You know that thing when you’re cleaning the toilet and a bit of toilet juice spurts up and stabs you in the eye, and you want to stick your head in a bucket of bleach? Well, that must be awful…
I sometimes wish I could be more restrained about life, mosey along doing what I have to do moderately, with a calm purpose and a clear eye . I know women like that and I find them fascinating. They are a breed apart, always careful, always prepared, with small handbags that somehow contain things for every emergency: folded carriers, hand-gel, a map of the Top Ten Nuclear Bunkers…
It reminds me of the woman from Proverbs 31 who I have felt condemned by most of my life. If you are a bibley person, you will know who I mean. If not, then she is this contextualised ideal that many Christian women seek to emulate – a woman of noble character. Here are the parts I cringe at most -“She gets up while it is still night, she provides food for her family…She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.” Now this is clearly meant for a different time, but I think there are still women of my generation who secretly feel we’ve failed in some way. I am not a morning person. I get up to prepare food while it’s still night i.e.dark, once a year, to put the Christmas turkey on. Needlework O’Level (Yes, it was actually called that then) was the only subject I failed, and I have never met a merchant with or without a sash, yet alone made one for him.
My daughter has a thoughtful and intelligent friend who is doing philosophy at uni. She contacted us the other day to see what we thought of the question, “Can you have knowledge without experience?” My daughter and my husband said “no”, I said “sometimes”. But for me the bigger question is, “Does knowledge change your experience?”I know that if I rush around, I may lose my glasses, fall over small children or crash into furniture. But this knowledge, though frequently reinforced, doesn’t seem to change my experience much.
Last week I went to stay in an Oxford College with my friend, Fran. We were writers with a mission – write as much of your novel as you can in three days while soaking up the inspiration of the Oxford greats (C S Lewis, Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, John Fowles and many more). This involved eating big breakfasts in the Hogwarts-style Great Hall, writing all day and frequenting tearooms and pubs where the writers used to hang out to inspire each other. It was wonderful. On the last night, we were bemoaning the end of it while Fran unlocked Keble College’s great door (it was locked at 9pm but we’d been given a key), when she turned and tripped over a high lintel. What happened next was a kind of slow motion low-jump experience. She sort of twisted and fell gracefully into Keble College like a descending swan, wings outstretched to break the fall. Landing with a surprised “Oh!” on the cobbles in front of us, there was a beat, followed by a muffled “I’m alright”.
Well, she wasn’t really. Covered in bruises with a sprained wrist, I suppose at least there were no broken bones and she could walk. We were both rather shocked and spent the next few minutes moving from, “Are you really okay?” “Yes, I’m fine” to “Why was that thing there?” “Dunno, it wasn’t there earlier” to “We should report it,” ” Yes we should.” You see, set inside the big door was a little door and at night, the key only opens the little door. If we’d had the experience of going through the little door, stepping over the lintel during the day, we would have known to do it at night. This knowledge would have eliminated the ground-slamming experience. I explained this, kindly, to the head porter the next morning who watched me patiently. He would notify the Head of Safety. They always used to open the small door during the day until recently. Yes, he could see this maybe wasn’t the best change of plan. He understood why I was concerned about signage. Anyway (sigh), as mentioned, he would refer it to the Head of Safety.
On the train on the way home, I decided some things: –
- Life is full of falls. Self-reproach isn’t helpful. But a muffled “I’m alright” before getting up and limping on with dignity, is.
- Everyone has accidents. Fran is more Proverbs 31 than me. She wakes up at 5.30 every morning, even on holiday, and doesn’t mind cleaning.
- Sometimes knowledge can improve experience but sometimes it can’t, depending on the situation. It’s time to stop blaming ourselves for the people we didn’t become. Despite my clumsiness, I’ve decided I quite like the way I am -a bit dreamy, with a love of trees, writing and open doors (even ones you sometimes fall through). And I think God quite likes me too.
- I don’t get up early to prepare food but I do get up early to go out and earn it. Instead of linen garments I sell words. And as for the merchants…well, if you see any, tell them to meet me in Keble College Great Hall this time next year and I’ll happily give them some sashes. It will be more in keeping there. But they should watch out for that lintel, after 9…
What aspects of your personality would you change?