As a young Brother I worked in Townsville. One of the local priests – Fr David Lancini – was quite a character. At weddings he was extraordinarily predictable. During his homily he would reach under the lectern and produce a shifting spanner. He would then proceed to give a wonderful, relatively short homily to the effect that relationships – every relationship – needs to be worked at. One does not just walk down the aisle and then it is happy ever after. One does not gasp open mouthed at the beauty of your partner and then miraculously wake up in a nursing home sixty years later with a smile on your face having lived a problem free life. One does not join the perfect Religious Life, the perfect faith community, the perfect meaning and purpose giving ‘tribe’ and then the door way opens to a life pathway of rose petals and perfume. No, life, every life of meaning and purpose must be worked at.
At the end of his homily Dave would walk down and give the shifting spanner to the best man to be given to the happy couple later that night. I can still remember at one wedding reception seeing a table laden with wedding gifts with the said shifting spanner resplendent in the middle of them: perhaps the most useful gift the newly-weds might have got!
As we prepare to welcome 2023 it is good to name what the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw knew. In his play ‘Back to Methuselah’ Shaw says,
“Life is not meant to be easy, my child, but take courage it can be delightful!”
Life is good. Life is beautiful. Life is meaningful and purposeful – but it is also dull, routine, boring at times, hard at times, really hard at times and more. As the director of Strictly Ballroom – Baz Luhrmann wisely reflected, “We do not live for our opening nights – rather for the richness of the journey!”
So as 2023 dawns get out that shifting spanner. Put on your hiking shoes. Load up the backpack. Find the compass, dust off the map and set your sight determinedly on the horizon in whatever form it takes. As you know I love hiking. The distant peak or that breath taking away vista is the result of the thousands of small steps, the catching breath pauses, the aching limbs, the occasional stop for a ‘cuppa’ and lots and lots of small choices to get up again when every muscle in your aging body wants you to curl up in a ball for a lizard in the sun like siesta.
To work at something does not mean it is not enjoyable and satisfying – far from it. It is simply a mindset that things ‘don’t just happen’. Every skill, every goal, every mountain worth attaining, reaching or climbing takes time and effort and that is part of the fun, the meaning and the adventure. If the mountain was too easy to climb one needs to ask – “Was it worth climbing?” If the goal is too easy to reach – were you dreaming too small? If the standard is too easily reached is it a standard at all?
I have never got my hands dirty in my life and have only sweated when I was caught red handed with my hand in the proverbial ‘cookie jar’. But I suspect shifting spanners can teach us many things about the journey that will be 2023. So in the midst of the beauty which is life, with its adventure and its challenge what does ‘spanner work’ mean?
- Know it will at times be boring, difficult, repetitive and mundane – that is OK, in fact more than OK, so know this, prepare for it, don’t fight this but dream within this reality.
- When the difficulties come – as they will – face them with the wisdom of the journey maker and above all else – put HOPE into your backpack – always hope. Sure, the difficulties of life, but even more sure – the sunrise after the stormy night when faced with ‘small c’ courage.
- The shifting spanner is small. Don’t go looking for the big and the big time, the outlandish and the ostentatious. Work in the ordinary with the ordinary to reach that distant mountain (in whatever form that mountain takes).
- Share your dreams and goals with your fellow adventurers – never be too proud (or stubborn) to allow them to help you carry your backpack some small section of the way.
- Aim for that next rise, then the next and then the next. Aim for that ridge line and then that slightly longer rest break – enjoy the ‘cuppa’ and get ready for the next leg – yes, the next rise and then the next. [Sorry for the hiking analogy for those who are getting confused.]
- When you get to that first goal (in the thousand forms it will take), stop and celebrate. It is amazing how wonderful a cup of tea or a cup of soup tastes at the end of a day of hiking. It is NOT the size or the expense of the celebration – but the celebration in itself.
- Wrap your year around a rhythm of reflection and increased self-awareness. Then you will SEE more beauty, HEAR your own wisdom and find the strength to fight the battles you truly need to fight and let go of those that are the result of an unchecked ego.
- Don’t work TOO hard. The key word in that sentence is ‘too’. When you are working TOO hard at anything (too = more than you reasonably should) then there is something wrong. Either you are not working wisely or the work is not yours to do or there is a immovable block that is asking you to approach the issue another way.
- Trust your own journey wisdom. You have probably walked this valley or a valley very similar to this before. You know the walking pace that suits YOU, you know how frequently YOU need to stop, you know the type of terrain that YOU are most at home in etc. Trust all of this – trust the wisdom within you that has brought you to this place and brought a smile to your face.
- Add your own to this list ……. and enjoy the adventure that will be 2023!