I haven’t been doing my Blog for a few weeks and in the interim quite a few things have happened.
We stayed in Wales last week and saw some spectacular scenery and many lovely villages. I took the above photo of Portmeirion, a very unique and beautiful place based on Italian design. It was used in the old TV series The Prisoner and I was able to do something I had wanted to do for years. I stood outside the house used by the hero ‘Number 6’ and said his classic line, ‘I am not a number, I am a Free Man.’ People nearby, not knowing my name is Freeman, would probably have been unimpressed.
The mountains in Wales are spectacular if somewhat misty and we were never able to see the top of Snowdon. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful part of the country but also fraught with fear if you do not like heights. One day, we were travelling up a narrow mountain road on a coach that was suddenly confronted with a very large caravan mobile home type vehicle heading towards us. Our coach driver was very experienced and very calm. On our left was a very small stone wall that looked like only the slightest knock would not only send lots of stones tumbling down the 1000 feet drop but also the coach and everyone on it.
The mobile home driver, however, seemed to be in a state of panic as it was clear that both vehicles could not pass each other at this point in the road. He did try to edge through the narrow gap between the vehicles but could not do it. After what seemed like ages, but was probably only about 15 minutes, the driver behind the mobile home got out of his car and tried to guide the caravan through. This failed and in the meantime, there was a long queue of cars stretching down the pass behind us and an equally long queue of cars stretching up behind the caravan. It was stalemate.
On our coach there were several people who were afraid of heights and those on the left-hand side of the coach which was almost hanging over the drop below were starting to panic. One man wanted to get off and walk but we calmed him down and he stayed. Even my wife was quite worried about what would happen as, like me, she is very scared of heights and there didn’t seem to be any solution to the problem with everyone just stuck being unable to go up or down. It was a bit like the end scene in the film The Italian Job only not quite so dramatic.
Eventually, with the clever thinking and guiding help of the driver behind the caravan the smaller cars behind the caravan overtook it and filtered through the gap and left enough space behind the caravan for the driver to backup some way to where the road widened. Our coach driver, who had been the epitome of calmness, proceeded up the mountain as though nothing had happened. There was much clapping on the coach at the relief.
It left me thinking about what may have happened if the two large vehicles had collided and our coach had been pushed over the edge down the mountainside and how your whole life can change in a minute or even a second.
This was particularly rammed home to me when we returned from Wales to our home in Shoreham. Many of you will know about the tragic Air Show disaster on the A27 road near Shoreham airport in Sussex. The day after we returned a Hunter jet failed to complete a loop the loop manoeuvre and crashed into a line of cars on the A 27. This is a motorway type bypass across the north of Shoreham and is always filled with thousands of cars a day travelling from east to west and vice versa. In the resulting carnage it is believed up to 20 people were killed and many more injured. Amazingly, the pilot escaped alive but with serious injuries. Having seen the fireball that enveloped everything around the crash it is easy to imagine the trauma and horror suffered not by just the victims but also by the witnesses.
As our house is very close to the crash site I heard the explosion as the plane hit the ground and the plume of black smoke mushrooming into the sky could be seen for miles around. Although the smoke quickly disappeared, a black cloud has metaphorically hung over Shoreham for some days. Everything seems dull and quiet with torrential rain making life difficult for the crash site investigators and those repairing the road.
Yet, through it all, a great sense of community developed with the local Tesco and M&S superstores providing sandwiches, doughnuts and drinks for the emergency services throughout the weekend. Even a local taxi firm offered free rides to people who needed to collect their vehicles from the hundreds at the airport car park which had been abandoned for a few days because there was no way out.
I cannot stop thinking about this disaster. Whether it is because it was so close to our house and the fact that any of my family or friends could have been victims, I don’t know. The local radio station reported that there had been a surge of texts and phone calls from people trying to find out if their loved ones were okay if they knew they were in the area or used that busy road. I must confess that I did text some of my family and friends on some pretext just to make sure that everything was fine with them. If I had received no replies I would have been very worried. That is why I can imagine the anxiety of many people who made such phone calls or texts and having received no answer would really start to worry. Even now, not all bodies have been identified and I saw many Facebook enquiries about people who had not returned home and people hoping that there was something wrong with their phones. The waiting for news must have been terrible and then when it eventually arrived, devastating.
The fragility of life is frightening if you dwell on it. Those poor people just driving along happily enough but in a few seconds never getting to their destination; their lives extinguished or their bodies mutilated and their families’ lives blighted also in a moment. Also, how must have the drivers etc just behind the vehicles that got smashed have felt? Shocked or shaken it wasn’t them?
Many people offered prayers for the injured and grieving to recover physically and mentally. Moving stories emerged about the lives of some of the dead and how they were the kindest and nicest people you could meet. That, of course, led to some people querying why God would allow such people to be killed in this way. Naturally, such anger and questioning is entirely reasonable and normal. There are never any easy answers to such things and if any of my family or friends had been victims, I would have been angry too.
But this was not an act of God but an act of Man. We all have free will to engage in whatever acts we choose and live with those consequences. Were it not so we would be merely puppets with God pulling the strings on everything we did. We would have no free will. Faith is a corollary of free will and that is why God does not prove himself to us but requires faith. Also, I believe that God can help comfort the grieving and injured through prayers even though they might currently seem just empty platitudes.
So, what have I learnt from this? I’m not entirely sure. I could spout aphorisms such as “take one day at a time”, “be grateful for everything you have” etc but everybody knows such things and are they really helpful, or do we take any notice of such sayings? No, I think if anything it has made a lot of people realise that you should never leave somebody with angry words on your lips as it may be the last time you see them. Also, all our little worries, petty dislikes and opinions can disappear in an instant without ever having made a difference. In fact, if you view everything in the light of eternity, is it really worth worrying at all about such things?