Monday, 21 May 2012

Life lessons from Nellie

Biddy and I have just returned from a long weekend-hippy-ish style. We rented a bright red 1972 VW camper (christened Nellie by the owner-Carl) and pottered around the Cotswolds staying at a different campsite each night from Thursday till Sunday. It was a somewhat challenging and learning experience!

Nellie and Me (I'm the one in grey)
Carl gave us an extended talking-to about the dos and don'ts of hiring his vehicle and then insisted on an observed test drive to ensure that I would be able to cope. It was fair enough since it is a very different animal to my 2010 VW Golf.

What did Nellie teach us?

1. Anticipation is a necessary life skill: Carl pointed out to me that I would have to learn to begin breaking much sooner than normal. I would also need to indicate and position myself much sooner for a right turn, since cars behind might easily become impatient with my slower speed and begin to overtake. Advanced drivers tell me that the skill is in anticipating what may happen-so drive slower in rain, keep a good distance behind the vehicle in front, constantly look ahead for warnings of speed limits and other street furniture designed to make our roads safer.

But what about life skill? Doing our best to anticipate what may happen in our lives and prepare accordingly (ok there's still lots of uncertainty....'break-downs' at any moment), whether its exams, preparing to get married, having children, spending time with ageing parents, developing interests to sustain us in retirement and...dare I say it? Thinking about 'dying well'..a subject for another day.

2. Pay attention to your innards: Nellie certainly looked wonderful on the outside with her reasonably fresh coat of bright red paint. However Carl was at pains to point out how old she was and that anything could go wrong at any time. The engine may fail, the clutch might go, the gears may play up (did we really want to do this for a leisurely four days??). But then on each of the campsites we had lots of admirers.

It's a bit of a cliche to say that so many of us pay so much attention to our appearance but are negligent of our souls. Nothing epitomises this more than OK! and Hello! magazine which focuses upon youth and beauty and all things external. Cliche or not, it's true.

3. You get a better view if you go higher and travel slower: We were warned not to go above 50mph and in fact spent most of time (no doubt annoying drivers behind) going 30-40 mph on the undulating roads of the Cotswolds. We realised how much more we noticed around us, whether it was being able to see over low hedges or just by virtue of our slowness. How fast other drivers seemed to go, and then sometimes only getting in front enough so that we joined them at the next junction.

Slowing up is difficult to talk about, since some of us need to speed up! But for those of you like me it's  important to be reminded of pacing yourself in life. Sometimes going fast is necessary, but you can take so much more in by slowing up, whether it's the sound of birdsong or just enjoying the beauty of the British countryside. Our ancient tradition of enclosures may have been a mixed blessing for our forebears, but what a patchwork we have to behold.

I try to go 'slower and higher' most mornings when I aim to set aside 30 minutes to be with God. I tend to read a short letter by John Newton, usually full of pithy spiritual advice, to pray and think and read and then muse on some part of the Bible. It provides a focus for the day which would otherwise rush away from me. Not every Christian can or should do it in the same-we are all made very differently (just read a really helpful book on this subject by Larry Osborne A contrarian's guide to knowing God:Spirituality for the rest of us), but to find some way to 'get higher' is really important.

And by the way, I don't mean higher in a kind of Hendrixian 'purple haze up in the sky', kind of way, but rather attempting to view life and its priorities from God's viewpoint. The kind of experience the Psalmist had, who when writing in Psalm 73 struggled with various things going on around him, but then found a measure of clarity when he 'entered the sanctuary,,,then I understood' (verse 17).

Thank you Nellie!



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