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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

I thought a change of direction might be needed this week, steering away from further comment about the relentlessly miserable news, the end of summer and the unshakeable image of John Laurie’s Private Frazer saying, ‘We’re doomed, Captain Mainwaring, doomed!’ 

But where can we turn for comfort and solace?  At my stage of life, a ten o’clock pub curfew is not going to make any difference.  If I’m still awake beyond the headlines of ‘The World Tonight’, it’s already a late night, and the idea of table service everywhere sounds quite appealing.  The Rule of Six poses no significant challenges to people like me with a limited circle of friends.  If I’m brutally honest, a future Rule of Three is unlikely to be too onerous either, if it goes that way. 

On the plus side, I should be sustained through the literal and metaphorical darkness by the thought of not being able to spend time with the wider family at Christmas; but perhaps the best thing is to stay at home if you can, take advantage of the opportunity not to have to mingle and focus instead on other people’s wisdom to help navigate the next six months.   

A surprise bestseller of last year was Charlie Mackesy’s ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’, with its beautiful illustrations and thoughtful text.  It is clearly the sort of book that needs to be read more than once, to work out all the subtleties and nuances, to decide who or what the four characters really represent and to find the deeper meaning that surely lies beneath the surface. 

There are certainly some lovely phrases, and I am sure many a teacher looking for a theme for an assembly will have pounced with delights on ideas such as: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?  Kind.’  And, ‘What do you think is the biggest waste of time?  Comparing yourself to others.’  The mole seemed to get most of the best lines, but perhaps this is just telling us that there is nothing wrong with a constant search for cake.  As he says, ‘Most of the old moles I know wished they had listened less to their fears and more to their dreams.’  Indeed. 

Elsewhere we are encouraged towards greater introspection: ‘Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid.’  And, ‘Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself’, which links seamlessly to: ‘What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?  Help.’  This is quickly followed by, ‘Asking for help isn’t giving up.  It’s refusing to give up.’  The mole, before or after cake I do not recall, reminds us that ‘being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses.’  The horse tells us ‘Nothing beats kindness.  It sits quietly beyond all things.’ 

The call to self-belief and a proper sense of reality reaches a crescendo with the reminder that the greatest illusion is that life should be perfect, and that we should not measure how valuable we are by the way we are treated.  ‘What’s your best discovery.  That I’m enough as I am.’  And finally, perhaps a perfect thought for 9.59pm in the pub: ‘Is your glass half full or half empty?  I’m grateful I have a glass.’ 

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely enjoyed the book and it is one to which I will return.  However, at times I felt like I had stumbled into the story of the emperor’s new clothes.  While the crowd was looking on and cooing with joy, I found myself at times wondering if it was not all a bit trite and clichéd.  As someone whose own philosophy of life could easily be accused of cliché, I am aware that those without sin should cast the first stone, but is having a glass really that good if you can’t decide if it half full or half empty? 

There is a thin line between an aphorism – a pithy observation that contains a general truth – and a truism – an undoubted or self-evident truth.  The former is usually seen as better than the latter, but can you decide which of these statements is which: a fool and his money are soon parted; a penny saved is a penny earned?  I imagine if you Google it, you’ll get a different answer depending on which website you visit.  

Another Google search would throw up a myriad of books offering simple pearls of wisdom, from the Dalai Lama to Winnie the Pooh, so I will close by recommending a different path, and not one that I usually go down – poetry.  If you want a really cosy and warming treat through the winter months, try listening to Dylan Thomas reading some of his work, or even better Richard Burton.  Both have arguably ended up being remembered as much for the way they lived their lives as for their respective bodies of work, but whenever a crisis looms I am always reminded of the poem Thomas wrote about his father’s impending blindness. You can hear him reading it here: 

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night 

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright 
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight 
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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