I hope that by the time you read this Pen Hadow will have been rescued from the North Pole. It is a week since he arrived there solo but the weather since has prevented planes from picking him up. His satellite phone is now dead. When, last week, I invited us to reflect on the courage with which he faced loneliness, all seemed to be going well. But now he is totally dependent on others to save him from death.
To face this utter helplessness must be requiring even more courage than was required when he was making that long lonely journey. Rations will run out on Wednesday and his spirits may well have been exhausted already. What must it be like just to have to wait in these circumstances?
Helpless dependence is something most of us fear. Most of us dread being entirely at the mercy of others or having to wait until others act. We can almost put up with anything as long as we continue to have some control over the situation. Sometimes this is because we lack trust in those on whom we have to depend. But there is also something fundamental in human nature that makes action much easier than passivity.
There may be situations in your life today where you are having to wait, to be dependent, to relinquish control. It will be requiring great courage. But in a strange way there is encouragement to be gained from huddling in our imaginations alongside Pen Hadow and willing for his rescue.
At the time of writing, the world is hoping and praying that the operation to separate the Siamese twins, Laden and Laleh Bijani, will be successful. The skill of the surgeons is staggering, but so is the endurance of the women, and the fact that they are so apparently well-adjusted after 29 years spent together in this way.
It is impossible to imagine the constant decision-making, even if some of it becomes automatic, about every move, from what career to follow (Ladanís desire to be a lawyer took Laleh to lectures which contributed very little to her desire to be a journalist) through to which of them should look at the person speaking to them. And all this negotiation without being able to see each otherís faces as they did it. Only if one of them wanted to be alone has there been no need for discussion.
Human beings were created to share their lives, but sharing only means something if thereís a choice. Our freedom is often restricted by our obligation to others, but never to be free to act independently is a significant deprivation. Today letís celebrate the fact that we can, if we wish, do something we want, however small, without consulting anyone.
What worries older Britons most is not their health (35%), or world peace (40%) but becoming a burden (42%). Is the fear that, because they are a burden, no one will in fact bother with them? Or that people will care for them, but they will put themselves out to do so and make the recipient feel uncomfortable about it? Is it concern that others will only unwillingly care for them or that they will hate being cared for?
The problem not only faces the elderly. At no point in our lives are we self-sufficient. How do we feel about always being, at least to some extent, dependent on others?
People who love us want to care for us. Thereís nothing we can do about that. The choice is theirs and we need to leave it to them to deal with any sense of obligation they feel. The attempt to protect them from spending time and energy on us is probably really an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of being looked after, from the threat to our independence or self-esteem that being cared for seems to represent.
Today, even if only as a preparation for being old, letís welcome other peopleís attempts to care for us and trust them to be doing it willingly.