West London execution side of Tyburn…where the corpses were hung in chains for an hour, then taken down and beheaded.  The heads were placed on 20 foot spikes in front of Westminster Hall.

It was then that exhumer, James Norfolke, Serjeant-at-Arms to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who had been tasked with exhuming the regicides’ bodies. He helped himself to the plaque and it remained in his family for hundreds of years.

Cromwell's head remained on its spike for 30 years in front of Westminster Hall.

Oliver Cromwell's burial plate sells for $116, 719

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:57 PM | Permalink

70th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz. Said one survivor "I could cry nonstop, even now" and another "You should never, never be a bystander!’

 70Years Return Auschwitz

70 years after they were liberated, Auschwitz survivors make their last pilgrimage to the infamous death camp.

When the original Auschwitz concentration camp could not cope with the slaughter expected of it, the Nazis created an even larger, industrial death plant and railway yard next door here at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Its pointed, red-brick watch tower, beneath which every cattle wagon hauled its tragic cargo to the end of the line and the ‘selection’ ramps, is now a global symbol of genocide.

Yesterday, it was the dramatic backdrop to the desperately poignant, emotionally-charged international ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
That event is now enshrined as Holocaust Memorial Day in honour not only of the 1.1 million Jews murdered here but of all six million Jews and five million others executed at all those synonyms for cruelty – Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Sobibor, Buchenwald…
….
Sitting in the front row were four British survivors, including a sprightly 84-year-old Hampstead grandmother who, until yesterday, had been unable to face coming back. Widowed earlier this month, she is profoundly glad she came.‘I felt such turmoil, such anger seeing this place again,’ Susan Pollack told me last night. ‘But this ceremony was so uplifting that it will be one of the defining memories of my life.’

In the summer of 1944, aged 13, she emerged, gasping for air, from a fetid cattle truck (in which several people had died) just yards from here only to be dragged away from the mother she would never see again. Stripped, shaved and housed ten to a bunk, Susan withdrew inside herself, spoke to no one and barely noticed when a random wave of an SS finger eventually sent her not to the gas chambers but a slave labour camp.
In early 1945, with the Allies approaching, her captors sent her on a ‘death march’, a merciless retreat through the snow, to a place which evokes memories every bit as terrifying as Auschwitz – the human abattoir of Bergen-Belsen.

By the time it was liberated by the British in April 1945, Susan was lying among the dead when a British medic spotted signs of life. He carefully carried the skeletal 14-year-old to his ambulance. ‘The very fact that this soldier was picking me up and holding me was an act of human kindness I have never got over. I still can’t,’ she says brightly.‘Someone actually caring for me again – it still brings out tears.’
--
Roman Kent survived the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz and two slave camps to build a new life as a US businessman and author.
‘We do not want our past to be our children’s future,’ declared Roman Kent. ‘That is the key to my existence.’  …‘Six million Jews? They were not “lost”. They were murdered. Those that died did not “perish” but were murdered. By using sanitised words, we are helping the deniers.’
He concluded that he would like to add an eleventh commandment to the Old Testament list: ‘You should never, never be a bystander!’

One of the many haunting photographs

 2Elderly Holocaust Survivors

Holocaust survivors’ 70 years of trauma: ‘I could cry nonstop, even now’

Seven survivors' stories, 70 years on

Remembering the priests of Dachau and the roots of the restored diaconate
The priest prisoners were kept in cellblock 26, known as “Der Priesterblock.” For the imprisoned priests, this experience was transformative. While in Der Priesterblock, many of them began talking about how to renew the Church when the war was over. How could the Church better serve the world? One answer, they felt, would include bringing back an ancient order of service, the diaconate.

After the camp was liberated, the priests who survived returned to a Europe in ruins – a world desperately in need of evangelization, just as in the first century. Some of the priests formed what they called Deacon Circles of clergy and laity – circles of prayer, and service and charity. By the early 1960s, some of those priests from Dachau had become bishops. They attended the Second Vatican Council.

Wrestling With the Darkness of Man (On Auschwitz & Dietrich von Hildebrand)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:56 PM | Permalink

The Curse of Cromwell

When Oliver Cromwell died, a gilt copper plate was placed on his chest and the Lord Protector,  after a funeral of great pomp,  was buried in a vault in at Westminster Abbey.  But he didn't rest there long. 

Believing that the death and execution of the king was necessary to end the English civil wars, he was one of the signatories of the death warrant for King Charles I who was executed on January 30, 1649.    Cromwell then invaded and conquered Ireland.  His actions against the Irish were near-genocidal.  In 4 years, 500,000 Irish men and women in Ireland were killed, a quarter of the civilian population. 

YouTube video: Cromwell, God's Executioner

The public practice of Catholicism was banned and Catholic priests were executed when captured.  Wikipedia: "All Catholic-owned land was confiscated under the Act for the Settlement of Ireland of 1652 and given to Scottish and English settlers, Parliament's financial creditors and Parliamentary soldiers. … Under the Commonwealth, Catholic landownership dropped from 60% of the total to just 8%…..Faced with the prospect of an Irish alliance with Charles II, Cromwell carried out a series of massacres to subdue the Irish. Then, once Cromwell had returned to England, the English Commissary, General Henry Ireton, adopted a deliberate policy of crop burning and starvation, which was responsible for the majority of an estimated 600,000 deaths out of a total Irish population of 1,400,000"…..

…Winston Churchill wrote in 1957:  ……upon all of these Cromwell's record was a lasting bane.  By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. 'Hell or Connaught' were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred 'The Curse of Cromwell on you.' … Upon all of us there still lies 'the curse of Cromwell'."

Cromwell l is still a figure of hatred in Ireland.  In 1997,  Taoiseach Bertie Ahern demanded that a portrait of Cromwell be removed from a room in the Houses of Parliament before he began talks with Tony Blair

After the execution of King Charles I,  political and religious revolutions racked Britain which became a joyless, kingless republic led by Oliver Cromwell, a puritan who declared himself Lord Protector. 

Once Charles I's son was restored to the throne, on the 12th anniversary of the king's execution, Cromwell's body and 2 others were exhumed, the corpses dragged in their coffins to the  West London execution side of Tyburn…where the corpses were hung in chains for an hour, then taken down and beheaded.  The heads were placed on 20 foot spikes in front of Westminster Hall. 

It was then that exhumer, James Norfolke, Serjeant-at-Arms to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who had been tasked with exhuming the regicides’ bodies. He helped himself to the plaque and it remained in his family for hundreds of years.

Cromwell's head remained on its spike for 30 years in front of Westminster Hall.

Oliver Cromwell's burial plate sells for $116, 719

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:08 AM | Permalink

January 23, 2015

"Don’t make the same mistakes my parents did"

Bethany Mandel offers Eight Parenting Lessons I Learned From My Parents’ Early Deaths
Don’t make the same mistakes my parents did. Prepare for death, so if it happens, your children will be as secure as possible.

1. Buy life insurance
2. Make a Will and Arrange Guardians for Your Kids
3. Write Down Your Recipes - The tastes of your childhood can disappear with your parents.
4. Print Photos and Make Albums
5. Write Down Family Stories
6. Give the Gift of Genealogy and Family History - Family history is important to me, probably because I have so little family left.
7. Compile Immediate Family Medical Histories
8. Make Memories, Not Money, the Priority

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:02 AM | Permalink

January 17, 2015

'Yes, I'm dying, but tell me your good news, do my ironing without being asked and don't treat me like a saint'

Kate Gross, a mother-of-two, died at 36 from colon cancer.  Yet at that young age, she had already been a private secretary for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, founded a charity and was awarded OBE for her services to the public and charitable sectors.

 Katie Gross+Family

But what caught my eye was Yes, I'm dying, but tell me your good news, do my ironing without being asked and don't treat me like a saint':

That's from her newly posthumously published book, Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Wonderful Life)

Written for those she loves,  it is not a conventional cancer memoir; nor is it filled with medical jargon or misery.Instead, it is Kate’s personal way of making sense of the final chapter of her life.  Her book discusses the wonder to be found every day, what it means to die before your time, and how to fill life with hope and joy even in the face of tragedy.  From the published excerpt:

…..Now, I look back on the days we’ve had following Bad News, and I can remember almost every instant. What I did. What I said to whom.
The words that kept going round in my head: Not Yet, Not Yet.
How the image I had in my head of death was of me in the back of a black taxi, leaving an awesome party before the end, just when everyone else was starting to have real fun. …..

When I tell you what happened next, remember that I am not unusually unfeeling, but am basically wired for happiness. The sadness left me. Or perhaps it is fairer to say it settled in; it became part of my mental furniture rather than a monster which inhabited my mind against my will.

The acute period of misery was short-lived — days or weeks. I think this was because we humans cannot exist in a state of heightened emotion for long. We are programmed to normalise, even after the worst news imaginable…..

There is a third state, between crisis and endurance: uncertainty….

I have started kneeling down in forest glades and old, cold churches and asking for help.
The God I find there — the one who helps me cling on to a still, small voice of calm — is the God of churches at smokefall, a God who swims in cold seas, inhabits high mountains and wild places.
Being outside, among nature, among all of this, is the one unfailing way I have found to stop my Achilles’ heel from crippling me.

I can weep on anyone, but no one gets to weep on me. (Of course you’re sad that I’m dying, but I just don’t need to hear you snuffle snottily that you’re so devastated that I’m going to leave my children motherless. Hold it together, go cry on someone else.)  Don’t assume that you should crowd towards the centre of the spiral. Leave us space to breathe.  ….

You can tell me I look great, even if I don’t. But please don’t treat me as if I’m a dying saint who has granted you an audience in her final hours.  Don’t hold our moments together in some precious reverence. Don’t make me feel as if this is the last time we will meet.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:50 AM | Permalink