Wednesday, April 01, 2015


Well, it's the sort of thing that makes you think...

Was doing the washing up and spilled some water on the kitchen floor. I went into the bathroom to fetch the string mop, and came back and the water had spread, and, not wearing my glasses, I didn't see it and my foot went out from under me. Down I went with a startled yelp.

Nothing worse happened than a pulled muscle in my shoulder as I grabbed the counter to stop my fall (unsuccessfully). But it has made me think; what if I'd hit my head? What if I'd fallen while holding one of my sharp kitchen things? What if I'd been carrying a glass thing and it had broken and I'd got a bad cut?

We think we're all self-reliant until something happens. I remember thinking about it a lot when I was having C-treatments and there was a spell when I really couldn't get around the house. There were brief periods when I had to have 24-hour care, had to have a chair in the bathroom to brush teeth and had to have the tea-makings down around knee height because I couldn't stand up in the kitchen. If I hadn't had friends who were willing to come round and, basically, give me 24/7 home-help, I'd have been sunk.

I like being all tough and self-reliant, but there's a difference between being self-reliant and being self-sufficient. The first one is something we all more or less try to do as much as we can in life, and it's a good and normal thing that we start doing as soon as we learn to walk. The second is impossible. People really aren't meant to live by themselves.

I've been thinking about these ideas quite a bit lately, along with my whole smallholding, market-gardening, sustainable living kick. I like being by myself. I find since I've come here, I like it quite a lot. But I also like having people to stay, which is why I got such a big place. Some years ago, I was going through a little period of insecurity, as one does from time to time, and a friend who knew about this, and worried about me spending too much time at home, would kindly call me several times a day to see if I was doing alright. It meant a lot. He said, "Remember, you're really not alone, even when you're by yourself."

We think of hermits, those bearded desert-dwelling chaps who sat in caves and did a spot of basket-weaving in between bouts of levitating and basking in ecstatic divine glory. But the reality is quite different. The Desert Fathers were smart chaps and fully grounded in the Real, part of which is due consideration for earthly necessities. They didn't live all off by themselves with absolutely no human contact. Indeed, most of them lived in these things called a "laura," a Greek word meaning a bunch of hermits living in caves within an hour's walk or climb to each other.

Even during his cave-dwelling days, St. Benedict was not totally alone. He was pretty inaccessible, and had to have things lowered down to his inconveniently precipitous cave from above on a rope. But someone, in the form of a fellow monk named Romanus, would come to see him every day, lower down some food, and, presumably, shout something like "Hey Ben! Everything OK?"

The other day, one of the monks gave me a ring on my cell phone. Didn't need anything, and didn't have much to tell me in the way of news. Just wanted to see if everything was OK.

We can't get on alone, is what I'm saying.


1 comment:

Louise L said...

So true, Hilary.