Archive for April, 2010

What does your gut say?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Twice in my life I have been asked by a woman: ‘What does your gut say?’ The first time was when I was about to leave my nine-year path towards the priesthood. My gut said: ‘Leave!’

And I did. Not easily, of course. More recently, another woman asked me precisely the same question, using precisely the same words, regarding a professional decision: ‘What does your gut say?’ I was stunned by the precision, the duplication, the verbatim repetition of those five words.

In my late 20s, faced with what I considered was the first adult decision of my life – to leave my priestly path – it may be appreciated the difficulty of that choice. But now, in my late 40s, I am struck, and humbled, by my facility to duck and weave from my gut. Asked so recently what my gut said, I had no doubt what I should do professionally. And yet I lingered, dallying with the possibility that a solution less messy than going with my gut might work out.

Why is it that we are so willing – at least I confess I am – to trade that for which we were born for the sake of the false god of ‘security’? Why are we willing to give up on that which we believe to be our core mission in life for the sake of a few shekels and the continuity with the familiar – even when we are being beckoned, again, to be true to who we are?

Last week, for the second time in my life, I knew the answer to that question: ‘What does your gut say?’ And yet, days later, I was juggling with all sorts of other possibilities. I’m not proud of it. We have one very short shot at life. Must we be dragged screaming to do that for which we are best suited? Or run out of time – the ticking clock and waning sun ever the catalyst of authentic action. I pray that it may not be said of me at my death that I died without ever having lived.

I have lived and fulfilled much of my life’s purpose. But I have now the gift of time and opportunity and I pray, I intend, to proceed along the uncharted pathway of my gut.


Saturday, April 10th, 2010

I’m appoaching the age my dad was when he had a stroke. This juxtaposition of my dad’s medical history and the fright of his unexpected stroke and my approach to that same age caught me unawares earlier today. Like a kick in the belly, actually. There was my dad plodding along doing whatever he was doing one day, probably looking forward to his birthday and on that same birthday he had his stoke.

So I ask myself: if I were to have a stroke on my next birthday that left me incapacitated thereafter, what would I want to do between now and then? Happily, my dad’s stroke was a mild one. But still, it sharpens the mind on that old theme of the brevity of life. Life is far, far too short to spend it doing stuff you don’t enjoy. It’s far too short to spend it living in fear. It’s far too short to postpone whatever it is you want to do before you die.

So here it is guys and girls. I’ve fathered my children, I’ve planted my trees, married the love of my life, built a home I love, written some books and, as an commissioning editor, commissioned lots and lots of other people’s books. But the one thing I really, really want to do is to complete a particular book of my own that I’ve been trying to write for the last 20 years. My osteopath – there’s no better way of talking about what’s really going on in your life than when the right professional is working on your back muscles and untying those physical knots – says it’s a book I need to write before I die. And I do. And I am. I’m working on it. It’s taking shape.

That’s the one big thing I really want to do before I have any bolts from the blue. So, what would you do if you were told you’d be having a stroke on your next birthday?

Twists and turns

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Life is strange, is it not? Sometimes we vacillate between one course and another and haven’t a clue what to do. We often cling to the familiar, even when it isn’t working for us. We want to believe that it can work even though the evidence stacks up that it won’t work. We cherish our freedom and yet we also fear it. The devil you know…

And yet life often clarifies issues for us. An event occurs, unexpected perhaps, that throws the cat amongst the pigeons. We are beckoned once more to the cauldron of unknowing. Yet again we return to the cooking pot, where ingredients meld and, in time, something new will emerge.

And so we stay alive. Nature abhors a vacuum. We may be sad to move on from the familiar but often the familiar is killing us. We are bigger than the familiar. Let us dare to trust in ourselves. To step, anew, into the dark. To take the risk of some pain now in order to be true to ourselves and to be free.

Life is short. Shorter than we could imagine. We were not born to spend out lives in unsatisfying situations. The babe may fear to leave the womb but in the end if he or she does not, life cannot unfold with all its colour and the delight of what will be.

Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

On balance, most of us loved it. Some of us ended up thinking, if not talking, in Spanish syntax. The raw honesty of the book. The complex characterisation. The reader’s desire to know what happened at the end. The butchery of war – no matter what side you’re on. And yet how life can be lived in three days. A powerful, extraordinary book.


Thursday, April 1st, 2010

How often in life I have found myself pulled this way and that! I studied Hamlet as a schoolboy and how appropriate for me. There can be value in deferring a decision. It is the antithesis to impulsive living. It took me nine years before I decided to leave religious life and my path to the priesthood. Yet, I do not regret the time I spent in the Marists. I taught for five years in London, when I might have left teaching earlier to become a full-time writer. Yet, had I left, I would never have met my wife or had our two lovely children. So, I’m open, ever open, to considering possibilities. Then again, once I make a decision, a considered decision, I tend to be confident that it is the right one due to the time and care I take in reaching my decisions. And it is not as if I deferred leaving religious life for nine years. On the contrary, I chose to stay in religious life for nine years. Nor did I defer leaving teaching for five years. I choose to stay for five years. Decision-making keeps us alive. So long as we engage in the process and are true to ourselves, whatever we decide, we thrive.