Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Too much required of you?

My husband has been listening to the speeches of Winston Churchill during long drives, just recently. (Perhaps it's a hint - the cadences of my preaching are becoming jaded!) So I was amused to discover one of the few sayings attributed to Clementine Churchill. Just as her husband's words resonated so powerfully with the people of his time and yet still chime with us today, it would appear that she had the same knack. She said, apparently, that she wanted her tombstone to read

'Here lies a woman who was always tired,
Because she lived in a world in which too much was required.'

This week, I've had several conversations of the, 'There-just-aren't-enough-hours-in-the day' variety. There's a novel (I can't remember its title or author - another sign of having too much in my head!) which begins with a woman standing in her kitchen in the wee small hours, distressing shop-bought mince pies with a rolling pin so that they look home-made for her daughter's school concert. She is subject not just to the pressures of trying to work and look after a family with complex needs, but also to the voices in her head from previous generations, 'If you were a proper mother, you'd have baked these yourself...' In the last few days, I've also talked to people who are travelling hundreds of miles a week to care for relatives...and people who have wasted hours trying to get their computers to talk to each other. On Friday, I went to London with a pile of work to do and ended up on a train with no wyfi and no phone signal; I found myself remembering with nostalia the days when just a pen, notebook and phone box were all you needed and, on a train journey, you could simply rest and read! Add to that the fact that I had just come from a conference where we were talking about space to reflect and grand concepts such as 'radical unavailability' and you will appreciate that I felt internally conflicted!

Clementine's words speak to me from across the generation gap - she was about the same age as my grandmother. They are honest and brave and show that she had the capacity to laugh at herself and her calling. When you think of all that she and Winston saw the nation through, all the loss and success and worry they experienced and all that they accomplished in their lives, perhaps being a bit tired isn't as negative as it sounds. It may be a human necessity, accompanying a fully lived life! Yes, life is stretching, challenging, perplexing, tiring, but it's also interesting, varied, full of new things to discover and inhabited by wonderful people. Being a bit weary is a natural human state for those who are engaged in the world around them. I infinitely prefer being tired to being bored!

However, it is essential to know and acknowledge when you are tired and to be able to stop. (For parents of small children, this may be a very long time ahead!) For several years now I have found that the best way to recharge batteries is to go on a retreat. This usually has to be planned and put into the diary months, if not a year, in advance, so that arrangments can be made. Without this forward planning, it doesn't happen. The first thing I do when I get to the retreat house is always to sleep (a lot), to make sure I eat healthy food regularly and to walk. Silence, time spent with God and with scripture and joining the community's daily worship then fall into place. Somehow (and I never know how) all this puts life back into proper balance and, though it's difficult to leave the place of retreat, I always return energised. The place I go to is Roman Catholic and usually there are other retreatants, often lay people with very busy and demanding lives and, although we don't talk, we give each other that wordless support which says 'I'm on a journey too.' My 'haven' is St Beuno's, a Jesuit community near St Asaph's in North Wales; they offer Ignatian retreats of varying lengths and good sipirtual direction. The Centre looks up into Snowdonia and out across Llandudno bay - it is the place where the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins trained for the priesthood.

How did Clementine keep going through 6 years of the kinds of stress and strain the second world war imposed? Reading her biography, she comes across as incredibly loyal and committed and yet very much her own person - able to seek the refreshment she needed and to go away, to seek out friends, to travel and to step back from even those she loved from time to time to give both herself and them space to gather strength. I'm grateful to her that she could be honest about the cost of the demands of her life.   


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