Today’s chapter from the Rule of St Benedict (RB 37, Of Old Men and Children, to give McCann’s title) is just a few lines long and comes immediately after the chapter on the care of the sick. I like the fact that it is so down to earth. Benedict starts by saying that our natural human sympathy should incline us to compassion towards both old and young, and that there should be constant consideration of their lack of strength. Then what does he do? He homes in on food! The strictness of the Rule as regards food is not to apply to them and they are to be allowed to eat before the regular times (RB 37. 2, 3). Only someone who knows how hungry a young person can get could write that, or perhaps someone who is so old that ‘little and often’ is the only way they can keep body and soul together. Either way, it is the voice of experience not theory.
I wonder how many of the decisions we make are based on experience rather than theory. The current angst in the UK over Brexit/non-Brexit is a case in point. The E.U. referendum gave us all one simple choice — in or out — but it is interpreted by some as meaning this kind of policy, by others as that kind of policy, and by others again as anything they like to name. We easily lose sight of the fact that, at present, Brexit policies are largely theoretical, i.e. they cannot be based on experience as we have not been here before — being an ex-member of the E.U. will be different from never having belonged. What is true of a major decision affecting millions of people is also true of the decisions we make as individuals. I marry this person; I join that community; my career choice is such and such. Often we give remarkably little thought to the choices we make but somehow slip into them. We can only give thanks that so often they turn out to be the right ones. And when they don’t? That is when I think we have to remind ourselves that the apparently ‘wrong’ decision may actually be the right one for us. It may not bring us the personal happiness and fulfilment we dreamed of, but it will have brought us something. Like Robert Frost we may say
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.