I don’t think I’ve ever made a serious New Year resolution. I have vague ‘must do better’ ideas floating around but they’re there all the time. They don’t spring out of a desire to end 2019 with a new and amazing body, or a new language, or a new anything. I know that this year I will bumble along happily, banging into walls, falling over fences, upsetting some people, amusing others, and eating both too much and too unwisely. Same as every other year thus far. I know that I will end the year just a tiny tad wiser, and a whole year older.
You know what’s coming now, don’t you? I am making a New Year Resolution. In capitals. A NEW YEAR RESOLUTION. You heard it here first.
My life is going to follow a new rhythm.
Do you remember the Masefield poem ‘Cargoes’? How it changed its character between verses so that the rowed boat was powerful and rhythmic, the galleon was smooth and the fat little British coaster was choppy and rough? At my Convent school, once a month, a mad little woman (Miss Holland) would teach us elocution. Now, everyone else (every otha bogger) in the claaarss (in’t clas) was from Baaaath (Bath) while I was from the North (a lassie from Lancasheeer, the arse end of God’s o’n country, tha’ knows). So when my class recited this first verse, my Southern friends had a cadence that was sweet and smooth, almost exotic, and my broad voice was a dischord;
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
When we recited the second verse, there was an injection of energy and excitement from us all, but still I couldn’t quite match their rounded vowel sounds;
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
But when we came to the third verse, I came into my own, hard hyphenated words, sharp word endings, strong rhythms… perfect for a slum kid who knew all about coal and tin and dirt and smoke;
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
Ours was the lowest stream, so we had Miss Holland for only a year, and all we did was this one poem and a hokey ditty about Samson but I still remember great chunks of them both. They were the last poems I read until I had my daughter and began to hanker after a wider education.
Thing is, my chitterlings, I think that all my life I’ve lived in the choppy, energetic, bull-nosed rhythm of that last verse, butting against waves, heading into the storm.
Nowadays, my home is in a rural coastal area. It’s taken me several years to realise that this environment is not a film set, a production office, or even a writing room. There’s nothing to battle against, four-square and head down. Maybe it’s the place, or maybe it’s my age, but the battle here is altogether different, internal and of the soul. My life is different here. The energy, finances, pace and culture – they’re all foreign to me. In a conversation this week we were considering jet lag and a seasoned traveller said that although East to West is supposed to be the worst for jet lag, he finds that the time difference travelling from Canada to Wales is hardest. I said I wasn’t surprised – when he comes to West Wales from Canada time slips back 30 years.
It was a joke (lighten up!) but like all jokes it works because there’s a grain of truth in it. The pace of life here is so slow that it’s frustrated me for the last few years, but now, at last, I begin to get the message. Life follows the pulse of a poem, and we decide which one. We can battle, or we can calm. My life is the poem I choose to recite, the cadence I breathe into it.
This year, and I hope for every year to come, my life is going to follow a new rhythm.
I’ve had to change my house name (my street doesn’t have numbers) and typically for my muddled mind, I chose the one word in the Bible that no one is sure about, ‘Selah’. It appears in the Psalms, at the end of a thought usually, and most commentators say it means something like ‘Pause and think.’
My house is called ‘Pause and think’. That’s what I need to do. Not thinking great and weighty thoughts, not working stuff out, scheming and planning and ducking and diving. I need to make my life a poem, and in its music I need to pause and think about God. Take a breath between lines, and worship. Linger on words of adoration. Take out the sounds God is whispering to me and examine them. Turn them over in my hand, taste them, explore them. Obey them. Find God’s music in the sounds I hear and the world I see. See Christ in everyone I meet.
So, here you are, that’s me –
that dirty British coaster with its salt-caked smoke-stack…. so doughty, so determined, cutting through them waves.
Slow, slow…. for pity’s sake, woman, slow. Shut the engines down to idling, read the weather, go wisely in the wind and on the tide, trust in God, know that He is working all around you. Take steady hold of the wheel and follow the course laid out, thank God for the angry sky above and the heaving sea below, breathe in God’s good fresh air and enjoy the day, even the mad March day.
Find a new rhythm to life. God’s rhythm.