Monday, July 31, 2006

In Perspective

It is often said that the pace of modern life is faster for most of us than many of our predecessors would have known. It is difficult to know whether that is actually true or not, as we have no direct way of knowing. All we can do is to look back at the historical detail and form an impression as to how life once was in respect to the influence of time. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in-between; that for many, life was frantic, with business to conduct, deadlines to meet, crops to be brought in against the threat of a turn in the weather and without the benefit of modern machinery and so on. For others, for example, those who were wealthy and could afford servants for the menial and more arduous tasks, the days were possibly as leisurely as they are for those who are in the same financially sound position in life today.

For, what tends to be the driving factor behind the speed at which our lives are led is probably no different now than it was one, two or three hundred years ago: that is the need to feed, clothe and house ourselves and our families, along, for many, with the innate desire to improve individual living conditions. The latter, however, usually requires the acquisition of wealth and thus the pressure builds.

The true problem we face in a modern society is perhaps not knowing when sufficient is enough. When do we decide that the standard of living we have achieved is sufficient? At what stage do we step back from the conveyor belt of work and decide that there is more to life than the incessant toil of self-imposed challenges?

Holidays are often a good time to take stock and reflect on such matters. For a short period of time one is excused from the daily turmoil of labour and allowed the luxury of spending the hours of the day entirely as one wishes. It is, as Shakespeare said about another form of escape, ‘a consummation devoutly to be wished’ (Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. 1).

Over the past two weeks I have had the chance to visit a variety of places in North Yorkshire and the Lake District which have given rise to such reflection. As a group, they are diverse: The acres of beautifully landscaped gardens at Parcivall Hall, the well-preserved ruins of the Carthusian monastery at Mount Grace Priory and Brantwood, the former home on the shore of Lake Coniston of the Victorian writer, painter and poet, John Ruskin, to name a few. What these places have done is to reinforce that sense which many of us already know but often do not heed: the concept that in life, it is the journey that matters, not the destination.

Some people never have the opportunity of understanding the true priorities of life. For those of us who do have the luxury of being able to take time to gain that valuable insight, the task ahead, when the daily conveyor belt of work-related demands again starts up, is not to forget. More to the point, the mission should be, wherever possible, to put that knowledge into action. In the words of John Ruskin, it beholds us to remember that:
‘There is no wealth but life.’

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And so it is - the work of St John Ambulance!!

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