We light candles to remember someone, to honour them, to keep their memory, essence and spirit alive in our own lives and in our minds. It’s a conscious act, to light a candle. I sometimes do it in a church or cathedral to remember and honour a person who has passed from my life and our world. It’s a bit of an emotional thing to do, but it’s also satisfying. Action has been taken and a statement made.
The saying “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” is said to be a Chinese proverb. It’s been quoted as something Adlai Stevenson said about Eleanor Roosevelt. The first time I heard it said was by Satish Kumar at a talk he was giving, sometime back in the early 1990s. It struck me as a very powerful thing to do, to take action rather than rail against the darkness, to bring light to the situation. I’ve never forgotten it.
I remember it now, as I write this a few days ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Here in Britain there have been some crazy fund-raising schemes to raise money so that Big Ben – currently silent and undergoing renovation – can be allowed to strike eleven bongs at 11pm on 31st January in celebration of our leaving the EU. A vast sum of money was donated to the fund by one of the donors who is inextricably involved in the dubious promotion of Brexit. But the scheme has fallen flat and Big Ben will not bong. Thank goodness I say. What a crazy misuse of money.
Is the UK’s exit something to celebrate? Maybe, if you voted to leave, especially if the likelihood of new trade deals is believed. But what is to be celebrated? What are these leavers going to get? Sovereignty used to be mentioned as one reason, but we don’t hear much of that word now, although there’s still a fair bit of ardent Union Jack flying going on. The dodgy-sounding mantra “Take back control”, which was the Leave campaign’s motto, never satisfactorily clarifies exactly what that “control” will be. Or maybe their idea of control is putting a halt to immigration, which will leave us in need of British workers who are willing to get out into the fields to pick our fruit and veg. And who will replace the social care workers and NHS staff we’ll be losing out on? The government have made reassuring noises about getting additional NHS staff, but I’m a sceptic and nowadays I don’t swallow a lot of the duplicitous stuff that is promised.
Many people believe that Brexit is done and dusted, but in reality it’s only just about to start. The truth is we don’t know what will change in our country and in our everyday lives .
Trade deals they say – we shall be free to have new trade deals with other countries – but as I understand it, these things take several years to negotiate. In the interim, we don’t quite know what this will mean for the people of the UK; those who voted to leave and those who voted to remain will be in the same boat, the same murky, misty darkness. Some will be hoping for a bright new start, that it will all be alright, we’ll muddle through, we’re British and we won the war! Remember Churchill? Yes, of course we can stand on our own etc. etc. I’ve heard all of these arguments and more, but supported by very little of substance because the truth is, we none of us know what will happen when we move into this new, unknown space.
I read Will Hutton’s article pubished in The Guardian several days ago. As well as analysing Britain’s potential future prospects, he comes up with a sound idea for peaceful action to mark the occasion, saying:
So at 11pm on 31 January, dismiss [Boris] Johnson’s extravagant claims for what lies ahead and the faux celebrations. Light a candle in a window, at your door, in your garden; find friends to do it together. We stand for a European Britain. We will be back.
I rather like that. I feel European, but I’m also British. The two are not mutually incompatible. I wanted to remain, and that desire will not go away; I have a French daughter-in-law and extended family in France because of this, Spanish friends in Spain, colleagues with mutually-shared interests and aims in Germany, former students in Greece, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden, Bulgaria and The Netherlands. European countries all of them and in the EU too.
So on Friday I will be lighting a candle to mark the passing of our EU membership, but I will also be lighting it for a European Britain. We may appear to be physically leaving, but in spirit, we’ll always be there.