Monday, 21 March 2011

Do no harm, leave a lingering trace ...

Bits and pieces of our lives interact in the living room piling system and the fragments of life made up of old newspapers, new books and things waiting hopefully for attention.
One of the reasons I still prefer real newspapers to the online variety is the serendipity of reading while (not) tidying up. So it was yesterday evening in my desultory attempt to look as if I might be cleaning up the sofa I got side tracked into reading Michael Billington's interview with Peter Brook. I found Brook's idea about a pared down Magic Flute which concentrates on the music, on character, story and situation rather wonderful. Even if I never get to see it, just reading about it inspired me to think about opera and also my own "performance art" liturgy in new ways.
However, what moved me and offered me some sense of meaning about my life was Brook saying this at the end of the article when asked about his legacy:

"What does touch me is when people come up to me in the street, as they sometimes do since they mistakenly think I've retired, and talk about some experience that has remained with them. That for me is the only real legacy: the idea that one has left a lingering trace in people's memories. In the end, that's all a director can hope to do."
Brook's humility of ambition - coupled with brilliant artistic vision- impressed me and moved me because it challenged me - I suspect that I would hope to leave rather more than a trace and yet I also know that at the end of my life probably the most I shall be able to say about my achievements is that I will have managed to offer grieving families meaningful funerals and joyful couples happy weddings. Fragmentary traces.
So I began pondering "impact" - our desire, my desire, to "make a difference" to "have a legacy" - and I thought about two women working in development I interviewed earlier this year. They were working according to the "do no harm" development principles - make a positive difference but don't just try to have impact for the sake of being seen to do something. "Do no harm" takes longer but tends to become the work of the people, of whole communities much more, and as a result of that it tends to be much more sustainable. In terms of providing rural communities with water say, that has to be a good thing. I have no idea whether it can be applied say to mission or ecumenism or church life but I like its conscious humility and desire to work with rather than dominate and impose. Yet I know how much, like Psalmist in Psalm 90, I am motivated by wanting my work to have a lasting result (Donne à nos travaux un résultat durable).
Meanwhile a further fragment of a lingering trace is Andrei Makine's latest book, (the entrance to my new place of work is framed by bookshops, this is not good and I succombed when visiting Paris this week) which beautifully evokes how even in a life of suffering brief eternal loves can be transformative.
So rather than having impact I shall hope to linger and to seek to be ambitious with my vision rahter than with my impact. Yet as I reflect on my carbon footprint and on the plastic bottles I will have used in my lifetime I shall also have to face up to the fact that be it impact or lingering, it will sadly not have been as sustainable or without harm as I might aspire to. So I shall focus on the hope of transformative eternal love.