My brother and I, usually amicably but occasionally not quite so, share an office. Usually a great source of dispute is what we listen to when we are working. My brother, when I am listening to something he doesn’t appreciate, takes pains to remind me that it has been proven listening to music with lyrics while you are working significantly reduces your brain’s capacity to take in the information you are studying. He learnt that from Vish, his study sensei (but that’s a different story). I similarly take pains to reply that he is a music scholar and academic musician so he should be listening to all music and drawing astute links between them. He usually leaves the room, slamming the door as he goes.
But if we happen to get on amicably (63% of the time) we tend ignore Vish, and a fly on the wall would not be surprised to hear plainsong, psalms and hymns in the office as we work (the hymns aren’t so good as we tend to sing along, sometimes substituting words for others especially with naff hymns – “I the Lord of sea and sky/I have made my people fly” and “Who put the corn into the cornflake” are two of our favourites – you get the picture). But last week was half term, and, having had a bit of that unknown quality of sleep, my brother and I were on good terms (it lasted 2 days). One day I allowed him (sorry Vish) to listen to a podcast whilst he played Fifa, and I wrote my french essay. And it was something that was covering the installation of the new President –
“I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong,” Obama said, her voice breaking several times near the end of her remarks. “So don’t be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of you boundless promise. Lead by example with hope; never fear.”
And I’m not American, far from it. But I felt as if at that moment, Michelle Obama was speaking to me too. Somewhere in our lives we will all experience a feeling of not belonging, of fear, of lack of focus, of lack of determination, of lack of hope. And in that moment, I was feeling all those things.
We are constantly afraid, and we hide behind this dark shadow of fear, letting the world slip by. It is all too easy to think that we don’t matter, that people will not listen to us. But Obama rekindled that hope in me that there is a way that we can all change the world if we try. But she also recognises that it’s not going to be easy – there are times when we are so afraid that all we want to do is curl up under the duvet, in the warm, and not come out. We revert to our inner child. But it is our responsibility to get out there and use our gifts for good – to send a message, to be the person that we want to be. Because if no one tries then the world will slip by.
I remembered these feelings when I was at the Eucharist on Sunday. I didn’t really want to go – it felt more of an obligation than a choice. I put on my jeans, not usually deemed appropriate, heaved myself into the car and we went. At the beginning of the service I felt really uncomfortable, a feeling I haven’t experienced in a long time. I was afraid to go there, a place that seems so full of despair. I was afraid of what I would feel. But the reading was –
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
And this also touched me, and made me think about my fears, worries and my current failure to empower myself to be the best person I can. Sometimes, a lot of the time in fact, it is so easy to let worries about health, religion, business, day to day life, education, exams and relationships weigh you down and take over your brain. But life is about making the choice to be that young person Obama wants you to be. It’s about trusting fearlessly in God, no matter how far you feel from Him, because everything will be given to you that is necessary.
I don’t want to be someone who gets to my mid twenties and looks back and thinks ‘what did I do in my teenage years that made me the person I am today’ and regret not doing anything. I’m not going to stand up in the street and start preaching at people to change their ways. But I write it on here. Every day I make a choice to be the person I am. Every day I have the choice to be empowered and to stick up for myself and have no fear. And 60% of the time I do that. 40% of the time I let time pass me by. And I regret that, but I know I’m not, nor will ever be perfect. So all I can do is try to make that choice when I wake up, and carry that choice through to the end of the day.
Sometimes it’s those little epiphanies that make me think: yes. I can do this – I can be that person I choose to be and I will have no fear because God is beside me. It is the everyday God who reassures us of his constant presence and allows us to live in hope, and not in fear. Even in the darkest pit of despair, he tells us that there will be hope: we must not worry. There will be mistakes along the way. You won’t make it to that person every day. And it’s taken me 17 long years to accept that it’s ok to cry. I think I cried more this weekend than I have in a long time. But in a way, I feel more at peace, though my worries and fears still rage inside me, I want to use them to make me the person I see in my head when I think of who I am in God.
So maybe, just sometimes, Vish, it’s a good thing to listen to words whilst you’re studying -maybe it will reveal to you a determination to achieve your full potential.