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Jul 10

Day 7: Day Off

“Perhaps we should hurry as fast as we can?

We had to go to a funeral of a friend today – for our generation is being called up. Our social lives are punctuated with memorial services and funerals. Around seven years ago there was a cull of roughly six of our friends: then the grim reaper appeared to holiday with his scythe: he vanished… but just for a while. Then, as we began once again to career idiotically along, convinced we’d fooled the bastard for good, without warning he swept back and culled Frances, Tim and Clare, Faith, Juliet and Graham, all lovely people and I miss them. Then he slid back into his smokey lair like the cruel assassin he is.

When will the tap be on our shoulder? Of course, it’s bound to happen. So is there anything we can do in response to that reality? It’s hard to resist the temptation to hurry: cram our hoped-for plans into a shortened span… for we are old and have so little time to waste… but I have learned that “hurry“ isn’t such a wise course of action.

 

Soul Fatigue

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So said LP Hartley in his novel The Go-Between.

Modern life for the young seems to revolve around a desperate hurry to get the next attention-grabbing iPad or smart phone fix. When I was young, there were long periods of relative boredom when I would just skulk around the garden with nothing in particular to do. We were less hurried then. We had no computer games to divert us, and no Google or Facebook to draw us away from the real world right in front of us.

Speed Junkies

We were taught slowly. We had to learn our times tables and lots more by rote with serious punishment threatened if we simply opted out. We were taught how to write letters, and how to add up, multiply and do fractions without the aid of a calculator. We learnt how to read maps and memorised long chunks of poetry. All of this took time. We had one phone line for the entire family and we had to queue. We looked things up in an encyclopaedia, and if we missed a programme on our black-and-white TV, then it stayed missed. Collecting stamps might have been my childish obsession but it was a gentle pursuit: nothing compared with the crack cocaine of the current digital world. Today’s young are speed junkies, hammering away at green screens playing Monster Legends (whatever that is!) Our grandchildren are being hurried into an unpredictable future ruled by robot overlords.

This hurry comes at a cost. In my last blog, I told of one of the journeys of African pioneer Sir Richard Burton (not the actor). He had marched at a furious pace for three days: then on the fourth, his porters refused to budge. Despite his pleas and exhortations, they simply sat, staring vacantly into space. When asked for an explanation, the headman replied, “We have marched so fast, we are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”

More Haste, Less Speed

There is a vast difference between being busy and being in a hurry! Being in a hurry often leaves us detached from our souls. Being busy is when we have a reasonable number of things to do.

Being hurried is a stressful condition. It means being so preoccupied with ourselves that we have no time for God or for other people. Business morphs into hurry when we have squeezed God (or people) from our lives.

When we hurry, we get soul fatigue. That’s when we stay up too late and get up too early. It’s when we stop eating proper food regularly, and fuel up on gin and Mars bars. We clog our brains and our arteries with junk food eaten out of a box… in a hurry.

The hurry warning signs are easy to spot. We may be in a shop or airline queue and immediately start calculating which queue is moving faster than ours. It’s when we worry that our parking space isn’t the closest to the shopping centre, or when we rudely switch traffic lanes just to satisfy the demon “hurry”.

We hurry when we are being bombarded by too much information at work or when too many screens are competing for our attention. We worry that we are missing out on something. We compile endless lists but never complete them. We are in such a hurry and are so weary that we cannot see the pile of unpaid bills and bank statements, or the unanswered emails – and we even forget the wife’s birthday!

Do yourself a favour. Remember festina lente: make haste slowly.

 

Broads and Dames

When Humphrey Bogart lay dying, a call came through to his wife, Lauren Bacall, asking her out to a Hollywood dinner.

“She says she doesn’t want to come,” croaked Bogart, “she wants to stay with me. It’s love that separates the dames from the broads in this town, and Lauren is a dame.”

A few years back, a very senior member of the armed forces – let’s call him Henry – was “stung” by the late and disgraceful Max Clifford. (Incidentally, when Clifford died, I imagine he faced a hard time from the Recording Angel for the destructive nature of his earthly antics but I digress.) Henry went to a grand dinner and had the misfortune to sit next to a woman with the glorious name of Lady Bienvenida Buck. She placed her cool hand on his knee and told him she fancied him. The poor, credulous clot believed her.

A month later, coming out of the Savoy at four in the afternoon, the couple were greeted by a blaze of flashlights. Lady Buck had sold him down the river to the tabloids for an undisclosed sum.

Later that evening, Henry had to confess the awful results of his philandering to Mary, his wife. He was humiliated: the publicity would be awful (it was), his career would surely be over (it was), and he faced divorce.

Mary listened to his stammering confession and apology, and wept. Then slowly she took off her wedding ring and laid it gently on the table.

Just as Henry was about to leave for good, Mary picked up the ring and replaced it on her finger.

“Let’s start our marriage again,” she said.

They are still together, a chastened man and a heroic wife. It’s love that separates the dames from the broads.

Moral to all men over 60: If a “lady” places her hand on your knee and says she finds you physically attractive, run for the hills: she’s lying!

(I repeat that this is a true story. I have disguised the man’s name to avoid distress.)

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