Wednesday 11 December 2019

Brendan O'Connor: The rumble of distant thunder at a picnic

MEDITATIONS: Winter is when you practise the Zen thing, when you learn to focus and to go into the hole and you need that
MEDITATIONS: Winter is when you practise the Zen thing, when you learn to focus and to go into the hole and you need that
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

And so we may cling on, with half-hearted hopes of an Indian summer, but really it is over. It is over for me when, like Auden's "rumble of distant thunder at a picnic", TV looms. And yes I am conscious that Auden meant it about death. I am not drawing any analogy between going back on TV and death. Just a different life.

The thing is I am ready. Not ready quite, but certainly ready to get ready. There is a small matter of the summer half stone to lose yet, and a few more skites planned over the next few weeks. But I have more or less had my fill of eating and drinking and messing. I am ready to get down to business. As Robbie Williams once said when someone asked him if he didn't miss going out - "I've been out."

And that's why I'm OK as I hobble into autumn courtesy of a bad back I got picking up a chick last Sunday. Relax. She is mine and she is six. Once I sort out the fact that I am fat and slightly crippled I will be happy to retreat into the routine of winter. Because I've been out. I had a summer and now I'm ready for what's next. A time to reap and a time to sow and all that.

It helps when we get the weather doesn't it? It helps when you feel you have had a summer. It helps when you have been out around the idyllic highways and byways. It helps when you've eaten and drunk and laid on the grass and swam in the sea. I even dipped my toe into a bit of kayaking in the sea. It helps when you have immersed yourself a little bit in nature, when you've smelt and tasted the countryside and had random chats with the people out there, easy summer shit-talk. And all those other normal things that are exotic to me because I never had a normal life and never fitted in.

As you get on and the rumble of thunder in the distance grows louder you become more conscious that every summer is the last one of that summer that you'll have, that nothing will be the same again. And you become more and more aware of the important bits. And looking back on the summer what was it? It was them of course, the four-year-old and the-six-year old.

It was their laughter and joy and innocence and serious chats about what could be mistaken for trivial matters unless you are six and know what's really important. Those are the precious memories of this summer. And water. Them in water, where they are at peak play. All the other things can be done again but the times I had this summer with them I will never have again because next time they'll be bigger and older and more serious.

But the main thing is that you do not want to end a summer with regrets. You do not want to end a summer not having carved one out for yourself. Because then you won't be ready for winter. It's important to think, 'I gave that summer my best shot. I was there and I was present and I was in it fully.' And if you keep doing that for every minute, and every hour and every day and every summer then maybe when the distant rumble comes to you, you can go easily onto the next bit because you gave life your best shot.

It's harder to do that in winter. This time of year is when I always start googling Buddhism. Because if summer is about attachment then winter is slightly about detaching and retrenching. But there is life in that too. And as much as an endless summer sounds perfect, you would eventually float away. We need the winters to grab on to, to hunker down and anchor, even to enjoy the pleasure of wrapping up. Winter is when you practise the Zen thing, when you learn to focus and go into the hole. And you need that. As a great friend of mine said to me a long time ago, in order to enjoy getting out of it you have to be in something in the first place. Summers would be no good without winters and vice versa.

So now is the time to knuckle down to serious things. But for those of us with these extremist tendencies, the thing to remember is that we must still live and we must still enjoy four-year-olds and six-year-olds. We mustn't let school and homework and work and focus get in the way of remembering the important things. Joy and innocence and serious little questions about apparently trivial matters.

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