LETTER FROM LITTLEMORE – No. 25
Sunday, 13th of November, 2011
Think Twice, For, “He Who Dithers, Is Lost”!
This was a favourite saying of my first mother-in-law; well, mother-out-law, I suppose, in those barbaric days. She was of the opinion that if presented with a choice, we must make it swiftly, or lose the chance to choose at all. In one of the parishes I served there was a retired military man who had the same view – “always act as soon as you can – if you get it right, you’ve got it right straightaway, and if you’ve got it wrong, you have longer to put it right again afterwards”. Such temperaments and philosophies attract me; my own disposition is very much of the opposite kind, although it seems harsh to call it “dithering”.
Overheard, on the cycle path from Littlemore to the ringroad supermarket, two young ladies in conversation: “So, that’ll make him think twice next time, won’t it?” To think twice is the very opposite of being the dithering loser, it suggests a careful mulling over of the means available to bring something about, and the likely consequences of doing so. In the heat of the moment, you may want to belt your partner in the chops, but think twice, and you realise not only would it be both a crime and a sin (that’s lose-lose, as the Americans and other children would say), but would consume you with guilt, and not actually solve the problem at all, in the long-term at least. Think twice.
I remain torn between the two. When offered my first curacy in Romford my instinct was to say Yes straightaway. I later learnt that that is what the vicar was hoping I would do. But the brain said No, wait, consult, see what other people think. I consulted the wise, and they could put up no obstacle. Two days or so later, I accepted. When I was offered the chaplaincy post at Cambridge I tried the same thing. The wise said No. I was too flattered by the offer to listen. It was a mistake – notwithstanding that I made some good friends there, and heard many fascinating stories. The difference was that in Romford my future colleagues did want me there; in Cambridge, they were at best indifferent. When my sister came with me to look around the place, she said of the chapel “isn’t it cold?” She was spot on. And I knew it at the time; that isn’t hindsight. But I dithered, and was lost.
The favourite nun, who over the years has become a spiritual adviser and a friend, says the goal of discipleship is to draw the mind down into the heart (and how typical that the mind so often regards itself as the loftier party, rarely deigning to trot down the stairs to the heart’s quarters), so the two can act, and be, as one. Easier said than done, of course. The heart may have its reasons, but the mind may well think they are not very good ones. The mind may have its plans, but the heart may find them, well, heartless. Somehow an inner dialogue must begin which tries to draw together the best of ourselves, for the sake of ourselves, and a very selfish and navel-gazing exercise it can seem, too, except that without it, we can actually be selfish and navel-gazing, and make mistakes that simply make work for others as they have to pick up the pieces of our folly and neglect.
I dithered about writing this letter, until something rather unusual happened very late on Thursday night/Friday morning. I interfered. I very rarely do this in anyone else’s life, I am not a giver of advice (they only blame you when they haven’t listened properly, don’t follow it through, and everything goes pear-shaped), but my father’s health was causing me deep concern. In my presence the specialist in charge of his case had said if he got any worse, my parents were to contact him, and he would do all he could to speed up the process. He was getting worse, and I knew they would do nothing until the next appointment, but there was a weekend looming, and no time to lose. So, I got in touch by e-mail, and by return the timescale for his operation was reduced to “probably next week” rather than “maybe in two to three weeks”. This is a timescale that matters. Did I dither? Well, yes, for over two hours, in the dark small hours, with no one to consult, not even the wise, yes I did. We are still in the woods, but now we have a path. I do not regret it.
It is a truism and therefore unremarkable, hence I am remarking upon it, that it is easier to see solutions to other people’s problems than one’s own.
May all your ditherings lead to gain, not loss, your second thoughts be of gratitude, not regret. And, failing that, what the hell, there’s always tomorrow!
(December 2011, but written earlier)