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Kindness, hiraeth and the Hundred Acre Wood


There is a Welsh word, hiraeth, which has no English equivalent. I'm told it is a deep, nostalgic homesickness; a grief felt at irreparable loss; a longing to return to an unreachable, elusive somewhere, or something. It corresponds to saudade, an almost untranslatable Portuguese expression, best described as the presence of absence; a longing for someone or something you remember fondly but know you can never experience again.

I think of these words, sometimes, when the world's anger and vitriol seem overwhelming: when nastiness abounds and I, like so many others, am filled with a sad, aching yearning for a softer, gentler, more compassionate world; for a past which was by no means perfect, but in which certain values prevailed, at least in public life and discourse. And I thought of them yesterday - World Book Day - when I noticed a tweet from Evangelisation Westminster, commenting on how the insights of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet are so attractive.Why is this? Maybe, the tweet suggested, because they are gentle, kind, unassuming, caring and at one with their environment. These are qualities of the Gospel, and much needed in our world. 

And indeed, there is something about our love of Pooh, and our general nostalgia for the books and TV programmes of our childhood, which speaks of an ache and an emptiness within us. Surrounded by a growing tide of rage and rancour, negativity, sickness and increasingly depressing and fear-inducing news we take refuge wherever we can, in small beauties, friendship and nostalgia, and in experiences of solidarity, companionship and kindness. We find all this - and so much more - in Pooh and Paddington, Mary Poppins, Aslan and Mr Tumnus; in the Fossils, the March sisters, Bagpuss and the Clangers. Narnia, the Secret Garden, the Hundred Acre Wood and a host of other magical, mystical places will always occupy a much-loved space in our hearts and memories, alongside so many other tales and characters, the merest mention of them enough to transport us across decades and miles to a gentler, lighter, more innocent time.

So yes, Evangelisation Westminster: the insights and escapades of Pooh and Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger do indeed attract, precisely because they are gentle, kind, unassuming, caring and at one with their environment. These are qualities of the Gospel and - however much hiraeth or saudade we might slide into, whatever the loss we might feel, or the longing for a retreat to a Hundred Acre-type world - these values endure, precisely because so many of us will keep them alive and active, for a world in which they are so needed.