View from Pennyghael, Isle of Mull

I’m clearly somewhere – but where?

It’s been a strange few weeks, I think retirement has finally begun to set in. Just recently journeys, events and meetings have meant revisiting a lot of past history, something I usually manage to keep boxed away quite neatly.

Time spent on the Isle of Mull involved just staring out of what used to be my father’s window at the sea, for hours, not being bored but, fascinated by the ever-changing view. Mind you, having otters, seals and the occasional dolphin messing about in it definitely helps.

Then three trips to London – all around Waterloo. Meeting up with an old friend on the Southbank for coffee after nearly 25 years, feeling slightly nervous about where our paths might have diverged but, hugely relieved to discover that we had travelled congruent ones. Then attending the graduation ceremony for Oasis College students I last taught a year ago. A great day – well done all! But, strange to be there with no funny hat, no responsibility and with no ongoing role. Lastly a meeting in the coffee shop below the college to reminisce about Frontier Youth Trust in the nineties with someone authoring a history.

A therapist once got me to draw out a map of my life so far and pointed out that I drew everything in boxes (and yes, there probably is an entire conference there). It’s true, I do tend to box things off. Finish a job and that’s it – put it away – no need to come back to it – no need to revisit old news.

However, recent circumstances, not least retirement, have to a certain extent forced some retrospection. In unguarded moments like driving the car on long journeys this happened anyway but generally in an unhelpful way similar to the ‘Things’ in Fleur Adcock’s poem.

“It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
And stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.”

Sure I’m feeling my age – of course – delusions of mortality and the uncertainty of the future – all pretty human? I’ve packed some life experience in, not all of it constructive and certainly not enough to think I can rest on my laurels. I won’t be having “I did it my way” played at the funeral.

It’s more a question of direction as in which way am I even facing? What’s important anymore? Do I still want to be a rock god – famous Christian – respected wise adult? Should I seek out opportunities or let them come to me? Where am I in the pattern of Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upwards” or in the journey Henri Nouwen maps out in “Finding my way home”?

I know life is an unpredictable journey and I know I’m somewhere on that journey. I can, admittedly somewhat unwillingly, reflect on where I’ve been but I have no idea of where I’m going or even where I am at the moment. It has recently dawned on me that this sounds dreadfully close to the opening of Thomas Merton’s famous prayer. For someone with my fundamentalist upbringing the absence of certainty about pretty much everything can be hard to handle. To put it in Rohr’s framework the voice from my ‘first half-life’ asks “This not knowing stuff – is this actually OK?”.

“Yeah, probably” the voice from my ‘second half-life’ responds.

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