top of page
J u s t  T h i n k i n g

Some days you’re just thinking along and something gels. Here are some of those moments for me.


Please Love Your Children


The Price


To Forgive








Anchor 1

Please Love Your Children


I wasn’t going to write about him. Not by name. Honest.

But now. Now. I have to say at least this: Trump is what you get when you don’t love your children. And his worshippers are what you get when the nation, the world, doesn’t love its producers of wealth. Not its holders of wealth. Its producers. Its essential but left-out work force.

Analyse everything Trump says and everything he does. Everything. And you will find a boy scrambling to find the exit signs in a Queens Jamaica Estates six-bedroom maelstrom of ‘you are not good enough, and we won’t love you until you are’.

Analyse everything Trump says and does, and you will find a 13-year-old consigned to military school who packed ‘you are not good enough to be loved’ into every suitcase and corpuscle as he left.

People do that. Knowing as tinies that we are not loved because we are not enough, that we never can be but must do nothing with our lives except try to be, kneads us into love-seeking waifs for the rest of our lives.

‘I am a legitimate person.’ Spoken by this 77-year-old boy just yesterday, those words are caterwauls to the fathermothernolovemonsters in Jamaica Estates.

‘I am a legitimate person,’ says the boy, not to his interviewer – never to his interviewer –  but to his ‘base’. ‘His’ base. His proof to the Queens judges that he is loved. That he is good enough. 30 million people who ‘love’ him so much, he says, that they would lift him onto their shoulders after watching him murder someone on Fifth Avenue (home, by the way, of the also ‘you are not enough’ Manhattan untouchables whose love he now seeks most of all). 30 million who ‘love’ him because he figured out to say that he loves them.

‘I am a legitimate person’. ‘I have done nothing wrong’. ‘I am a stable genius'. ‘I understand money better than anybody’. ‘I was successful, successful, successful’. ‘Nobody has ever been more successful than me’. ‘I am the least anti-Semitic [and racist] person you have ever seen in your entire life’. ‘I am so good looking’. ‘I am a super model’. ‘I was always the best at sports’. ‘I am really good at war’. ‘I know more about renewables than any person on earth’.

I am ‘worthy!’ the boy shouts. If only someone could see him, cheer for him. If only there were people to rally around his genius and show the Queensmonster that he deserves to be loved. And that he did all along.

If only.

And then there were. His ‘genius’ was in spotting them – the also-unloved. People also looking for the exit signs, not this time from a suburb’s mock Tudor, but from a mock equal-opportunity work place. People sidelined, snubbed, discounted, humiliated. Mocked. The ignored, ‘deplorable’, excluded wage-earners of the country. The small-holding farmers. The ‘poorly educated’. The invisibles.

He saw them. He said I love you. He said only I love you. He said you now have someone to look up to who looks up to you. You are not only good; you are the very best ever in the history of the entire world. Others do not know that the way I do. Like me, you have been pushed aside. But I am here now. I am successful, rich, famous, just as you want to be. I speak for you. I say things you are thinking. I talk the way you talk. I fight for you. ‘I am your retribution’.

‘I love you’ is all it took to gather them and hold them. It took more than that, including a mastery of ‘persuasion psychology'1 plus an also-loathed elite opponent, to gather enough votes in just the right places to win. But winning was never the core point. He wanted 30 million proofs that he was good enough to be loved. And if he loses again, the boy will do whatever it takes to keep those 30 million proofs.

Eight years on, every Trump utterance is still a version of ‘dear base, I love you. Keep loving me’. So we must stop listening to this boy for logic, for accuracy, for ideas, for vision, for civility. We must hear his answers to questions exclusively as messages to his ‘I-love-you-and-you-love-me’ base. Nothing he says has to make sense. It usually doesn’t. It has only to keep the lovers cheering. It has only to make the pain subside for a second.

But isn’t he a narcissist focusing only on himself all of the time because he loves himself? He is a narcissist, yes. But narcissists focus on themselves not because they love themselves, but because they don’t. Because they can’t. Narcissists so deeply cannot love themselves and so desperately want to that they reference themselves even in their descriptions of their enemies. ‘He is the most corrupt president in the history of this country.’ ‘He is a loser’. ‘She is a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future’. Untrue of them; true of himself.

Narcissists’ lives are fraying strings of attempts to prove themselves lovable because that knowledge was desiccated in those first desperate, you-are-not-worthy-of-love, boy years.

Unloved children kill. Workers follow as fodder. They gather armies. With them they kill anyone who excludes them. To do that they must kill the excluders and their institutions – of law, of equality, justice, education, even art. They must kill complexity. They must kill nuance. They must kill compromise. They must kill difference. They must kill thinking. They must kill intelligent feeling. They must kill grace. They must kill the boy pain.

Please love your children. For who they are. Because they are already good.



1 See Cialdini, Robert B., Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, HarperCollins, © 2001

Anchor 2

The Price

A saying often says nothing because we over-say it. That is sad because a saying started somewhere before it ended up everywhere. Said first, it was profound.

This is one:

Grief is the price we pay for love.

People think that Queen Elizabeth said it first, reaching out eloquently as she did to people bereaved by the 9/11 attacks. But it was actually the lovely Dr Colin Murray Parkes 1 who wrote it in 1972 in his now classic book about loss. Regardless, it has been with us long enough for most people to think of it as a ‘saying’, if not quite a cliché. So it can go by in a blur.

I think that is why I suddenly looked up and stared at nothing yesterday for a long time. Always before, that saying had been a truth I’d admired but never bothered to revere, a gentle, graceful summer-up of life. Nothing more.

But yesterday in a fierce eddy of hearing, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’, its rigour seized me. It explained something. Sayings do that if we let them in. However fatigued and ancient, they are usually truths. They explain why we have to go through things. They make us stand up straight. Some tell us we made a choice. They say that future pain is worth present gain.

The pain this one explains is grief. Not present grief. Anticipatory grief. But grief in me now, so, present as anything. The difference is that I have to venture to the future to feel sad about the unthinkable thing. When I get there, I cry. It’s horrible. But then I march right back to the present and get to be relieved that the thing hasn’t happened. When it does happen, for real, there’ll be no present to go back to.

‘The thing’ is the thought that one day both Christopher and my sister will be dead. And I won’t be. I can just about manage the thought that one or the other of them will die before I do. But only just. Somewhere in that never-never land of our bigger self that manages, that ‘bears up’ (as Dad said an hour after Mother died, desperate I knew), in that where-did-you-come-from place of coping with irredeemable loss (because it is coping and not embracing), I assume I will somehow survive unshrivelled, ultimately a nice enough, writing-again, listening-again, transported-by-the-thrush’s-song-again person. Someone worth meeting for tea somewhere gorgeous. Again. But from here it seems certain that that will require deus-ex-machina of a magnitude even Euripides wouldn’t buy.

I ‘go there’, and wherever I actually am, I mourn. I soon pull myself together and come back to the thank-you-God reality of now, where Christopher and Merl are both alive, so alive, and I am not sad at all. At all.

Then, out of the blue blue blue, I cry again, thinking about living without them. And that has become my habit for a while now. Only because we are older, as they say when ‘old’ is what they mean, ‘old’ as in ‘could die for real actually any minute’, more ‘any minute’ than when we were not old, when just anyone could, because anyone can, die, but probably won’t for years and years. Now we are old. And one of us is going to have a life without either. And it could be me.

I decided that I had to stop this torturous zooming forth into someday. It’s nuts. Because if I am one day the one standing alone, having buried them both, I will absolutely want not to look back and think of all those pre-burial weeping times I could have been rejoicing without quiver. I will want to have lived their living completely.

That’s when the saying dropped from the nowhere blue.

Grief is the price we pay for love.

Think about that. Don’t do yeah, yeah, I know, whatever, the price we pay for love, no problem.

Think about it. When we love, in that exact moment of deciding to love a person – even if the deciding was through the unconscious unfolding childhood cherishing of a person, or the sudden rapturous, ever-growing, enduring adult in-love love of a person – when we decided to love that person, we decided to endure the suffering of losing them. If we wouldn’t agree to that, we wouldn’t be allowed to love them. We would have to walk away.

And we didn’t. We stayed.

We chose the pain.

We chose to get on the stallion, gobble up the plains, slash through the creeks, plough up the banks, saunter past the woods fully to the edge of the crater’s cliff, hurl our hat into the sky and whoop because the valley and the ride collide in rapture; turn around, clip clop through the wild flowers, skirt the scrub, trot to the stable, dismount, pat the grand one, thank him, close the gate, go up to bed, sleep.

And wake unable to move.

The price.

Built in.


Worth it.

Worth it.

And so will it be if I am left, waking after the ride I would not un-choose for anything.


1 Dr Colin Murray Parkes, eminent psychiatrist and Cruse Bereavement Care’s Life President, who said it in 1972 in his book: Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life.

Anchor 4

To Forgive

Good Friday came and went and left me, as usual, ensnarled in its meaning. Here is my progress so far.

Good Friday retells the story of the torture and death of Jesus of Nazareth. For Christians it marks the self-sacrifice Jesus made to secure eternal life for people who believe in Him. I am still working on all of that and don’t really expect to know what I think about it, ever. But I honour Christians (as I do all people of faith). So I honour that day.

For me, though, Good Friday demands more of us than belief in an afterlife secured by a death. For me, it commands rigorous examination of on-earth reality. Jesus, or whoever uttered the teachings ascribed to Him, often threw real-life challenges like that at our feet.

The Good Friday challenge is, I think, to forgive.

And that is hard. So hard, in fact, Jesus presumed to remind even God to do it, just in case, I guess, God was having second thoughts, given the heartbreaking unspeakable wrench of watching His only son be brutalised and killed. ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’

They know not what they do.

They do not understand.

We forgive them because they do not understand. Jesus did not say, ‘Father, help them to understand so that you can forgive them.’ He said, ‘They do not understand and that is why you must forgive them.’

Forgiveness, then, requires the sacrifice on our part of being understood. And that is hard.

In fact, it is nearly impossible to grasp. Do you really know what forgiveness is? Have you ever done it? I’m pretty sure I did it once. But it wasn’t a ‘now I am forgiving you’ thing at all. It was gradual, almost imperceptible, until it was just how things were. Christopher thinks forgiveness is a state rather than an event. I think he’s right. It certainly is not a project we can launch, steer, finish, take a bow after and write a book about.

So I wonder what makes it possible. If I’m honest, I think that the time I experienced forgiving someone did entail their understanding me as well as my understanding them. But my colleague, Andrew, agrees with Jesus that true forgiveness comes from understanding the transgressor, and that feeling understood by them, though it may help, is entirely unneeded. And we shouldn’t seek it.

So maybe my forgiveness was not true blue forgiveness after all. Or maybe there are two kinds of forgiveness: Forgiveness 1 which is the real deal because it requires us to understand the transgressor but not to be understood by them. And Forgiveness 2 which requires both being understood and understanding, and so is imperfect but pretty amazing and definitely worth going for. Most Christians I know seem to agree that Jesus sets the bar, and we clear it as closely as we can, usually falling, but at least on the other side of the issue.

Regardless of which level of forgiveness we are aiming for, we can get started by  remembering that forgiveness is different from endorsement. We easily confuse the two. If we forgive, we condone. So we fear. But no, forgiveness experts assure us that we can forgive and still hang onto the wrongness of what was done to us. Jesus certainly did.

What we have to let go of is the feelings associated with that wrongness. We have to stop wanting vengeance for it. We have to let go of the rage and resentment and self righteousness generated in the past when they wronged us, feelings that have been hitchhiking through our lives ever since.

Fine. But humans don’t actually let go of feelings. We replace them. Yes, it helps to release them by crying, raging, talking, etc. Release can reduce the load. But fully to let go of feelings we have to replace them with something else.

And that seems to be, yes, understanding. That means we have to get inside the world of our transgressor, inside their context, their reasons for doing what they did to us. And that all comes down to that powerful thing of figuring out what they were assuming that led them to do what they did.

This question, then, may be a key to forgiveness: ‘What were they assuming that led them to do what they did?’

Optimally, through dialogue with them, we can get an answer to that question. But if we can’t, we can at least come close by thinking about it dispassionately ourselves: ‘What were they probably assuming that led them to do what they did?’ It is surprising how quickly and accurately we can find sound answers to that question. From those answers can come understanding. And from understanding can come forgiveness.

Jesus, for example, understood that Pontius Pilate and his team of torturers were assuming that He was trying to overthrow the government of the day and prevent the collection of taxes and the wellbeing of Roman rule. Their assumptions were untrue. Jesus was merely trying to overhaul their religion (with a bit of culture thrown in), which I admit sounds big, but actually was perfectly compatible with Roman rule, as Emperor Constantine eventually proved, ushering in as he did the Middle Ages which began this impressively flourishing time for Jesus’ new religion.


So, it seems to be a good thing to replace the old bad feelings with new understanding. In that way we let go of the wronged past. As Christopher also said (he is good on this topic), ‘Forgiveness is a decision to be fully in the present with the person.’

Let’s say, then, that we set out to do that. How will we know when we are there, (or here as it were)? How will we know when forgiveness kicks in and distinguishes itself from merely ‘getting over’ it, from having ‘moved on’? I don’t know. There is no ‘You are here’ on this map. Forgiveness just slowly settles in, and when we notice that it has, we don’t need to shout about it. We just live it. It is sweet.

So I am beginning to feel at peace with the Good Friday story and its monumental injunction to forgive.


I have just this one issue: What about the disturbing contradiction at the heart of the story?

‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’

Forgive them? Shouldn’t Jesus have said instead, ‘Praise them, Father, for they fulfil your promise’? Why would Jesus ask God to forgive the very people who made possible the single most important act of His life — His death? Weren’t they doing humanity a favour by killing Him? Didn’t that execution, that sacrifice of Jesus’ life, become the singular act that gave humans entry into eternal bliss? Isn’t that why the crucifixion can be the focal point of churches and the cross the symbol of victory?

So why forgiveness?

Christians say it is one of hundreds of holy mysteries in Jesus’ teachings and the entire New Testament. The job of humans is to have faith in the story and its meaning, not to solve its mysteries. Only God can do that.

The trouble is, I am a solver. I’m not great with mysteries that can’t be solved.


I am great at knowing and trusting something deep within me even if it defies logic and verification. But evoking faith by abandoning my search for understanding and resolution? Sorry.

So much for peace, I guess. But I also guess that if humans are anything, we are masters of doubt and discovery. One leads to the other, the other to the one.

I can live with that.

bottom of page