The best laid plans of mice and men. A paraphrase from Robert Burns’ poem, To a Mouse, signalling that no matter how well we plan, something may go wrong. My planned letter for January changed several times.
Who could tell, as I look at my beautiful clean and tidy 2021 diary, that the new year would begin like this? Plans for Christmas upturned. Now even in the light of vaccines and the control of the pandemic, the virus has escalated for us beyond forecasts and so abated our hopes for 2021.
When I was a child, my Aunt May, not really an aunt, a close family friend, worked for Letts Diaries. So, my brother and I always knew what she was going to bring us for Christmas. A diary! How we longed for a football or a car. A Letts diary I am afraid did not cut it with two young boys. “What am I meant to do with a diary”? My life’s plans were all arranged by my teachers and my parents. Ungrateful or what. Had I been cleverer maybe I could have kept a record of my activities as a little boy. Or my feelings as the youngest child in the family, the things really did matter to me when I was eight years old.
Today I enjoy the feeling of new diaries. So empty, yet full of hope and expectations as I begin to think about the ideas, hopes and opportunities of the coming year.
We had in 2020 experienced the frustrations and disappointments of lock-down, not once but twice. Worse, we have experienced the losses of loved ones in circumstances that are unparalleled, as well as the anxieties of ill health and the pressures on businesses and economies.
As hard as all this was, we were encouraged to gain a glimmer of perspective. We were encouraged; I wrote and encouraged you, to see the opportunities in lock-down; see how we have been made to do things differently and discover some hidden possibilities and ideas for the future in these new ways. To see how many people were so much more convivial to one another, as we crossed over to avoid contact and smiled. How we were so much more appreciative of the health services and hard work of the day-to-day workers and services on which we depend. We see a new recognition of our co-dependence on nature and a respect for creation. The new normal.
Then, in the Christmas light just a few weeks ago, we began to plan for a return to worship. To seeing loved ones and friends more often. To starting up work and charitable works again. This looked like a real hope for the new year. What do I write in my diary now?
Well, I guess firstly the message does not change. As we return to online worship in January we still look for new ways and opportunities from the things we have to do differently. What new insights will this all bring? It is even more important to continue to be convivial to our neighbours and show appreciation to the hard-working individuals that look after us. There is no reason to let these go because it has happened again! In fact, there is greater reason not to do so, but seek ever more opportunities and appreciations, somehow.
And secondly, we know what it is like and what to expect. This means we can still plan again but differently. A coffee morning online? For worship? Join online with a wider community for Lent? Begin Eco Church planning? And no preparation is ever wasted. It was good and can be used again. But now we know new opportunities can spring out and up.
Robert Burns wrote his poem to a mouse, but it was not simply about plans not going well. "To a Mouse" was written in 1785 by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns after accidentally destroying a mouse’s nest with his plough. The poem's speaker expresses sorrow for the animal’s plight. The mouse’s homelessness and hunger prompt the speaker to feel compassion for all vulnerable creatures and also to reflect on the unpredictability and pain of human life.
The baby born in a stable grew, saw pain and pleasure, and for others suffered and was crucified for doing good. But there was life again.
I am still pondering over my empty diary. Wondering even now if I should record my activities and feelings, now my day-to-day activities have been curtailed. But my empty diary is still empty. It is still full of expectations and opportunities. It is for you too. For the death on a cross reminds us we can start again, and again. Even when it feels like we have been hit by a plough.
God bless, Roger.