Oh I had had my opportunities all right, but I had not taken advantage of them. The funny thing is, I was so confident. I really believed that I had done well, passed all the exams, ticked all the boxes. I had been faithful, some even said fanatical. I had prayed, although to what I am not sure now. The God that I had created resembled a crazed dictator at times, a product of my fear of failure and my inadequacy. I did as the Scriptures dictated, insofar as I or anyone else could decipher them. I gave alms to the poor, whether it was to the sad-looking woman selling magazines on the High Street, responding to disaster relief appeals on the TV, or packing boxes of toys and sweets for refugee children. How superior and generous I felt, so different, so far above the recipients of my charity in circumstance and wealth. If I had at least learnt to see them as brothers and sisters, or could have put myself in their shoes, I might have been a little more generous, or even have stopped to talk to the men and women sitting on the pavement with their grubby sleeping bags and skinny dogs. If instead of secretly blaming them for their predicament, or feeling sorry for them, I could have got to know them, and shown some fellow human warmth I might have taken an interest in their lives, in their hopes for the future and their dreams. It might have been different. I might have been different. Instead of liberating me, reading the Scriptures and communal worship seem to have simply helped build a wall around my fragile sense of self. On one side were like-minded ‘good’ people, comfortable, complaisant, innately conservative. On the other, well on the other side were the rest - everyone. Those I feared, those I was indifferent to, and even the few I loathed (or thought I did, it is strange how differently we see things on this side).
I didn’t do anything so terribly wrong. It was an acceptable, even a good life in the eyes of the world. I was faithful to my marriage vows, respectful to my parents, caring for them in their old age, at some personal and financial cost to myself and to the grandchildren. I made a real effort to get on with my neighbours, I didn’t drink or smoke, and avoided most common vices, even when tempted. I looked after my body. I ate healthily, walked to work, and after retirement still worked out once a week in the gym, or made an effort to go to the swimming pool. I never ‘let myself go’. But now, played out before me are the opportunities missed. My original intention was to have a life of relative ease and security in order to focus on the little things, but I fell prey to selfishness and my goal was distorted by my pride and so-called faith. It was a life of surface and appearance, but with little depth, and I now see how little real joy.
From earliest childhood to my final breath there were so many chances to love, so many opportunities to light the divine flame in my soul, and my guides certainly worked hard to remind me, to provide the opportunities, but they found it hard to attract my attention. I was so busy ‘being good’ and justifying my existence that I felt little need for advice or help from others. Only a very few incidents among the years stand out, and shine a little more brightly amid the dull browns and reds of my earth-bound selfishness. There was the incident on my twenty-first birthday when I saw an injured dog on the road. I had my new car, and was so proud of its shiny mock-leather cream upholstery. I drove past, but found myself unable to continue and went back to help the dog. It was too badly injured to object when I picked up and put in on the back seat – my lovely new car was full of hair, blood and mud. I never quite got rid of the smell of urine and frightened animal. I took the dog to the vet, paid the bills, then fetched him home and nursed him. I put up with the mess, the dog hair in the carpet and on the sofa, and treated him kindly over the years. I never even liked dogs, although with time a certain affection grew between us. Then he died, many years ago now, although ‘died’ of course is just another way of saying that he moved on, moved right in, and now here he is, jumping, licking my hand, barking, wagging his tail as if that first act of kindness towards him were enough in itself to win me a place in heaven.
And then in the middle of the over-harsh and cold growing years of my children (for that is how they seem to me now) there was a time when I stopped to listen, to really listen. Relationships had been strained and her behaviour on that occasion was way out of order, far beyond what we could accept. Instead of demanding an account I silenced the inner judge for a moment and tried to enter her world. What had upset her so much? I took her pain on myself, not belittling the lovers’ tiffs and imagined slights, but soothing her teenage tantrums and traumas with my love, infusing a sense of security and wholeness into her fragile spirit. OK, I had help, although I didn’t know it at the time. That urgent call wrung from my soul, calling upon some higher power to give me the wisdom and patience I sorely needed in that moment had been heeded. The comfort that I gave, and the warmth and trust that, for a while at least, returned to our battered relationship, was the fruit of that cry for help. A channel opened up between ‘heaven and earth’. My guides and my higher self were able to pour down concentrated love and peace, surrounding us an a golden glow of protection and healing.
Another light shone, as if on a stage or diorama and I looked with amazement at an incident so slight and insignificant that I had almost no memory of it at all. I certainly hadn’t weighed it in my bank of credit. I was in an airport lounge, waiting for a flight. A cleaner, foreign and evidently tired and heavily pregnant, was moving among the cafe tables, sweeping up the discarded cups and paper napkins, the plastic spoons and crumpled newspapers. A half-eaten croissant lay under the table, and the chairs and cases blocked her access to it. I glanced at the hopeless, defeated expression, and without thinking bent down and picked up the offending pastry, and tossed it into the open black bin liner fixed to the end of her mopping trolley. As I straightened up our eyes met for a moment and a smile of gratitude flashed across her face. I nodded, and in that brief encounter there was an acknowledgment of our common humanity. I wiped my hands, picked up my suitcase and left to catch my flight, thinking no more about the incident until I relived it in this place of inescapable clarity. These are small crumbs indeed to take with me from an earth-life, I can see that now, but each one is nevertheless weighed and given its true value. I will have another chance to learn those lessons, perhaps in a situation that gives my selfish ego less opportunity to pull me down. After all, the only goal of our life on earth, as my guides gently remind me, is to become perfect in love.