My ultimate deadline is coming into sharp focus
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