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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Don’t close down. Be vulnerable to delight

Soft dread grows and chokes. Despite this, glorious messy life continues on

It is easy to feel punctured. It won’t stop raining. There is general, vast greyness around. Huge parts of the country are struggling to overcome flooding. And there is nobody clear to blame. This allows a generalised angst to grow.

Layering on, the Westminster government announce immigration plans that sound like snapping the drawbridge shut. No matter how this is rationalised, and I have read some incredibly supercilious pieces in the last number of days about how Priti Patel’s move is good for the workers of Britain, it’s about closure. It’s about believing the ‘other’ has less value. This does not lead to progression and openness. Keeping a door open doesn’t suppress the chance for the native. Rather, it stops those with less being able to benefit in a place that, on pretty much every measure, has more. It prevents them from growing personally and then ultimately helping the greater national good. It’s about a cultural reckoning. We are an island, but nothing is an island. Not really.

So, soft dread grows and chokes.

Despite this, glorious messy life continues on.

I’ve been getting lost in Daniel Levitin’s new book, The Changing Mind. Levitin is the neuroscientist who became famous through his million-selling book This Is Your Brain on Music. That book challenged, among other things, a branch of thinking about what music is and how it emerged. It said that rather than an evolutionary accident, music grew as a force for emotional good. And who’s going to argue that music is the king of the creative arts?

We all, if we want, can grab a moment and build a positive change. I suspect this will become more vital in the coming months.

The Changing Mind finds Levitin again wrestling orthodox thought, this time about the ageing process. Rather than it being a period of shutting down, he’s proving that older age can be a time to blossom. It’s not patronising or pseudoscience happy-clapping. Some of the key parts to a successful older age, he says, are curiosity, openness and association. Meet people. Be in the world. Be vulnerable, as  Heaney wrote, to delight. This is a book that can make things feel a whole lot brighter.

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I have written before about how, in the teeth of what looks like walls closing, there are incredible people grasping tough moments to make the world better, in their communities, in the areas around them. This week we look at some of those who are refusing to accept that town centres, the hubs of communities, are shutting down. They are finding new ways to overcome closure.

They see that rather than sit by the side and moan, we all, if we want, can grab a moment and build a positive change. I suspect this will become more vital in the coming months.

And I again salute The Big Issue vendors. Despite this dark, cataclysmic weather, they will go outside, refuse to be cowed, and attempt to make their own change. What a thing to celebrate!

If that isn’t enough to lift you, watch this video of the young boy with cerebral palsy who, encouraged by his classmates, takes his first, few faltering steps without his stick, before hugging, joyously, his teacher.

If it doesn’t make you happier than Jürgen Klopp’s teeth and have you punching the air and weeping joyously, then I take it all back!

Let the rain close in!

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

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