Spectator on fatalism and realism

On the scale of New Age consciousness, I barely register. I know that I am a Leo, my husband is an Aries and my son is an Aquarian, but I don’t believe anything is written in the stars. When I hear someone say ‘when your time is up, your time is up’, I cringe. I use the words ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ with the same nervous caution I use ‘brilliant’. Still, when I saw the barn owl flying low on the Walsham Road, leading me all the way home, I thought it was a sign. Not that I could decipher the sign. I was too terrified that this rare and beautiful creature was on a cataclysmic journey, that he would be hit by an oncoming car even as he guided me home.

When he turned toward Stowlangtoft, I followed him, although it was not the direction I was going. By now, I had my warning lights on, Maria Callas was singing the aria from Turandot on Classic FM, and all I wanted in the world was for this owl to survive. At last, he flew into the carved hollow of a dead oak tree on the side of the road. I stopped the car and stared at him. He stared back. I tried to pass thought waves, a kind of inter-species morphic resonance: be careful. He looked back at me, his head cocked like a Christmas card owl, as if to say: why is this woman in a Volvo stalking me? When I got home, I told my husband that I thought the owl was flying low because he was a youngster, just discovering the power of flight. My husband, a true countryman, explained that he was flying low because he was searching for prey along the hedgerows. He has seen my owl on walks, and he too worries about cars.

‘The owls will fare better when all the six-metre margins on the fields have grown up,’ he says. But I am not innately hopeful about the future. I keep thinking about Barn Owl Fate, the kind of fate that isn’t decreed by some cosmic crossroad, but is the inevitable consequence of a pile-up of circumstances. My son calls my view on life ‘Mama’s Fatalism’. I call it the New Realism. When he saw that I’d bought a book of poems by Sophie Hannah called Pessimism for Beginners, he said, ‘but surely you’re ready for The Advanced Pessimist’. His reaction caused a little epiphany, all the more appropriate as the season begins. It is a beautiful word, Epiphany, Greek for ‘something made clear’. Not that it is easy to see what is being made clear in an age of tragic wars, suicide bombers, climate change, gun and knife crime, house repossessions and debt. But, perhaps, the barn owl is a sign of something made clear: that these precious creatures are coming back and this time we will treasure them. That the war in Iraq is a terrible war, but there will be greater resistance to future wars. That the climate change that threatens us all also unites us all. That the underbelly of the global climactic catastrophe is recognising our common humanity.

The book I really need is Optimism for Beginners. This slim volume would contain unsentimental readings for the shaky, the wary and the gloomy. It would advise readers to begin with a 30-day moratorium of newspapers, radio and television. The book may not be found in bookshops under ‘religious writings’, but it would include the Epiphany reading where Paul calls us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’. On the cover would be a barn owl, soaring majestically and securely above the cars.