Most of the people I know are mired to the axels in crazily busy lives. Even making a plan to have
dinner together requires half a dozen emails with cross-references to diaries and Black Berries. Not one of us is a heart surgeon or a member of the Cabinet, so why we’re so desperately booked up is a mystery.
Of course, lots of people have a healthier relationship with time. People who play bowls in the village, spend hours watching birds from the seclusion of hides, commit to long stints with the Samaritans, coach the local cricket team, serve as church wardens, hold a job or two, belong to a book club, cook everything from scratch. Last night, searching for a book of essays whose title I’d forgotten, I Googled the author and discovered that there’s a Malcolm Muggeridge Society. Its members aim to publish a regular newsletter, keep his writing in print and organise periodical social and literary events.
Just as I was wondering who on Earth has time to go to these events, I saw that another aim of the society was to provide and encourage linkage to the P. G. Wodehouse Society, the G. K. Chesterton Society, the C. S. Lewis Society and the Ukraine Society. I didn’t have time to look up the aims of the Ukraine Society. I didn’t even have time to trawl through the long list of Muggeridge’s works. It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack to locate the essay he wrote about his deepest ambitions: 1) to accompany Shakespeare back to Stratford and 2) to show Jesus Christ around the Vatican.
I’ve never had fantasies of meeting up with figures from the past. Although I have many heroes John Donne, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Eleanor Roosevelt-I’ve never yearned for conversation with them. Which doesn’t mean I don’t have a recurring fantasy in which I convene with the departed.
My dreamiest meeting would be a day here at Wyken with my grandmother, a southern woman whose place in history won’t be found on Google, a woman whose name is lost to history, but who gave me the gift that all children crave, the gift of endless time.
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Summers with her always began in the Greenwood Library where, as farm members living 18 miles from town, we were allowed a stack of books. The books were divided between those she taught me read and books she read to me. The second group included all of Louisa May Alcott and much of Mark Twain, books that deepened my urge to be a reader. She also showed me the miracle of putting seeds in the ground, watering the dark alluvial soil and watching something appear that in time I could eat.
My grandmother indulged my passion for all God’s living creatures and, to this day, I speak to my chickens in her voice. It’s as if ‘English’ English is a foreign language, but when it comes to the basic delight of feathered love, I revert to my mother tongue and every hen, no matter what she’s named, is called Sugar or Precious or Sister.
But her deepest lessons I only began to learn long after she died. She also loved animals, but she instilled in me the belief that our greatest sympathy in life should be with our own species, that sympathy for our fellow humans-white and black, a rare belief for a southern country woman-is the only skill that matters in the end. And she tried to teach me to respect time.
Her motto in life was ‘Take your time and get it right’. It applied to writing a letter, tending a garden, tending friendships, organising your life. Her voice echoes inside me. The reason I’d rather show her around my farm than take Shakespeare on a tour of Stratford is that when she was alive, I was too busy to tell her how grateful I am for all the unblocked love and time she gave me. The memory of it haunts me still.