Issue #291 / July 2024

When you reach midlife and are made to truly pause, frozen in horror by a tidal wave of grief of lives ended, personal loss and our Earth relentlessly harmed….when you look inside for surety and solace and all you see is a multitude of selves… how do you know who you are?


What are we doing here?



Would you like to take a bath with me in Pineapple Jelly?


Dear Rebecca, B4 and Damien,

With great pleasure, no small amount of gratitude, and even a certain pride, I would like to announce that today I received the 100,000th question to The Red Hand Files, all of which I have read. Regardless of what that particular question might have been, I was excited to answer it as a celebration of this ongoing project. As the giggling gods of mischief would have it, the 100,000th question was yours, Damien, which I can do little with other than to answer, with respect, in the strongly negative. The 100,001st question, however, was yours, Rebecca, which I could better address, and a few questions later came yours, B4, which relates.

Rebecca, it appears you are stuck in the middle of your life, shocked by loss, sad for the world, and not knowing who you are. I have spoken about this many times, but I experienced a similar spiritual reckoning when my son died, although the more I think about it, the more I see that the spider cracks of change were already spreading through my life. Back then, I was a half-formed thing waiting to be shattered in order to be remade. You seem to be in that place now – where you are presented with the opportunity to become a human being.

Our humanness is not given to us. Instead, it requires our participation in its construction and realisation, which often comes about through collapse or calamity. We rummage through the chaos of our inner worlds, through our multitude of selves, to discover what we are, what we wish to be, and our authentic relationship with the world. This process requires a kind of winnowing of those selves and the dispensing of any that are no longer of service to the work of becoming fully human.  We must separate the wheat from the chaff. This is a necessary but painful form of spiritual renovation – to discard those ancient and destructive versions of oneself and become an actual person, unique among other people. We must do this lest we be frozen in a stasis of the soul. It seems, Rebecca, that this unkind moment you are inhabiting is the stunned intake of breath before the work and the winnowing begins. I wish you the best in this most essential endeavour.

B4, what are we doing here? That is an excellent question. Personally, I do my best to move through life with a joy that is reconciled to the sorrow of things but is not subsumed by it, that apprehends darkness and is not afraid of it. I try to receive some form of salvation in this life by paying witness to, and being lifted by, the great, uncontested value of existence. I feel duty-bound to unearth, enhance and promote the world’s beautiful things rather than obsess, worry and agitate over the worst of things. I believe in creation over destruction, compassion over cynicism, mercy over vitriol, friendship over hostility, truth over lies and love over hate. I remind myself that, at this moment, I am here as a happy and humble participant in the complex and relational nature of the universe – a person who loves life but draws the line at bathing with strangers in pineapple jelly.

Thank you all for sending in your questions and comments to The Red Hand Files. I cannot begin to express how important they have been to my understanding of the connectedness of things. Indeed, their effect has been profoundly humanising.  I am indebted to you all and send you my heartfelt thanks. I hope you have also gained something valuable from this strange and beautiful venture. Here’s to the next 100,000!

Love, Nick



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