Hebrews is a very dense book. I made the mistake of starting to read it last week, which was a bit of an emotional time for many of us here. After dutifully scanning a chapter, I realised that I’d taken nothing in, and I do mean nothing. So I started again. Nope. Nothing stayed long enough in my puddled brain to be of any use at all. So I read about the book of Hebrews. No. None of that stayed either.
The question is, what book will I start tomorrow in the place of Hebrews? I know what I ought to read – one I’m not familiar with, Exodus or Deuteronomy or Chronicles. But… but…. “But what, Luce?”
Oh, I don’t know. Just ‘but’.
I might revert to the familiar loved ones, Isaiah or Job or Jonah or Habakkuk or Peter or Ecclesiastes. Because, you know what? Here comes my ‘but’…. I think I’m beginning to feel my age cognitively. And that’s no bad thing. If I find it a bit harder to grasp a principal or story, to retain new info, it might just humble me a tiny tadge. You never know.
There’s a real danger as we grow older that we become erm… what can I say… bloody-minded, cantankerous, stubborn, unteachable, stuck-in-the-mud, stunted, selfish, pompous and deluded. But apart from that we’re brilliant, us oldies.
I’m not saying that I’m losing my marbles – just this week I read a fabulous book on the parable of the prodigal son and have retained it and loved it and I’m writing a play about it (not yet commissioned, but my producer at the BBC is up for it) so I do still have brain power. Please understand, I am FAR from writing myself off, but I once had a painful and yet valuable experience that shapes my thinking;
I worked for a stress-filled year with a famous and respected old journalist. The problem was that he was not as famous and well-respected as he wanted to be and, even as an octogenarian, his ambition to be the brightest, most challenging person in the room was exhausting. He didn’t recognise (or maybe just didn’t want to) that he was no longer the iconoclast and original thinker that once he was. He had researched an interesting story for several years in America and now wanted to make a feature film about it. Having already chewed up (and spat out) one experienced screenwriter and a couple of script editors he was now looking to me to rescue his project. The problem was that while it was an interesting idea, it wasn’t intriguing. It was the sort of story that, in an anecdote, could have been sketched out in four or five sentences, and the listener would have said “Something like that happened in Milton Keynes.” Or Moscow or Delhi or Huddersfield. The bare facts revealed very little about human nature that was not already known (cops can be lazy, people lie, booze gets you drunk). A script would have to work bloody hard to keep the story rollicking along, and there wasn’t a single richly drawn character to inhabit the screen and steal the show. It was a story just-about worth pursuing but we knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy job. It would have to go up a notch to be financed and made.
It was our job, the producers and writer, to look behind the plot and find the heart. That was what the process had to be, and we knew that there was a hidden heart. But this ex-journo was grand and eloquent, and he waded into the world of drama with all the authority he had wielded thirty years ago in news-gathering. He didn’t understand that as he gave forth at length about investigative techniques and his never ending search for the truth, everyone else in the room was unimpressed, knew more than he did, was quicker on their feet, and understood – unlike him – the pitfalls facing us. And we knew him. And we knew a bit about drama. And we knew there was more to this story than he had spotted, that there was another layer.
I also knew that in a few short months he would speak as disparagingly of me as he now did of the first writer and, if the producers failed to raise the money, he’d treat them the same way, but still he waxed lyrical about truth and justice and the effect this story would have on the American legal system.
He was the definition of hubris and I thought then, “When my life’s little day* is done, and the shadows steal over me, I hope that I will understand and be content.”
And my life’s little day, my sugar lumps, has been so action-packed! From the age of about 5 when my Mum started to go blind to right now, today, my life has been full of event and surprise and grief, pain, delight, damage and fabulous, fabulous healing. I know that whatever God has brought me to, physically, mentally or spiritually, he is with me and he always has been! That’s an amazing revelation given to me only about three years ago when the pieces of my violent childhood fell into place, when I remembered a prayer and a place and knew, knew that God was with me even then.
And so I know that whatever lies ahead, it will be wonderful because it’s from him. Every good thing is from him, and in fact ‘all things work to the good for those who love the Lord’ so even when stuff seems bad, it ain’t! It’s all good.
I know that some of you, reading this blog, are fixers and comforters and you’re all a kind lot, but don’t rush to tell me that I’m as bright as ever, because I’m the only one who knows what’s going on in my head. Shadows are coming.
That’s OK. There’s enough daylight left to see what I need to see today. I already wear glasses, and next week I get my hearing aids, and two weeks ago my pal died, and …. tempus fugit.
Can I tell you a funny story about ‘tempus fugit’? My dad had trained to be an RC priest, but left the seminary early and joined the army (and many years later I left a convent and joined the army). He loved Greek and Latin but rebelled against what he saw as ‘lazy Church Latin’, particularly as pronounced by Irish priests. He said ‘fugit’ with a hard ‘G’, and when a priest once, in a sermon, pronounced it with a soft ‘G’ my dad said, quite loud and very clearly, ‘FUGGGGGIT’.
When an Irish nun at the convent said ‘Tempus fugit’ I did what my dad did, I said, very loud and very clearly ‘FUGGGGGIT”.
I was sent out of the room. It wasn’t until years later that I realised what the nun had thought I’d said. Think about it.
* Nicked from the hymn ‘Abide with me’;
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.