No resolutions in 2021 but I'm noting down my daily reasons to be cheerful
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Over the years I have always found myself resenting the pressure to make a New Year’s Resolution. Several reasons I suppose; perhaps mostly because I know it will be just a matter of weeks before I need to start thinking about this year’s Lent resolutions. A surfeit of good resolutions never seems exciting! The thought that January will then be littered with broken resolutions all around me is also a factor.
Probably also, I harbour a lingering regret that a feast which is meant to last12 days gets truncated by resolutions relating to cutting down on food and drink. You could call it being Scrooge-like in my response to too vigorous a Scrooge reaction to the post-Christmas blues.
But this year feels different. The idea came from our future son-in-law and ended up being a family-wide resolution: to keep a thankfulness diary. The idea is that towards the end of every day, you spend a few minutes identifying, reflecting on, and then recording five things for which you have felt grateful through the day. It’s a little reminiscent of Ian Dury's song Reasons To Be Cheerful. It also struck me that I can also turn them into a prayer of thankfulness – matching the prayers I make in the morning for specific people about whom I am currently concerned.
They might be small things: a fabulous sunrise or sunset; an unexpected warm smile; a little act of kindness; or big, like a negative Covid test – two of my clergy have recently had those. I was sorry to see clergy omitted from the list of those people this paper was rightly thanking on a front page last week. They put themselves at some personal risk in their regular offering of comfort and encouragement to others.
I have no doubt at all about the moment I had most reason to be thankful to someone: it was late in the evening on Friday, September 13, 2001. It’s a very long story, so I won’t give you the full version of the lead-in. if I tell you at a dinner party (remember those?) it usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes. Truncating it radically, it all began with me stuck in Seattle in the north-west of the United States in the wake of destruction of the Twin Towers in the Tuesday of that week.
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I was on my way to the city of Charlestown in South Carolina, down towards the bottom of the east coast, about 3,000 miles away. On the Wednesday evening, I decided that the only way I was going to get there in time to preach in the Cathedral of SS Luke and Paul involved hiring a car. Every other mode of transport seemed to be stopped with no sign of when any of them might open up again.
Budget offered me a Ford pickup truck which I would hand back in Charlestown and off I went, not realising that the distance was anything like that far. Here, it is very difficult imagining how any distance between two points in a single country could possibly be more than a three-day drive. I drove away at 8pm on the Wednesday, thinking I would set myself the goal of getting to the Dean of the Cathedral’s home by 8pm on the Saturday: surely masses of time! I was a couple of hours into the journey before I was able to buy a map of the States which told me my proposed journey was 3,000 miles long – somewhere between 17 and 18 hours driving each day!
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There were many adventures along the way, but by 8pm on the Friday evening with two thirds of the time gone, I clocked the 2,000th mile: bang on target! I was passing by a small town in Missouri called Higginsville and spotted a sign for a Best Western hotel and thought, I need (and surely deserve) a night in a bed. So I stopped.
Then I discovered, as I tried to check in to one of the remaining free rooms, firstly that I had lost my wallet, and subsequently that the car wouldn’t start again. Stranded with no money or credit cards in a part of the States where I knew no one. The young hotel receptionist (she can’t have been more than 21), had watched me go through a variety of phone calls from her desk to Budget’s emergency helpline and my friend William, the Dean in Charlestown; through numerous dashes to the car to search it repeatedly and to attempt starting it, endlessly and fruitlessly.
Eventually at about 10pm she said: “My shift ends in 10 minutes,” it had begun at 10am, “you say you might have left your wallet back at the gas station you stopped at, 60 miles away? I will drive you there to see if we can find it.”
And that’s just what she did: an hour’s drive there and an hour back after a 12 hour working day. Amazingly, the wallet was there. But even if it hadn’t been, I would remember that generous response of hers to this day. A reason to be cheerful and thankful indeed. And yes, I remembered to send her flowers when I got back home!
Jonathan Meyrick is the Bishop of Lynn