My ul­ti­mate dead­line is com­ing into sharp fo­cus

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIFE -

I CEL­E­BRATED a sig­nif­i­cant birth­day of late. It is one that ush­ers in the last quar­ter of a cen­tury or so of my time on the planet. The dead­line looms. As a sort of a jour­nal­ist I have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with dead­lines; I hate them be­cause of the pres­sure they put on and love them be­cause while they con­cen­trate the mind, they also pass quickly.

The loom­ing na­ture of the ul­ti­mate dead­line most cer­tainly brings a fo­cus, time be­comes more pre­cious and you find your­self be­ing more and more se­lec­tive about what to in­vest your­self in. I find I’m be­gin­ning to con­dense the list of things I want to do be­fore the can­dles are blown out. The list is get­ting de­cid­edly shorter. Like a bal­loon­ist want­ing to climb higher into the at­mos­phere I am look­ing around at what I want to throw over­board, de­cid­ing what’s too heavy and un­nec­es­sary.

In jet­ti­son­ing stuff I’m not talk­ing about ma­te­rial things but about the things that clut­ter the mind, clut­ter the heart and clut­ter the spirit; these are on the menu for ditch­ing. But the process is not as easy as one might think.

I grew up in an era where we were fairly clear about what we should and should not do and not too clear about what we ‘could’ do and what was pos­si­ble. To quote U2 there was a line on our hori­zons and only the bold, the brash and the brave crossed it. Most of the rest of us just won­dered what if.

Hav­ing lived a life where much of it, was lived un­der clouds that show­ered us with ‘shoulds’, it is hard to embrace the ‘coulds’.

Maybe now is the time, maybe I’m old enough not to give two shakes of a goat’s tail about nar­row gods and their manic mes­sen­gers. For too long we suf­fered un­der the gaze of deities made in the im­age, like­ness and hewn out of the neu­roses of their cre­ators.

So what to do with this new-found free­dom. Well I can’t go quite mad, I have three young fledglings whose feath­ers and wings are not yet strong enough to face the west­ern gales so I can’t let my late stretch­ing put their time for flight at risk.

A trek to the Hi­malayas to find my­self isn’t re­ally on, nor is a spell in an Ashram in Madras or a com­mune in the He­brides. Even a few weeks on the Camino would be push­ing things. But there are the moun­tains of the mind and the val­leys of the heart to be wan­dered and walked and there are many jour­neys that can be taken with­out leav­ing the con­fines of your own back­yard.

Hitler’s ar­chi­tect, Al­bert Speer (right) while in­car­cer­ated in Span­dau Prison in Berlin trav­elled the world while walk­ing in cir­cles around the prison yard, day in and day out.

Prompted by a ref­er­ence to this in Bernard McLaverty’s novel, Mid­win­ter Break, I looked up the Speer story, and sure enough, to keep him­self sane and to keep his mind ac­tive, he mea­sured his steps and every day un­der­took imag­i­nary jour­neys. He cal­cu­lated the dis­tance he walked around the prison yard every day and ap­plied that to his imag­i­nary jour­neys.

He be­gan with a walk of the mind from Berlin to Hei­del­berg and mea­sur­ing his steps, and know­ing the real dis­tance from the Ger­man cap­i­tal to the Bavar­ian city, he con­jured up the towns and vil­lages along the way, their smells, their food, their di­alects.

Then he ex­panded his trav­els to take in the world. He read vo­ra­ciously and stud­ied the dis­tances between var­i­ous points. From the prison li­brary he or­dered guide books, ge­og­ra­phy books and his­tory books and vi­su­alised the places he was walk­ing through as he tramped the prison yard. Be­gin­ning in north­ern Ger­many, he care­fully cal­cu­lated every me­tre he trav­elled as his imag­i­nary jour­ney took him across the south­ern

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