Oh life’s a toil/And love is a trouble/beauty will fade/and riches will flee/wages will dwindle and prices will double/and nothing is as I would wish it to be.
Happy New Year.
It being my first column of 2023, I thought why not attempt reflective writing. The lines above are from an 1852 poem; The Housewife’s Lament. They paint a picture of the circumstances of daily living for most of us in 2022.
It is as true as it was nearly 200 years ago when it was written. For example, whereas there is more wealth generated than ever globally, in some parts of the world, there is evidence that life has gotten miserable for millions of others with the people frequently existing in worse conditions of poverty and destitution than a decade ago.
The invention of the microwave, the washing machine and the dishwasher hasn’t made life any better for the housewife or the career woman. Even with automation and the explosion in information technology (Internet and the mobile phone), life doesn’t just feel dreary and meaningless for many, it is a hardscrabble daily survival. And the rat far more frenetic. Indeed, nothing is as we would wish it to be.
“There’s nothing that lasts us/but trouble and dirt…” Is the poem’s sad conclusion.
For most of us, the hard economic times weighed heavily even as we ushered in a New Year. We hope things work out better in 2023. The World Bank estimates that the world economy will shrink further in 2023 even predicting a recession worse than that of 2008/09.
The Covid 19 pandemic of 2020 brought with it a wave of lockdowns, business closures, lay-offs, morbidity, quarantine and social distancing. Those laid to waste concerted efforts to spread around the prosperity pie precipitated by globalization and the power of e-commerce at the end of the last century. In 2020, the World Bank warned that the pandemic was expected “to plunge most countries into recession, with per capita income contracting in the largest fraction of countries globally since 1870.”
That has come to pass and things actually look gloomier now as they did then. And there seems to be no end to the economic crisis.
And as economies wobble and as desperation spreads around, we recall Voltaire.
“Each player,” Voltaire reminded us; “must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she must decide alone how to play the cards in order to win the game.”
In other words, 2023 is in our hands. How it will turn out in the end, is up to us. In other words, Voltaire exhorts us not to sit on our hands and despair. But to do something about our situation; pray, scream, do something and worry less about tomorrow.
Those who profess Christianity (I, included) appreciate the positivity in the teachings of Paul, the Apostle. Paul describes ways of “living above our circumstances,” no matter what comes our way: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."
Indeed, most Christian (and most religions including Islam and Budhism and Hinduism and Judaism) teachings exhort followers to stop being manipulated by circumstances.
“Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” (Mathew 6:26)
For Christians, those with God’s favour, we are told, hardly worry about the unknown, unknowns like whether we will be laid off from work, or whether we will fall sick tomorrow; whether the children will drop out of school for lack of fees. God-willing we know the future is better. We are a hopeful lot. Some might consider such faith fatalistic, but then that is what makes it count when all the pieces are falling apart.
In God’s presence, the Pastor told us recently; “the poor are rich; the weak are strong; the blind can see; captives are set free; the brokenhearted shout for joy,” because “the everlasting King of Glory reigns.”
As we usher in 2023, I am comforted by the prospects tomorrow brings with it.
The author of Ecclesiastes offers comfort when we feel it is not yet working despite all the effort.
The race, he cautioned “is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Don’t you despair yet for “time and chance” happeneth to all of us. I wish you the best of luck in the New Year.