Pigs Might Fly

I’m finding it hard to let go of the weekend.  It was such a lovely one, pink whipped morning skies and trails of orange cloud by evening; the evening (when measured by the availability of light) being 3.30pm.  Neither my mind nor body have quite made it to Monday and I’m hankering to be back tramping along the clarty edge of a field of Brussels sprouts in East Lothian, on down to the shore line where we picked the orange berries of the buckthorn, squeezed them onto our palms, then tentatively licked the juice.  “It tastes like really bitter pineapple,”E. told me.  One grimace later and a sharply stinging tongue, I’d confirmed what he’d said to be true.  We gathered up armfuls of cones from the foot of a huge Scots pine that towered above a copse of mature beech.  The ground was so deep with pine needles and beech leaves that, on first glance, there didn’t seem to be anything else, but as soon as I trained my eye to spy one slatted cone, I could suddenly see them everywhere.  Someday soon I’ll make Christmas decorations with them.  ‘Someday soon’: I say that too often.

I’m at the Central Library, working slowly (oh, so slowly) down my to-do list, comforted in the knowledge that a whole week stretches ahead of me in which to be…industrious.  Yes, I’ll get through it all, some day soon.  It’s only Monday, after all.  Another voice in my head tells me today is‘some day soon’.  Today is the day to buckle down, get to work, press on.  I think of the great 11thCentury Dominican, Saint Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of scholars, whom I learned about at school (a Dominican school): head down at his desk, an unrelenting and uncomplaining worker.  I can’t imagine he did much daydreaming.  I need to channel my inner Thomas Aquinas.

I open an email I don’t recognise. It’s from Australia.  C. has come across my blog when looking up something about Sister Labouré O.P., a Dominican nun from my schooldays whom I once referenced in my writing.  My blog was the pinecone in a vast forest floor of leaves, it poked out and C. found it and shouted to me, the way in which the internet allows you to do.  She and I, it turns out, went to the same school ten years apart. “Well isn’t that glorious?” I thought to myself, “That Sister Labouré, who died so many years ago, is casting a Dominican line between Scotland and Australia.”

Sister Labouré used to tell us one particular story about Saint Thomas Aquinas.  He was so fat, she told us, that they had to cut a crescent shaped piece of wood from his desk to allow for his protruding belly as he sat studying.  When Thomas was still young and in training at the Dominican Friary in Italy, he was teased mercilessly by the other students and about his weight. Clearly they weren’t all saints! Teasing begets teasing – Sister Labouré warned us – and so it continued.  “Thomas, Thomas,”a group of them urgently called him away from a tower of books.  “Look out the window, Tom, there’s a pig flying across the sky.”  Being large, he could not move quickly but he got there as fast as he could.  Despite being thoughtful, scholarly, and quick minded, clearly big Tom was a bit of a dope when it came to falling for a tall story for, of course, there was no such sight to behold in the sky.  The other students laughed at how Mr, A-star could, apparently, be such a fool.  At this point of the story, we were thinking the same thing too.  Until Sister Labouré came to the crux of the matter: “And Thomas said to them, ‘I would rather believe that pigs could fly than believe that a Dominican could lie.’”  Isn’t it amazing what sticks in one’s memory? And what takes me further away from the task in hand!

Thomas’s philosophy and theology continues to influence down through the centuries.  Today I am choosing this from his writings: “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.”  What I believe can sometimes wobble, what I desire is ever-changing, but, right at this moment, I know what I ought to do and that is to stop staring out the window and to get to work, just like Thomas would.

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