There are things better expressed by writers, poets and playwrights particularly. They find words for those emotions, those ill defined feelings, those thoughts that slip beyond grasp, that refuse to be articulated, or are become unrecognizable as anything we have felt when they are put into words.
There was a play we did for A level at Strode College in Somerset, Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’. It seemed a piece of fun when we did it, light relief from the gloom of ‘Hamlet’, from which it is derived, and considerably more interesting to an eighteen year old boy than the laborious pages of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’. Yet with the passing years, it has acquired a poignancy it did not possess for a teenager. Paul Selby, our English tutor, would speak the closing lines with a passion that seemed odd at the time.
Our names shouted in a certain dawn … a message … a summons… there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said-no. But somehow we missed it.
(He looks round and sees he is alone.)
(He gathers himself.)
Well, we’ll know better next time.
The lines did not strike a chord at the time. Why would one get worried about missing opportunities, hadn’t we the whole world ahead of ourselves? There was nothing we could not do. Guildenstern’s words did not trouble us; we didn’t need a ‘next time’, a life of first times lay ahead for us:
But once the first times were passed, the realisation came that there is not a ‘next time’, there never was and there never will be (unless Einstein got his understanding of space-time completely wrong). The only time is the here and now, lose that time and there is no other one.
Perhaps the lesson would have been easier learned had we studied Latin, ‘Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero’ wrote the Roman poet Horace, ‘Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future’. Horace could have told Guildenstern that he would not have a ‘next time’, that there’s only one chance.
Five hours on Monday evening were spent with Les, my friend from primary school days forty years ago, and Mart, my brother-in-law who can build things from nothing and whose culinary skills match his ingenuity. For five hours, we sat at a table and talked, or listened. Talking too much ordinarily, it was good to be silent and to hear.
Life is only one chance; miss it, and it’s gone.