for Monica with love

This week I am waiting to see someone who I will not have seen for all of 110 days, by the time she arrives here in Greece on Sunday.  You will notice the specificity and the unusualness of that number, and ask yourself what else comes in units of 110, other than my days of romantic waiting.  5 cricket pitches when measured in yards, all of them end to end, no doubt? Personally I don’t care for cricket as a spectator sport, though I enjoyed playing it as a young kid. Still, I find it astonishing that great and subtle and fearless artists like Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, should have been addicted to the soporific strawberry tea and public school game, though at least in the latter case there are plenty of ‘pauses’ in the leisurely diversion. Myself, I would far prefer to play tiddlywinks, which can also accommodate a great many Zen-like pauses, if you get yourself shipshape and play your cards right, to mix 2 delightful ‘ludic’ metaphors. But back to waiting to see someone, who is very special in my life. Compared with a 10 year prison sentence, or doing a stint away in the Merchant Navy, before one sees one’s loved one, 110 days isn’t exactly an aeon. It is 15 weeks, 5 days, or near enough 4 months. On the one hand 4 months sounds a comfortingly modest interval, but then if you reframe it as the hideously endless gap between August and Christmas, or Christmas and Easter, it brings you out in cold sweats. One of the processes therefore that both of us, both ardent arithmeticians, have ended up getting involved in, is playing with the numeral and trying to make it feel less by our elastic ingenuity. Regardless though of all our baroque manoeuvrings and recalibrations, it is  of course getting less day by day, and is now down to an incredible 5 days, which really is proximity writ large, as it is indubitably less than a week.

There are philosophical and spiritual adages to reflect on at times like this. Kong Qiu aka Confucius (551-479BC) said that ‘everything comes to him who waits’. The controversial American writer Henry Miller (1892-1980) wrote once that he had ‘trained himself not to want anything too badly’. It strikes me both of these maxims amount to the same thing, but from different appetitive ends of the spectrum. If you read Miller’s autobiographical novels, especially the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn and the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, he seemed to have a remarkable capacity to satisfy all his bodily and indeed his spiritual needs, just as and when and how, he wanted them. If he felt a sexual urge, he effortlessly found a willing woman whether in Paris or New York, and he slept with her. If he needed spiritual sustenance, he fished out a tome by Spengler or Schopenhauer or the French essayist Elie Faure (1873-1937), also much admired by Havelock Ellis, and that would immediately do the trick. Miller boasted that he had never had a headache in his life, and his highly original cure for depression, so called, was to take a nap. In passing  and you might find this a valuable specific, next time you are tempted to reach for the Prozac, my eminent North Cumbrian friend, the folk musician Maddy Prior, conquers the same affliction by making  herself a fresh pot of tea. She swears it is an infallible remedy.

You can imagine that Confucius would be more like Maddy Prior, and very little like Henry Miller, and the last thing on earth he would have done would have been to satisfy his carnal appetites, as if this was his last day on earth. Another thing Kong Qiu wrote, later quoted by Bulwer-Lytton was ‘Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active, it is concentrated strength.’ One thing needs to be made plain, though. Just because someone makes the right noises of acclamation and quotes the right quotes, doesn’t mean to say they themselves are a model of sagacious virtue, nor that they adhere to the maxims they revere. The author and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) for example, in 1858 responded to his Irish wife Rosina’s embarrassingly public accusations of adultery, by having her incarcerated in a mental asylum, before an angry public outcry to led to her release. But for myself, I would go further even than Confucius, and affirm the cliché that Patience really is a Virtue. Then I would modify that, to specify it is a Spiritual Virtue, and more importantly, it is a Spiritual Mystery. I would put it in the same company as Faith, which is also an unfathomable and very beautiful Mystery. That removes the status of Patience from being something tedious, and drearily associated with the numerous half-dead and half-alive folk we often meet, who want nothing fearless and nothing new, because they do not have the imagination to want anything really fearless and really new…to the dimensions of the Supernatural, or shall we risk all, and say of the Divine?

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