The great thing about coming towards the end of (surviving) a tough year is that the mind tends to turn to the future with a little more hope, humility and wisdom (the latter two I always need plenty more of; quite how much more I hadn’t really realised till this year).

The stumblings and flailings of a somewhat battered body and soul can leave one weary indeed. Yet in that weariness there is also a sense of relief, a calmness. Things fall apart, it is true. But the anticipation of that moment is, of course, far worse than the actuality. For when they do, an ancient memory resurfaces –  a knowledge that this was inevitable, natural, unavoidable. The body will fail. The mind will fail. The when, how, why of it we cannot know, or even guess. Fate controls that. But that it will happen, we do know really.

We are scared of that knowledge. We try and hide from it. We spend ridiculous amounts of time burying ourselves in trivia, in work, in material, physical and spiritual longings in an effort to escape it. But as the Buddhists have told us for hundreds of years, that way lies madness. For all our affectations and games and distractions, we are all, from the day we are born, simply dying creatures. We spend so much time worrying about how to live, when perhaps it would be better to think of the challenge as “how to be a dying creature”. Knowing the destination, we should really plan our journey a little better. In the final moments all we need is each other – the time, attention and kindness of each other. A good death is one in which we travel together with dignity and respect for each other to that final moment.

My own journey had an unexpected speeding up this summer, and though frightening in parts, it did encourage me to let go of a little more of my fear and arrogance. For that I am grateful. I end this year with a hope for the future – that I can learn better how to be a dying creature. That I can create the kind of environment a dying creature needs for me and those around me: a place where the collective is more important than the individual; where being with is more important than being against, or being better; where time to attend to each other is valued more than time to attend to self; and where kindness is prized above all other human qualities. (As I write this I feel a huge gratefulness that I lived in the era of someone who epitomised all of that in a truly human and humane way – Nelson Mandela.)

Poetry and music have been wonderful balms these last months, and recently my eye and ear has been drawn back home to Burns. His poem Is There for Honest Poverty (sometimes known as A Man’s a Man for A’That) reminds us that we do know really, and that one day surely it will come; that our lives mean nothing when we don’t hold each other in mutual respect and regard, when we don’t see each other for the dying creatures we are… for a’that.

Is there for honesty Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.

Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.
Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.
A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.