'The Greater Good' winner announced! Guest judge Reverend Anne Bond guides us to the good in the entries
2nd July 2015
The title has uneasy undertones of religion if you interpret ‘religion’ as mankind’s reaching out to faith in a benign source of what Jeremy Bentham described as the greatest good for the greatest number; and indeed most entries did reflect one aspect or another of this view. I liked and respected the various applications of the title; it was interesting to note that the moods coming across were equally varied, from virtuously positive to cynically despondent.
I have chosen as the winner A Recipe for Recycling. It is a beautiful, imaginative piece of writing, as written by an old person with dementia. It is full of word-pictures that delight the senses:
‘Somebody whisked my thoughts together’;
‘I had that memory like an old hound snoring at my feet. As I reached to wake it, it bounded away into the night, leaving a suggestion of a snarl.’
The writer has really got into the muddled mind.
‘They think I’ll wander down the dual carriageway in just my grey knickers. I can see why they wouldn’t want the world to know how badly they wash things here. A bit of bleach wouldn’t go amiss.’
I do like that: the lack of understanding that it is actually the danger of the dual carriageway that is worrying. Initially we can’t tell if the old person is male or female, but ‘I took it from your dressing table’ gives it away: men don’t have dressing tables. Now we can see the old man mourning his losses and blaming his wife, who may or may not be dead:
‘You can’t be here, now, standing in front of me. Your sarcasm habit so engrained it weighs your mouth down at the sides.’
And, because of her treatment of him as much as the treatment he is receiving in his care home, he is afraid for his own future. He imagines his wife in a nurse’s uniform holding a filled syringe, and concludes:
‘I can’t go on going round using resources that could be for the greater good.’
It is a tragic cry, a blow to the solar plexus that brings one up short and rings only too true: I have known old but not at all confused people whose voiced worry was that, simply because they were old, medical resources would not be available to them because they ‘weren’t worth it’.
I chose 28 to One and Entry 976 as runners up. 28 to One is a short, vivid poem about the cost in lives of the necessity to kill one particular person in a political conflict in which 28 other people were also killed. The greater good may have been served, but the man who pushed the button to launch the unmanned missile has to bear the guilt of lives lost. Entry 976 is a well-imagined conversation between Lucifer and God Almighty in which the conundrum of why evil is allowed in a world created perfect by God is explored, pointing out that we all have a choice to commit evil or not; but if evil did not exist, we would never have the chance to choose, and it is by choosing that the greater good is served. I liked the simple way a difficult subject was presented.
Anne Bond is an ordained priest in the Anglican church working in south Dorset. She has written stories all her life, writes a ‘faith’ column for a local newspaper, and is a regular contributor to the parish magazine. She has recently produced a booklet of short stories, poems and essays called ‘The Green Angel’ which is selling well as a fundraiser for repair work on her church building.