collective grace

watch them dance — human
hands seeking one another
— clasp at the centre
of a wheeling galaxy —
perfect harmony of will

This poem/dream must have been suggested by the news yesterday evening on Channel Four, about a woman who is going to undergo a hand transplant to replace both her hands which were lost a couple of years ago due to septicaemia. Apart from our brains, our hands are probably the most defining aspect of what makes a human being different from an animal. I am interested always, in examining that elusive ‘human’ quality, and asking what it means. For instance, what is it about Channel Four News which makes it simply in a different league altogether compared with the BBC and ITV news programmes? I thought to myself yesterday it was very noticeable the entire ‘feel’ of the interview between the journalist Jackie Long and the woman who currently has no hands, was incredibly human and compassionate and reflective and non-sensational and respectful and thoughtful. If the interview had been conducted on the BBC or ITV, this wouldn’t have been the case. The woman with no hands would have been dehumanised and exploited — would have been treated as a function of the process of reporting, and hence spoken to in a fundamentally emotionless manner. What on earth do we mean when we describe a person (or a TV programme) as ‘human’ in a complimentary sense? I believe passionately that it matters to be ‘human’ in that sense. Yet I don’t even know what that quality is or how to define it.

In my dream, I was on the edge of a dance floor, with a whole roomful of people impelled to reach out to clasp hands at the centre of the dance. In English Country Dancing, this is called a ‘star’, performed by four people. But in the dream it was more like a shoal of fish or flock of birds or herd of wildebeest. The flock kept dissolving and reforming. The hands themselves seemed to want to seek one another, with a will and intelligence of their own, like instinct — but carrying the full humanity of the individual dancer. It was very beautiful. And it mattered. The poem tries to get this across by comparing the group of humans to a galaxy of stars. Interestingly, scientists tell us that at the centre of every galaxy is a black hole.

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