Fatty and I have been taking turns reading 'The Folk of the Faraway Tree' to Laura and Benjamin each night. It's a lovely, fanciful story.
The other night, I read to the kids about a tiny goblin who wanted to know the secret of forgetting. He 'had once done a wicked thing, and couldn't forget it'. So the goblin went to the cave of the Wizard Tall-Hat to ask for help.
When the goblin left the cave, the children in the story asked him what the secret to forgetting was. The goblin answered them thus:
"I'll tell it to you, because then if you do a wrong thing, maybe you can get right with yourself afterwards. It's so dreadful if you can't."
"Well, the Wizard Tall-Hat told me that if I can do one hundred really kind deeds to make up for the one very bad one I did, maybe I'll be able to forget a little, and think better of myself. So I'm off to do my first kind deed".
The day I read this, I was feeling uneasy about something I'd done wrong. I don't know that it was a 'very bad one', as the goblin put it, but I knew I'd made a hasty and silly decision. I'd been feeling guilty all day. So it was uplifting to read this funny little book, and to remind myself that the best way to atone for a wrong deed (beyond apology, or fixing the wrong - which may not always be possible anyway) is to concentrate fiercely on doing many more good deeds in the future.
We all like to tell ourselves that we are 'good' people, and I believe that most people are 'good' at heart. However, it is frighteningly easy to slip off the path of honourable behaviour. It's all too easy to be jealous, to say something unkind in anger, to pass on nasty gossip, to tell small lies, to be uncharitable. I know, because I have transgressed in every one of these ways.
On the rare occasions I go to church (weddings, christenings, when staying with my husband's family), I almost always enjoy the sermon. Perhaps because it's a novel event for me, I find myself really listening to the words of the minister. I soak up the message, because I know myself to be flawed. I know that I need reminding of how to be good.
I'm not a religious person, though, so going to church seems hypocritical. When prayers pledging belief are read aloud, I sit silently. When the congregation goes up for wafers and wine, I remain seated. And once, in my twenties, I sat through a christening sermon in which the minister explained how we are all born 'wicked', and that we remain thus until we are christened. Those who are not christened, the minister explained, stay wicked in their hearts. I sat, distraught, through the service, and left in tears (I've never been christened).
So without a regular Sunday sermon, I try to stay on the straight and narrow by being accountable to myself - by examining my own behaviour, and trying to make changes when I go astray. But I get busy, and I get lazy, and I forget.
Inspiration for me in the constant struggle to live a 'good' life has come from an unexpected source. Almost every day, John Cowart writes on his blog, Rabid Fun. John is wryly funny, he is anything but pious, and he is always striving to be a better person. He quotes the bible, and he takes lessons from everyday life. I read and enjoy every post. If you want humble wisdom, go no further than this blog!
Socrates said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. I reckon he, too, must have been a pretty switched-on guy.