Car drivers may eventually be able to purchase a new gadget. An in-car eye-tracker and steering-wheel movement monitor will determine the time lag between the eye looking at a new direction of travel and the hands beginning to turn the wheel. It will then be possible for the device to tell you if you’re too tired or too drunk to drive. If you ignore the warning, the computer may then either inform the police or slow down the car.
There’s something attractive, perhaps more in other areas of life than this, in being warned in advance that you’re about to do something inadvisable. Retrospective awareness of faux pas, or stupidity, or clumsiness is too late but it is all we humanly have. Something that would restrain us from making really serious mistakes in our lives would be a great comfort.
God has a characteristic to which theologians give the highfalutin’ title “prevenient grace”. It expresses the confidence that God is there in our lives before we know it or ask for it, working to turn our lives in the right direction. This may happen through the words or actions of people around us or through more direct influence on our interior lives. But this restraining energy does not force itself upon us. We can ignore it and of course, since by definition we don’t know that it is God who is shepherding us in this way, we often do.
Maybe today we might practice being aware of such promptings by listening carefully to what others say and by trying to be in touch with our inner selves. We may not recognise God’s voice, or even believe that this is what it is, but such awareness often stops us doing things which we might later regret.
William Kaczmark and his wife, Violet, were heading to a family reception in Missouri when they got lost. Mrs Kaczmark suggested they stop and ask someone the way. But her husband thought he knew where he was going. Twenty four hours and three stops for petrol later, police found the couple, still driving around town, hopelessly lost.
Most of us are stubborn about some things. We value our independence and our right to make our own decisions. But sometimes our refusal to ask for or listen to the advice of others leaves us going round in circles.
The Hebrew tradition tells a story about someone who refused to listen to what God wanted from him. In it, God takes the drastic action of using a whale to overcome Jonah’s stubbornness. Often though we don’t get that kind of irresistible redirection. It’s up to us to stop, ask and listen.
If today, there’s a chance we may be wrongly pursuing a particular path, let’s look for opportunities to check it out with others, especially those who may be more familiar with the terrain than we are. This might prevent us from wasting energy trying to go it alone and show us better ways of getting where we want to be.
Finland’s Foundation for Culture has launched a project to publish a collection of the country's 100 most acoustically-pleasing sound environments, or soundscapes. Examples are wanted of rural and traditionally beautiful soundscapes and of urban ‘acoustic environments’. The 100 best soundscapes will be selected and the texts published in a book accompanied by digital recordings on a CD.
Noise is part of life in both rural and urban areas. Some is unwanted, even invasive. Some is delightful and gives a great deal of pleasure. There’s some too that we can tune in to by choice. Those of us whose hearing is unimpaired have much to be grateful for in what we hear on the radio and CD and in the natural world.
Perhaps the sound most missed by those who can’t hear, and most to be treasured by those who can, is the human voice. Some people’s voices sound particularly attractive but it is often not the sound of the voice which gives most pleasure. It’s who is speaking. Let’s today enjoy listening to the voices of those we love – and any other sound we might wish to put on a CD of our favourites.
Three million Italians will apparently pretend this summer that they are taking a holiday when they are not. Some of these will even buy an ultra-violet lamp or take their plants to a neighbour to add credence to their fake vacation. Maybe though, the changes to routine and the ingenuity needed to sustain the deception might provide a refreshing diversion from normality.
Holidays are about doing something different and if this can be done away from home, so much the better. Leading a different kind of life for a while, wherever we do it, is an important ingredient in a balanced life-style. Those of us who take holidays find that the more we are able to distance ourselves from the reality of our normal lives, the more effective the break will be.
Reality, however, will not go away. The reasons given for this apparently well-known Italian behaviour are ill health, lack of finance and not having anyone to go with. Such problems remain for all of us, not just for Italians, whether we decide to take a real holiday, a pretend one, or no break at all. The sad thing about the Italian research is the discovery that so many people couldn’t tell anyone else why they weren’t going away, but felt they had to hide the fact, and their problems with it.
The cliché “a change is as good as a rest” is almost as much used as “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Both have truth in them but the willingness to share the problems that confront us in our daily lives depends on their being people around who are sufficiently relaxed, refreshed, non-judgemental and unpreoccupied to listen. Perhaps today those of us who have had holidays could try and allow our lowered stress level to make us more open to listening to, and available to support, any around us who might want to talk about their problems.
Spike Milligan has finally been given his choice of inscription on his gravestone. For two years since his death in 2002, members of his family, which originated in Ireland, have been undecided what inscription the headstone should carry. Even now most will not understand what’s written above his grave at St Thomas's Church in Winchelsea, Essex, but, translated, the Gaelic inscription reads "I told you I was ill". It may be that, as with so much good humour, something serious lies behind this final witticism. Perhaps Spike Milligan frequently felt that people weren’t listening to the real him. It’s the experience of many comics that they don’t feel really seen – people get distracted by the superficial veneer of clever repartee and jokiness.
It isn’t just comedians that get treated in this way. Many people have an external veneer that hides the real them. They may use particular mannerisms or style of conversation. They may reveal only their professional selves. Yet their inner selves, like ours, need the sustenance of being seen in order to grow and live. Let’s try today not to be deceived by what appears on the surface of the lives of those around us. Seeing and hearing the true person, we might notice how someone is hurting in time to bring life again to a dying heart.