Skip to main content

Make straight my paths (and my haircut)

"Having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line. For I stopped being half-witted and became sly, whenever I took the trouble… and if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something." (Samuel Beckett, from 'Molloy', 1951) [1]
Days when 'only Thom Yorke understands' are likely to be punctuated by the odd trip to the ladies' room to shed a few self-pitying tears; days when 'only T.S. Eliot understands' are probably best spent working from home where I am less likely to make a nuisance of myself; days when 'only Beckett understands' I would perhaps be well-advised to stay in bed.

I really, truly, admire Beckett. His despair of being and of knowing [2] seems (to me) a courageously rational position for an atheist and I wonder that so few dare to follow their convictions through to similar conclusions. However, all things considered, he is probably not someone from whom I should take my cues on how to behave. Yesterday, tired perhaps of my own faltering attempts to go in a straight line and despairing of the fact that the outcomes of my 'good' motives seem indistinguishable from the outcomes of my 'bad' motives, I did two extremely stupid things in direct and almost willful rebellion against my better judgement.

The first was to attack my own hair with a pair of scissors. (Note to self: if the hairdresser asks you 'is that ok?', and the truthful answer is 'no', don't -- no matter how lovely she is, or how socially awkward you are feeling -- say 'yes', and then go home, and try to rectify it yourself). The second, which was not unrelated, was to use a very bad word that I don't normally use out loud, much to the shock of poor Mr. W. [3]

Contrary to Beckett, I was not much consoled by the effective sabotage of my usual shaky attempts to walk the line; whatever the shape of the path down which my wanton actions took me, the destination -- a DIY haircut and a guilty conscience -- was not to my liking and I could not help feeling that a smidgen more self control and all could have been so easily avoided.

Night-time is when I re-boot: sleep, get up, exercise, eat. And rejoice in the availability of grace:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
     his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
     great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
     “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Today I have mostly been reading Psalm 51 and lots of Proverbs. There is a wisdom in Beckett, but it is a despairing, worldly wisdom. It is the wisdom of hopelessness. And in the presence of hope -- that is, if, after all, you believe that (by God's grace) life can have meaning, reality can be understood and engaged with in a fruitful way -- it is quickly shown up as folly:
  • The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. (14:1) Folly also sabotages her own hairstyle.
  • One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. (14:16) Reckless, careless…check.
  • The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (15:2) Oh how it pours.
  • Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead. (15:21) Once again left feeling I should maybe have read this before taking Beckett so readily to heart.
And I am shown up a fool. But the call to change doesn't seem to come in the form of a list of instructions to be followed by my own exertion, rather in the form of a Person to be followed in faith. According to Proverbs 3 it is God who 'makes our paths straight', which is precisely why it need not be the hopeless endeavour that it appeared to Beckett.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
     fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

[1] 'Molloy', along with 'Malone Dies' and 'The Unnamable' make up Beckett's poioumenon trilogy. In spite of my aversion to adaptations we saw an amazing three part monologue based on the novels at the Tobacco Factory -- most memorable theatre experience to date, I reckon.

[2] Here are some examples:
  • "To know nothing is nothing, not to want to know anything likewise, but to be beyond knowing anything, to know you are beyond knowing anything, that is when peace enters in, to the soul of the incurious seeker." (from 'Molloy', 1951)
  • "Not to want to say, not to know what you want to say, not to be able to say what you think you want to say, and never to stop saying, or hardly ever, that is the thing to keep in mind, even in the heat of composition." (from 'Molloy', 1951)
  • "Ah if only this voice could stop, this meaningless voice which prevents you from being nothing, just barely prevents you from being nothing and nowhere, just enough to keep alight this little yellow flame feebly darting from side to side, panting, as if straining to tear itself from its wick, it should never have been lit, or it should never have been fed, or it should have been put out, put out, it should have been let go out." (from 'The Unnamable', 1954)
  • "Yes, in my life, since we must call it so, there were three things, the inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude, that’s what I’ve had to make the best of." (from 'The Unnamable', 1954)
[3] Only the day before, I had shouted out another "F" word in circumstances no less shameful -- when I failed to restrain the impulse to correct a colleague's repeated use of 'less' in place of 'fewer', in the middle of a presentation :-( Not a proud moment.


Popular posts from this blog

An autobiographical poem about walking on water

A decade ago, give or take – feeling at crisis point in my mental health and desperately socially disconnected – I "went up for prayer" at a church I was visiting. (I find it hard to do this at my own church when I feel desperately socially disconnected. It's hard enough even to be at my own church at such times). And the gentle, kindly woman who placed her hand on my shoulder and prayed some simple, general, healing words to suit my simple, general, hurting plea looked thoughtfully at me afterwards and said "just, if and when you can, keep taking each next step towards Jesus, whatever that looks like," or words to that effect. It seemed as good a plan as any, so I did. (Not instead of getting medical and professional help, I hasten to add; seeking out and receiving whatever support is available has always felt more like an action of faith than a compromise of it).

Since then, stepping towards Jesus has taken me (slowly, often painfully, and usually the long w…

The Sin of Onan

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. (Genesis 38:6-10) According to Google's answer to what (let's face it) must be right up there among the most-asked questions since the invention of the search engine, this story is the closest the Bible comes to saying anything directly about masturbation.

And it isn't a story about masturbation. It's not even a story, not really, about birth control methods – although they feature. It's a story about the denial of ju…

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.  (T.S. Eliot, from The Waste Land, part I: The Burial of the Dead,1922) These lines have lingered in my mind the past few days. Eliot wrote The Waste Land in the years following the First World War, when the landscape of humanity seemed perhaps particularly stark and bleak. The poem resounds with disquiet and despair: all glimpsed respite turns out to be illusory or faltering; it seems improbable that any grounds for real hope exist at all. Eliot …