27 October 2010 – Horace : “The meaning of life”

27 October 2010


Horace found himself sitting in a chair trying to see over the edge of the desk. He had heard the voice say, “Can I help you?”
“Er…yes please,” he had replied.
“Come in.”
He had gone into the IAG office.
“Take a seat please. Tell me what you are looking for and we’ll see how we can help you.” He knew that this was what he was looking for. Not even ‘if’ we can help, but ‘how’ we can help. Excellent! It was not a Road to Damascus moment. There was no conversion, and he did not know where Damascus was. But he knew with a blinding certainty that this was where he needed to be. Here. On this day. At this time. At this precious moment in his life where all the cards and all the dice and all the shooting stars bursting above the firmament he’d wished on has shaped his fortunes to this chair in this office.
For one heart stopping moment he felt that the woman who had asked the question looked a bit intimidating. But he was only two and this was all new to him. So he screwed his courage to the sticking place, as we all sometimes do, and said boldly, “I’d like to know what to study.”
“That,” she replied, “depends upon what you want to learn.”
He knew immediately that his instincts had been right and that he was where he needed to be. He had rehearsed the answer to this.
“Well,” he said, “I’d like to know the meaning of life.”
“Ah, the meaning of…”
She paused and leant forward. She sat for a while with such a faraway look that Horace felt as if he was before the oracle. In fact, she was reflecting on how to tactfully answer a two year old hedgehog who wants to know the meaning of life.
“Have you looked at our prospectus? What courses were you thinking of studying?”
“Well,” he ventured, “I was thinking about clock repair and Pilates.”
“Pilates will help you to get a balanced view of things,” she said, “And clocks may help you to get to grips with time. Time is very interesting. We can’t control it despite things like Carpe Diem – seize the time!” she added helpfully.
Horace had heard of this in his classical reading in the hedgerow school.
“But we can use it well or badly,” she said.
He looked at her quizzically.
“Time. People speak of spending time and you might think that to spend it, you have to own it. But it is only borrowed. It may be the only loan we take that we never have to pay back.”
Horace began to get excited. This was why he had come to a college of adult education, to have conversations like this! So different from talking about nests, and food and the mundane things whispered along the lawn.
“I had heard,” he ventured, “that time is like a stream. Herodotus said that you can’t put your foot in the same stream twice because every time that you put your foot in the stream it has changaed and so is a different stream. But then Lenin said that you can’t put your foot in the same stream once because at the very moment you are putting your foot in it it is already changing and different. It’s fascinating isn’t it? You have to think dialectically don’t you?”
The lady behind the desk was losing track of this conversation. This was no ordinary two year old. She had been going to ask if he needed a diagnostic assessment but now decided that she might leave that for another day. She’d let one of the tutors sort that out. But she put in a last valiant effort:
“But you can measure time. So clocks might be a good place to start.” she offered.
“Yes, indeed.” Horace said, and sighed gently. A subtle sigh of satisfaction. He’d come to the right place. Pilates and clock repair! A whole new way of life.

Jan Koene

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