Let go

The sight of Her Majesty at a state banquet in Dublin Castle was astonishing. To hear her speak of the mistakes of history in a way that acknowledged the wrongs done to the island of Ireland by English colonialism was truly moving. And she hit on something that Jesus says time and again: clinging to the past is the very thing that burdens us. It stops us living in the present and looking forward to the future. An inability to forgive ourselves for what we have done is an example of dwelling on the past. It is also a form of self-obsessedness, a perverted pride. ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ said Jesus, ‘we have work to do’. This is one reason why I will never support conservationism. I admire the buildings and achievements of the Victorian age, and I once joined the Victorian Society, but now I am irritated by its reluctance to acknowledge that things might need adaptation to suit the here- and-now. Many church people are obsessed by pews, imagining that they have been there since the church was built. Others are obsessed about the internal appearance, ignoring the likelihood that in the middle ages the church was plastered and colourfully painted. We need to acknowledge the past (not apologise), understand it, but don’t live in it. Initiative is so often stifled by those who are stuck in the past. Church councils need to heed that lesson: the needs of the present and future are not well served by attitudes of the past.

Which brings me to the difficulties of getting older. Our brains are wired so that we tend to lose short-term memory before long term memory. As we age, we remember 30 years ago better than yesterday. There are species-preservation reasons why this is a good thing—if only we did not live so long. We tend to dwell on the days when we were fit and active, and when we grabbed life by the short and curlies, and we become sad about what we can’t do any more. We need to grieve this loss: the loss of youth and energy and get-up-and-go. And the realisation that things we once thought dear turned out to be no more than seductive bubbles that have burst, leaving only a soapy mess. Rather than moping, try mopping. Think how you might share your wisdom and experience with others. Enjoy the young members of your family, talk to them as friends. One of the sadnesses about my relationship with my father was that before he died (I was 36) we never reached the stage of talking to each other as friends. I dare say it was as much my fault as his, but at the time his words seemed only to be given as peremptory instructions.

There comes a time to acknowledge that it’s someone else’s turn to carry the flag. And yes, I know it’s difficult. We see people doing things that our experience tells us will come to grief, and we want to tell them why. If only we could plug a memory stick into a USB port on the side of our heads, transfer our wisdom onto it for transmission to someone else’s cephalic USB port. If you don’t know what a memory stick is, that illustrates my point. If you don’t know what cephalic means, look it up. It does have something to do with Cephas. Maybe the development of bodily USB ports will be the next stage of evolution. Have you seen the wonderful Vincent Price in the marvellous The Abominable Dr Phibes? It’s not irrelevant to this idea. (Far be it from me to encourage you to break copyright law, but it’s available in chunks on YouTube.) Hindu sanyassi give up all their possessions and wander off to fend for themselves. I find this peculiarly attractive. I’ve lived my life backwards in a sense, each change of job in the last 10 years some sort of a renunciation, with less and less income (poor Susan). But I lack guts to go the whole hog (relieved Susan). Move on. Enjoy getting older. Acknowledge the right of others to cock up just like you did. It takes courage, but it’s worth it. Let go of the will to control and influence, and relax into life. Clutter, rank, things, attitudes, stuff, possessions—none of this matters. The only things that matter are relationships. Happy days: live in the present because before you know it, it’ll be too late.


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