17th August

World Affairs

‘But should we not do something? Surely there are times when we must act?’

Words of anguish, words of political calculation. The slaughter continues, the weeping grows louder, fades, grows again. Gunfire, the hot noise of engines, cities in flames, degraded landscapes. Lives turned to dust and blood.

On your computer screen is a photograph of a child in some nameless place of devastation, a child in a field of plastic bottles and decomposing filth. Right up to the edges of the photograph you see only plastic and filth, and you know that beyond those boundaries it continues. The child stands, held by the camera, prevented by the image from negotiating his way across this terrain in which there is no beauty, no renewal and no hope.

That child knows more of life than you will ever know, but he knows nothing.

Ten thousand miles away, on a stone beside a sheep track through green hills, a man rests. He rests from a walk that has no motivation other than the pleasure of walking. He takes a plastic bottle from his backpack and drinks. Earlier, he filled the bottle from the clear, clean flow of a small river.

The stone has not moved in a hundred million years. For him it is somewhere to sit. He feels the cold, good water in his throat. Unseen moorland birds sing. He savours the fact of being in such a place.

In that other landscape there is nowhere for the child to sit. When the camera has gone he will move on, picking his way across the debris. In some other photograph of hell – plastic sheeting, corrugated metal, hammered-together hardboard – he will appear again. He will be somewhere he calls home.

How can the child and the man exist at the same time? How can your consciousness contain knowledge of them both? What traumatic upheaval of time and the world could tip them into one another?

Time and the world are indifferent to them, and to you. There is no way to measure this world’s indifference. Without the world, you, the man, the child – are nothing. Without you, the man, the child, the world – is still the world.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium and Piano: Kit Downes
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