There was a time when each day was packed with something I had to do, with tasks delegated to a specific hour and like many, I was conditioned into thinking if I achieved all of this then it was normal and showed that you had leadership qualities. I used to think I had done well when I juggled work conversations while in the bath, and as I was jumping on the tube or bus, but now cringe when I think back at how life was passing me by. I was on a train recently, and saw a man doing what I used to do, juggling calls to feel important, but then as he tried to get off the train quickly a lady in a wheelchair was getting off and he had to choose to wait, or to try and squeeze past her which isn’t the done thing. He had lost control.
I recently watched snippets of ‘The Remains of the Day’ (by Kazuo Ishiguro) a film back in the 1990s, and I had not watched it because I was too busy ‘living’ or rather learning about life. People will have read the book and watched the film as a love story, but what struck me more is that Stevens, the butler who narrates the film (from his perspective and memoirs) shows us that life can pass us by, just as the day can and what we are left with are the remains of the day where we have private time to do what we wish, and the remains of our lives to do what we have always yearned to do.
As a butler, he served his employer with such loyalty that he forgot about his own life, and even missed his father dying to serve at a banquet by putting the needs of his employer first. I doubt the guests and employer would have taken a moment to applaud his loyalty. Very often in life we can be too preoccupied with pleasing others, or trying to, and forget about ourselves and what is important. We assume that others will appreciate our sacrifices, but that is not always the case. We forget that our incarnation and time on this plane is short and that we should make choices for the self, and balance that with helping others, and not act solely on the needs or whims of others.
For example, I have other blogs and my readers have in the past demanded that I write more often, or to write on specific topics. I chose not to because I am not a slave to the reader, and writing is my choice to do as and when I please. Some people could not understand that, and believed as the audience (who do not pay) they were entitled to make such demands. I did not think using the ‘remains of my day’ to write in order to satisfy an audience for the sake of it was a good use of my time, thus sacrificing things like reading, seeing friends, watching a movie, or even having time to eat or sleep to appease them.
This is same in the spiritual sense, where we can get exhausted trying to guide and help others when we have nothing left for ourselves at the end of the day. One such example is when I was helping someone and guiding them through what they needed to do (and I made time to speak to them around their schedule up until 2 a.m. at times) to help them out of a tricky spot, they then said they were too busy doing this and that, going out to have dinner and other things to speak or to action what I had suggested. The question I asked them is why I am using the remains of my day to help someone who has no concept of the fact I am using my free and private time to help them. In this case, if the person doesn’t get their act together they will be used as a scapegoat in a fraud case and have a criminal record. You would think they would see the urgency in the matter, but I have accepted that is their lesson to learn now.
The ending of ‘The Remains of the Day’ sees Stevens meeting Miss Kenton (now Mrs Benn) 20 years later, hoping to recruit her as a housekeeper for his new employer. He had dedicated his life to service of an employer and that is all he had, whereas she had seized a chance to ‘live’ even though it had not been a happy marriage, it was a choice she made. Stevens then has to accept that service is all that he has left in life, with no friends or family he forgot to live for himself. I think that can happen spiritually when we are too busy helping others that we forget about our own growth and choices. Compare Stevens with say Jeeves (from P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster) where Jeeves serves loyally, but in his free time he spends it doing things he enjoys, or Mr Carson in Downtown Abbey, who has been a loyal member of staff, who chooses to get married and have a life of his own too.
A friend of mine is choosing to move house and his reasons for doing so have struck me as a reality check on life. He said that he did not want to waste what time he has left mowing lawns and looking after a large garden, and while he is still mobile and able he wants to spend that time doing things he enjoys before he ends up in a retirement home. It is a different perspective when you get to a certain age, where some would consider gardening a hobby, others see it as a chore and mundane tasks like laundry and cleaning as part of everyday life. However, if your time is short, then these tasks eat away a what time remains.
I understand his reasoning, and time passes by without us noticing it. I have a dear friend who loves to go canoeing, so why not if that is what gives him pleasure? We should not feel guilty about doing the things that we enjoy in life, for we are not obliged to ‘appease’ others in what we do. That is one reason I stopped reading spiritual matter because it always seemed to create benchmarks, and outlined what was expected of you if you are spiritual, and if you didn’t do X then were you spiritual? We should not be defined or judged on the choices that we make for ourselves, yet society impinges that upon us. I also understand why some of my friends recoil at the digital world, and want no part of it because it can be a hindrance to your time and your thoughts.
One sad thing in ‘The Remains of the Day’ was when Stevens was asked what he thought (of his employer being a traitor), and he replied he was not paid to think, but when pressed he did offer an opinion. It was if he was allowed to think and act freely for once, but the only person who held him back all of this time was himself. We should not feel guilty of choosing to ‘live’ and should not be guilt-tripped into helping others at the detriment of your own health and wellbeing. I must confess that I look forward to the remains and end of the day as my time, where there are no phone calls, people at the door, or chores to carry out, but my friend is right—we must choose to spend what time we have left wisely and not to appease others. As for spiritual tasks we should apply the same, for a weary spiritual traveller needs rest, especially during a full moon and an eclipse (yes I was woken up in the early hours!).