Scotland’s central belt got a huge dump of snow on Thursday night and Friday morning. We woke to a world that was very beautiful, muffled, silent, hunkered down. I put on my boots and walked down to Flanders Mass on the Carse of Stirling. I only saw one car, and the driver kindly pulled up to offer me a lift, but I said I was out for the walk. We agreed the winter wonderland was entrancing. After that, I and the horses and alpaca had the world to ourselves. A track leaves the road and heads west towards the Moss for about a kilometre. There were six inches of snow, utterly pristine. At that time there weren’t even any tracks in the snow from wildlife. As the rather dreich carol puts it (five verses – best keep the tempo up) “Snow had fallen, snow on snow.” I think of it as a concrete, or perhaps more accurately a crystalline, poem:
Two squadrons of wild geese flew in low and in tight formation, fussing and caterwauling. They performed a ceremonial fly-past and then landed with precision and consummate airmanship.
Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild-geese fly that way.
So the world holds her breath. Because, I suppose as a matter of chance, the earth has a declination of 23.45 degrees, we have seasons. Recently the northern hemisphere has been tilted away from the sun, hence on Dec 21 we had our shortest day. As the earth’s orbit continues inexorably, the days begin to lengthen, though in somewhat asymmetric fashion. While daylight expands, dawn remains gloomy. Still, already we have a sense that we have tilted. We have crossed un point d’appui. Perhaps that is why this is the season for reviewing the past, and anticipating the future. Resolutions?
It’s built into the human condition to strive for improvement. Next year will be better. Next year I will be better. Superficially, it may just be a reaction to the excesses of the Christmas season, sloth and gluttony. So, from the post-prandial perspective of Christmas and New Year, we resolve to have an abstemious January, join a gym, work on the abs and glutes, abjure tobacco, eat 5-a-day (or is it 10?) – you can see how the list gets longer and longer.
Yet, I fancy for most people, resolve goes deeper than this. In my work, how often did I hear people say, “If I had to do it all over again, I would do it quite differently.” They are not talking about some minor adjustment, fine-tuning, a little tweak here and there; they are talking about some change so fundamental that the resultant life they would have led would have been unrecognisable. This idea of fundamental change runs very deep in our culture. Nicodemus visited our Lord by night and asked what he needed to do. It turned out that he had to be “born again”. Imagine that. Not merely a complete rebranding. No, more than that, for this has not merely to do with style, but absolutely with substance.
When I was young, I was desperate to metamorphose. It was my ambition to go to bed one night a grub, a caterpillar, and wake up a butterfly. I would slough off the noxious slimy straitjacketed integument of my life and change, utterly.
Like Pierre Bezukhov in War and Peace I would explore walks of life in search of answers. I dallianced with freemasonries. I would learn to fly. Literally. I had a fantasy picture of myself as a kid in jeans and T-shirt sitting on the wing of a Spitfire being interviewed by the BBC. I was telling the outside broadcaster from Tonight about the occasion that changed my life. “It was such a small thing,” I said. “I’m not even sure that I recognised its significance at the time. And yet it changed my life for ever. And I never looked back.”
Back to Cliff Michelmore in the studio. And that’s Tonight for tonight. The next Tonight will be tomorrow night. Good night.
I still await my Damascene experience. Yet oddly enough, by some strange act of grace. I’ve recently been freed from this notion that I am condemned to fall short, that I am always, like Richard Carstone in Bleak House, about “to begin the world”. I owe a debt of gratitude to Medicine, and its daily practice. If I had to do it all again – would I do it differently? Flawed as I was, I did it differently the first time. And now?
Next year, Jerusalem.