Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pause for Thought
The Zoe Ball Show
BBC Radio 2
Saturday, August 20th, 2011

There's a scene in David Lean's movie Dr Zhivago that I have had to suffer all my life.

At one point in the film the hero struggles through a war-torn Siberian landscape until he reaches his childhood home - abandoned and encased in snow and ice. There he is reunited with his lover. They fire up the stove in one room and make it habitable. In the midst of all this chaos - the Russian Civil War and the depths of winter - they have a brief interlude of peace.

Zhivago finds the desk he wrote on as a child. He opens the drawer and discovers there, laid out in order, a sheaf of white paper, a pen and a bottle of ink.

He writes a poem.

My mother always talked about "Zhivago's Drawer". She would describe its order, its simplicity and its adequacy. She would then open the door to my bedroom which looked like any teenaged boy's bedroom and not at all like Zhivago's Drawer.

She would make reference to my school bag with its crumpled homework assignments and mouldering apple cores. Again, not Zhivago's Drawer.

And over the years I have muttered about "Zhivago's Bloody Drawer" countless times as I see what a mess my Income Tax return looks or the list of tasks which I have meant to get around to but haven't.

As a younger priest I would arrange to spend four or five days at the Trappist monastery north of Montreal, after Easter and after Christmas - not everybody's idea of a riotous good time - but I was attracted to the simplicity there. The balance and order of two lines of monks gliding in to worship in the wee hours of the morning, the Salve Regina sung at the end of the day with a single candle at the feet of a statue of Our Lady.

Please, God, before I die,
give me that small place of order and harmony
at the centre of my soul.


*nb. "bloody" edited to "wretched" in the actual broadcast.

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