It was during the week slotted in between Christmas Day and New Year's Day a few years ago when Alex and I decided to kill time with a day trip to London. This was in the middle of the Christmas season, with factories, businesses, and administration offices closed for up to twelve days altogether, especially if Christmas Day falls on a Thursday. This, together with New Year's Day also a statutory holiday, such a long break had always been criticised by Right-Wing-leaning newspapers "for being out of touch with the rest of Europe who are all hard at work soon after Christmas". And so, tired-looking tinsel, Christmas trees shedding its needles onto the floor around it, and coloured lights with a blinkering bulb or two, all up on both private and public display, reminding us all what time of the year it was.
Therefore it was no surprise that our train was diverted onto another route as a result of holiday engineering works shutting down our line within the Greater London area. Our train came to an unexpected halt somewhere between Kingston-upon-Thames and Wimbledon stations. Yes Wimbledon, the world famous venue for the All-England Lawn Tennis Club with its annual international Summer tournament, but at this rather bleak Winter time, all courts shut down to a near off-season dereliction. We just sat in the train carriage, all of us, in typical British infinite patience. The minutes added up and still not a single stir from any of the passengers.
Then, probably after thirty minutes gazing at the grass bank outside the carriage window, the intercom crackled into life:
We apologise for the delay. This is due to a personal incident at Wimbledon.
I then muttered to my wife,
A personal incident? A man decides to top himself, causing inconvenience to everyone else.
Although such a statement made in an otherwise silent carriage may sound insensitive, it was due to the frustration caused by the resulting delay eclipsing any feelings of compassion I should have felt for this unknown fellow. Still the minutes ticked away until more than an hour at that same spot, at last the train started on its crawl towards London Waterloo.
This was by no means unique. Only a couple of months earlier, the whole of the Great Western express line from Reading to London Paddington was suspended due to a same kind of incident - "man hit by a train" - which meant that passengers for the Great Western instead boarded our much slower Southwest service to Waterloo, very much like sardines squeezed into a delayed subway train during the morning rush-hour. And I was on board that train to witness it all. With further news of rail-side suicides recurring throughout the ensuing weeks, I could not help asking what is the matter with modern life here in the UK during peace time. In 2015, for example, there were 6,122 recorded suicides in the UK alone, according to Internet data. That is nearly seventeen deaths per day.
But even if 6,122 self-inflicting deaths in a year looks high, it becomes minuscule when up to 300,000 people terminate their jobs in a year due to depression or mental illness. That is about 822 cases a day here in the UK. And that was after being bombarded with this fact among endless broadcasting about mental illness, and the inability of the National Health Service to deal with it.
Mental illness? To be honest, for one already in his seventh decade of life, the term is relatively new in my vocabulary. In my younger days I cannot recall hearing the expression, mental illness. Depression, yes. That word has been around for a long time, and was often referred to what we now call unsettled weather, an area of low pressure. But it also meant a state of low, negative feelings, persistent sadness, often lethargic at work and elsewhere, and a lack of self worth. A problem that has been with us since the dawn of history. But to hear of mental illness being behind up to 300,000 quitting their jobs in a single year in the UK alone, I find astonishing! And not to mention many more who are depressed yet do not quit their jobs.
As far as I'm aware, the workplace is where one earns his living by satisfying his employer. Or at least that was what I did between the years 1968-1980 before setting out on my own. And with the emphasis on education, education, education, a mantra recited by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair throughout the turn of the Millennium, I have gotten round to believing that good old manual work, which sustained me adequately for nearly half a century, was looked upon as something dishonourable. I have to be honest here. For decades I had a wish to work in an office. To prance around in suit and tie, showing the world how successful I was, and of course - pleasing to my parents. It was never to be. But that did not make me throw in the towel and quit getting my hands dirty. And that goes back to the days soon after leaving school, and never allowed to forget that I was small fry, pushing a broom from eight in the morning, and subject to being teased and be the receiving end of a torrent of smut.
But I do find this huge number of quitters rather shocking. I get the impression that the majority of quitters were office staff. I could be wrong of course. Let's face it, I cannot see myself at a job working for an employer outdoors. Whether its on road works, railway engineering works, on a building site, or refuse collection, no - I must admit - I wouldn't be happy in such occupations, especially in the Winter, shivering under a biting wind or getting soaked in the rain, regardless of waterproofs. At least as one self employed, I was in full control of the situation, and successfully managed 35 years of window cleaning, including getting my hands blue in the freezing cold bucket of dirty water, and a biting northerly wind at a housing estate resembling more of a ghost town than a living community. Although on days like these I might have on occasions gone home early, yet I had never quit before the time.
And then as one using his hands to earn a living, there always has been "the grass is greener on the other side" ethic when it comes to imagining office work. Tales of bullying bosses, unseemly department managers and even traitorous colleagues constantly trickle through the Media, but that has never convinced me on what the office atmosphere is really like from the perspective of a manual labourer - until the recent news. The world of work does not look to be so rosy for the better educated than I have always perceived.
Yes, I am amazed, really amazed. As I have always perceived, to throw in the towel was something the British would never do, being as stoic as their reputation demands. I was surprised indeed. Has society changed that much since the late sixties when I entered the world of work at the deep end? And all this talk about our "Millennial Generation" fresh out of university and reputed as spineless, as often reported, who cannot take a mild rebuke from the supervisor without running off like a spoilt child, and then demand "equal rights" on the same level as the more experienced seniors. Hmm. Try demanding that when I was a skinny teenage runt!
It was while these news bulletins of mental illness were filtering through the TV into our lounge when I came across a poster in Facebook with a growing thread of comments growing underneath it. The forum is set to public, so anyone on Facebook can see it. The opening poster asks a question whether love is conditional or unconditional, that is, between man and woman, or even on religious, gender, racial, or social norms. Typically, I emphasised the unconditional love of God, especially to the Christian believer, with the assurance of Eternal Security. It didn't take long for a friend of mine, an Arminian, to discuss his point of view for a forfeitable salvation based on the faithfulness of the believer rather than on the grace of God. It was an interesting discussion, without any falling out with each other (phew!) But if there is a pandemic of mental illness sweeping this country (or any country, worldwide) then there is this desperate need for the unconditional love of God to be realised.
The near-universal opinion of mankind is that if there is a God, whatever form he might take, then there will always be a degree of lifelong faithfulness needed to get into his good books. Or in other words, to earn, or at least play our side of the deal in order to achieve eternal life, whether its on earth, in heaven, paradise, or some form of eastern nirvana. The world's salvation demands some form of human co-operation. That is the general opinion of the vast majority of mankind, the atheist included. Then there is the free gift of eternal life given by God to the believer through grace alone, without any effort from the believer. And once gotten, it can never be forfeited or lost. Otherwise it would not be a free gift at all, but probational - or a "maybe salvation" - taken away or lost if the believer fails to live up to expectations.
The general rejection of God by the masses may be rooted in this idea of a "maybe salvation". Such may inspire fear of eternal punishment, and even creating hostility towards God, but I tend to prefer that this "maybe salvation" leads to apathy - one couldn't care less, and stays away from what they believe is organised religion, with their thinking that this is the way to appease a fickle God - if such an entity exists - then it is all a waste of time. Why not engage in Science, and especially Darwinism, now held as absolute proof of the reality of Science against false myth of religion with its fickle God who is too demanding, along with a fairy tale book containing stories of a talking snake, a rebuking donkey, and records of turning sticks into snakes, a worldwide flood, and other silly stuff of religious mythology.
Which is all a smack in the face against the real reason why we are here. We are not the product of evolution together with a large dollop of good luck. Rather, we are here to partake in the glorious love already shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If instead we are suffering a pandemic of mental illness, then something must be seriously wrong. Just like hunger, I guess. If the lack of food and nutrition result in illness and death through starvation, then mental illness, rather than caused by being too stressful at work, may indicate that we are not all there - there is something missing - and that is complete union with our Creator and Redeemer given freely through grace alone.
God has created us to enjoy in our partaking of his love. We are designed to be one in Him, living eternally in his presence. Having rebelled in Adam, and therefore inheriting a sinful nature, there is absolutely nothing we can do in ourselves to get back to God. Adam and Eve tried by sewing fig leaves together to make aprons. Religion by self-effort. It turned out to be so useless that God totally ignored these garments without even an acknowledgement. Instead, the blood of an animal had to be shed in order to clothe them. It was the whole work of God, without any of their effort. This was the forerunner of the Atonement made by Jesus Christ.
We cannot earn our salvation. Therefore we cannot lose our salvation either. We cannot earn, we cannot lose. The receiving of salvation is through God's grace alone. It's a free gift entirely on Christ's expense, there is nothing we can add to it. But such wonderful truth is veiled from all unbelievers, therefore attributing their origins from evolution instead of a Creator. Then we are aghast when reports of a mental illness pandemic is reported. What we need is not a better work environment. What we desperately need is the reality of the unconditional love of God.