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Simon Parke: Are you for turning?

12 October 2011

MAYBE this is how it is at the pearly gates — an angel, with a heavenly clipboard, asks everyone the same question: did you go forward, or did you go back? And what is the correct answer?

In a recent interview in the magazine Empire, Brad Pitt revealed himself as one who must go forward. “If I’m walking out the door,” he says, “and I’ve forgotten something, I can’t go back and get it. It is something in my nature.”

And this forward movement extends to his behaviour in the car. “If I’m driving down a road,” he continues, “and I miss a turn, I have to keep going forwards. I can’t reverse, it’s some kind of psycho­logical defect. I don’t know the reason why. I don’t like to go back­wards. It’s just not what I’m good at.”

But there are others who are very good at going backwards — even if they wish they were not. I know a woman who struggles to leave home in the morning. It is not that she cannot wake up, but that she has to check everything before she leaves — and then she has to go back and check again, just in case.

Her anxiety used to focus around the question “Did I lock the front door?”, and, unlike Mr Pitt, she would sometimes return seven times to check. Recently, she began to wonder if she had turned the iron off. She would go back again and again to find out.

Leaving home was an issue for her, until she came up with a solution: she now takes her iron to work. Whether this is a long-term solution is doubt­ful. She will probably soon need to bring the cooker as well.

The real problem is her distracted spirit, which is unable to live in and trust the present; and a distracted spirit soon becomes anxious. If I were asked to help, I would suggest some calm breathing before she leaves home, and a commentary such as this: “I am standing in my bed­room. I am turning off the iron. I am now closing my front door. I am locking it.” Focus on your present — and get to work without an iron in your pocket.

On the face of it, the Bible is for a muscular “no turning back” policy. Lot’s wife suffers because she looked back on her former home of Sodom; and Jesus, striding ahead of his dis­ciples, does not want them to waste time by going back to bury their relations.

But wait — one of the greatest stories in the canon is all about going back. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son returns to his father to apologise in the hope that he can start again.

And the moral is? The gates of Eden are locked; so we cannot go back, and if we try, we fail. We go for­ward, trusting the present, and returning only to apologise.

Solitude — recovering the power of alone by Simon Parke is published by White Crow.

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