Belfast Telegraph

Raise a toast to Gordon and to Goethe and seize the day

By Alf McCreary

This week Tom Elliott from Fermanagh was elected leader of the Ulster Unionists. May the good Lord help both Mr Elliott and the party, for they could do with some inspiration.



However my thoughts turn also to a Fermanagh man of unquestionable distinction who, if he had lived, would be 83-years-old today.

I refer to the late Senator Gordon Wilson from Enniskillen who made world headlines with his deeply Christian witness after his daughter Marie died in a Provisional IRA explosion, which killed and wounded many other people.

Gordon is mostly forgotten now but I think of him every year at this time. This is not only because he was a noble friend, but also because his birthday was the day before mine.

Tomorrow I will be celebrating a special birthday which either warrants a party, or a quiet family gathering, and I have chosen the latter.

However it is a time for reflection, even if the actual number is nobody else’s business. Incidentally, my most “difficult” birthday was 30, as I hated the thought of leaving my 20s. Since then I have not looked back, and in my mind I am still 30, or thereabouts.

Much has changed during the intervening decades, in family life and also in public events including those of church and state. Despite the secular society, church worship in Northern Ireland has remained steady.

There has been a decrease in traditional forms of service, at a time of increase in more informal worship, and what I sometimes describe as “clap-happy” music.

Cardinal Newman recently made headlines because of the Pope’s Beatification, rather than for his beautiful hymn “Lead Kindly Light” or his poem, “The Dream of Gerontius” around which Sir Edward Elgar wrote his wonderful Oratorio.

I wonder what Newman would have made of much of today’s worship, but I remain relaxed about clapping and jaunty choruses. If these speak to people’s needs, so be it. I continue to put my faith in traditional hymns and psalms.

Much fuss has been made of the atheistic claims of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, but the turn-out for the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK last week showed that there is still a reservoir of faith in Britain.

The Christian church will thrive and survive throughout the world at large in the immediate future and in the longer term, even though much — though not all — of western Europe is now a virtually “post-Christian” society.

The political situation locally has improved greatly in recent years even if there are worrying signs of continued bigotry and an unwillingness to learn the awful lessons of nearly four decades of hatred and blood-letting.

Much bridge-building remains to be done, and there are still too many people still looking for vengeance.

There was also a disappointing lack of leadership from Stormont politicians over the Pope’s visit, when two local leaders who should have been in Edinburgh and a third should definitely not have been there, but he was predictable anyhow.

Despite all the doom-sayers, I remain optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland, and I believe that we have come too far to turn back now. However I do wish that we had a bigger vision than some of our public representatives, among whom there are still too many political pygmies.

On an international scale many huge problems remain. They include world hunger, inequality and pollution on a massive scale as well as the hideous prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons. However, mankind has managed (just about) to survive many past crises, and the human spirit remains indomitable.

Despite the considerable rough and tumble of journalism, I have found it a fascinating and historic time to be working in such a lively profession.

Many years ago my wife bought me a birthday card with an inspiring quotation from the philosopher Goethe who wrote, “Nothing is to be prized more highly than the value of each day.”

That birthday card is either in the roof-space or it remains long lost, but I still prize highly the value of each day.

That’s a philosophy, like good wine, which matures with time.

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