Back to work — up early with a pot of steaming Earl Grey tea, pushing my brain to focus, concentrate, condense; think, think, think –
And then accompanied my housemate to an orthopaedic specialist. Should that be orthopod? She will need a knee replacement in the next two months, so we are making plans. I do sometimes wonder if I shall ever learn to breathe or pray my way through fear. I took along my Christmas present to myself, a paperback copy of Hilary Mantel’s magnificent Wolf Hall, the historical novel that won the 2009 Booker Prize. Lulling myself with bloodthirsty power struggles in medieval England, and the central character of Thomas Cromwell who is tender and violent by turns, profoundly ambitious, tormented by his own shortcomings. For years i was disappointed by Mantel’s novels, felt they didn’t quite come off. And then she seemed to gather together her energies and pounce into her true grasp and range with Beyond Black, a novel that terrified me almost wordless. Reading good authors is the great soothing, demanding, consolation and distraction from life’s worries. As LitLove says in Tales from the Reading Room:
Reading is extremely good for you. It focuses the mind, hones concentration and improves memory, all in scientifically proven ways. It is also a way to open your mind to other cultures, other perspectives, other ways of life. Reading on screen, listening or watching television and/or films does not bring the same mental benefits as the slow, in depth, contemplative exercise of reading on the page. It also teaches problem solving and lowers stress. If you think it is important to do a sport or take exercise for the body, it’s equally essential to work out the brain, or else we risk becoming insular, forgetful, restless and opinionated.
Driving through the mountains was a pleasure despite the heat — bright yellow gorse alongside the road and eagles soaring over the valleys. Muddy farm dams and wild ducks splashing in reeds. When we got home, there was a grumpy vicar waiting to have tea with us. Uninvited, but men of the cloth do not think of calling ahead of time. He has worked out a carbon dating sytem for Genesis and completely refutes evolution along with the ‘emancipation’ of women. To my mortification, the small dogs waited until he was seated on the sofa and then took a flying leap into his lap, barking hysterically and upsetting his tea cup. I apologised for the dogs but offended him even more by refusing to join his eccentric brand of Anglicanism, smiling apologetically but thinking of the English mystic Evelyn Underhill.
There is no need to be peculiar in order to find God. The Magi were taught by the heavens to follow a star and it brought them, not to a paralyzing disclosure of the Transcendent, but to a little boy on his mother’s knee.
This Christmas has felt like being wrapped in a sober cocoon of friends and non-drinking acquaintances, hardly aware of the chaos and drunken antics elsewhere. Such a pleasure.