Forgive me, for I have sinned. It has been nine months since God’s Toddler’s last confession.
I have lacked sufficient inspiration to write. For much of that time I have been busy, and for much of that time I have felt weary. The challenges of parenting and getting up to speed with a new job have left me with little time or energy to think about much else. Vague ideas in my head have failed to find their way to my blog. Vague whispers to my God have failed to add up to anything.
Now, in the winter, as days of ice jostle for space with the endless weeks of miserable wet greyness to mirror my own weariness, the time seems oddly ripe for me to write about the blazing heat of Spanish summer.
But before I go there, I would like to say a few words about the unfairness of stereotypes. They are almost without fail harmful and inaccurate. For example, vast swathes of the population of Scotland demonstrably do not go to work in a kilt. There are folk in Wales who get no closer to a sheep than their wool-blend suit. There are those in Surrey who have never converted a barn, and even unconfirmed rumours of people in Yorkshire who have still not succumbed to the overwhelming desire to buy a whippet.
On the other hand, it must be recognised that some stereotypes have a smattering of truth about them. The British, for example, really do say “sorry” for pretty much everything, even when the other person is in the wrong; I have yet to hear the words “Sorry but your car appears to be parked on my foot.” used in anger, but it can only be a matter of time.
And, in my not insignificant experience, the stereotype that says that the Spanish are a rather fiery bunch has them bang to rights. A simple family discussion over what to have for dinner is conducted with a level of political wrangling that puts House of Cards in the shade. All parties speak loudly. And simultaneously. Allegiances form and dissipate with the fluidity of the goo in a lava-lamp. Support for one’s own viewpoint is sought from erstwhile adversaries. The casual observer (if not drawn in to support a belligerant great-aunt’s demands that calamares be prepared) might be forgiven for mistaking the discussion for the oeverture of World War 3.
But underneath it all is a balletic precision of mathematical elegance in which unexpected melodies emerge from the discordant chaos as the melee dances with the inexorable fervour of the wavelets atop a mighty ocean swell towards the inevitable conclusion that, for example, paella might be nice as long as uncle Antonio brings over a couple of bottles of that wine he’s been hoarding to himself.
I confess that, despite my ingrained Britishness, after twelve years married to a Spaniard, I cannot escape the thrall of this Spanish fieriness when we are over there. Eventually I find myself irresistibly drawn in. Ah well, when in Rome…
Thus it was that one morning of our summer holiday in Spain, as the family headed out of the house where we were staying towards the beach, I threw myself wholeheartedly and joyfully into the lively family discussion about who had left what, where in the house and when someone else had said that they would bring it and who wouldn’t have needed to do it if someone hadn’t been fiddling with the garden hose.
We started out walking towards the beach quite briskly and managed to keep it up for perhaps ten seconds before, amid wild gesticulations, I was sent back towards the house for a bucket. I may have made pointed remarks about Dominic (8) taking responsibility for his own crab-catching equipment. It is possible that he, in turn, vigorously observed the role that Oliver (10) played in bothering him so much as we left that he couldn’t be expected to remember everything. Then it turned out that Mónica had the keys so I strode back towards the beach as she marched house-wards…and so on in a complex social dance, bickering all the while.
The only person who didn’t join in the fun was Elías (6). He had left the house quietly and thoughtfully. He had walked slowly and calmly. He didn’t get involved in the discussions or the messing about or the noise. He just plodded.
Five minutes later, we had managed to get a full fifteen feet from the front door. All, that is, apart from Elías. We looked down the road and Elías was waiting patiently for the rest of us by the beach. As we had rushed, he had plodded. And as we had made no progress, he had arrived at his destination.
My thoughts turned at first to the hare and the tortoise. Simply by calmly keeping on, Elías had reached the goal while the rest of us where doing first-rate impressions of headless chickens on the start-line.
Then I remembered a tweet I had seen earlier that morning.
— Beloved Life (@urbelov_ed) July 27, 2015
This seemed to go so much deeper than the usual take on the hare and the tortoise. Instead of the slow plod of the tortoise, the slow trickle of the stream. Instead of the unattainable speed of the hare, the unattainable vastness of life. And all the while, the trickle of prayer wearing down the landscape.
When I am weary; when vague whispers to my God fail to add up to anything, perhaps they add up too more than I see. Perhaps the trickle of those faint whispers might be a stream that slowly wears away stones and banks. Perhaps like the slow patient plod of Elías, they might be what’s needed when the fiery chaos of life seems to take me around in circles. Perhaps the insignificant susurrus of my inadequate prayers might carve out new landscapes yet to be seen.
© Text 2015 Paul Brownnutt
Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
© Hare photo Jeffrey Kerby
© Tortoise photo Charles J Sharp