Sometimes having a person on one’s mind constantly can drain one’s emotionally energies much more than trying to fathom the meaning of life with the sole aid of a blank sheet of paper, pencil and slide rule. As a young man, I was forever falling in love with every good woman I ever met, and it wasn’t until I’d become an old man that it dawned on me that it was the ‘goodness’ in these gorgeous ladies I fell in love with and not necessarily their ‘badness’ of thought, feeling and what physical benefits that occasioned to come my way as a consequence of our interaction.
The simple truth is that we all succeed better in life when all we really want from life is what we need. We each succeed in love much better once we reduce its complexity of competing emotions and thoughts swirling around inside us, searching for both the instant gratification of our physical needs and the more long-term goal of finding a soul mate who enables one to find lasting happiness, positive purpose and reconciled peace together.
I have invariably found that it's contact with ‘good people’ and ‘honestly expressed feelings’ to make one happy, and being in their frequent company keeps one happy; not money, power, status or the acquisition of an image that one’s peers and neighbours admire and envy. There are too many people in this world who preoccupy their minds with material assets, senselessly buying things they neither want nor need to impress people they don’t even like! They wouldn’t worry for one moment what others thought of them if they knew that they seldom do.
When I think upon my life and values today, the person whom I have most on my mind is Sheila, the one I love most. I think about her when we are together, every time we are apart; at the start and at the end of every day. Sheila, I love you, lass, and as today’s song says, ‘You are always on my mind’.
But, who should one have on their mind at any given time, we may ask ourselves? Once, I would have replied unhesitatingly ‘someone who I loved and was closest to at that time.’ An old friend and ex-miner called Matt, who trained as a Probation Officer with me up in Newcastle on Tyne during 1970 supplied me with the answer to this question during the six months we shared a house.
At the time, like all the others on the Training course for mature students, I was eager to learn and provide my assessors and examiners with the best work I could. Consequently, we would cram in as much learning as we could and would get irritable, annoyed and even angry when others distracted us away from our time of study. Should any person on the course approach us at such times of study, requiring a listening ear and a bit of emotional support with a problem that was disturbing them, most of us would put them off until a more convenient time.
Matt, however, was not that type of person and soon became the one individual on the course who would instantly drop anything he was doing whenever anyone approached him wanting a listening ear, honest advice or emotional support and encouragement. It mattered not what he was doing, where, when or who with! Course members knew that Matt would always give them the quality of attention they needed whenever they sought his help and guidance.
This ex-miner was at least 15 years older than all the rest of us in our thirties. He was a plain-speaking man who’d never taken or passed an academic examination in his life and was surprised at the age of 45 years, but as proud as punch, to have been accepted as a mature student on a university course.
There was so much academically that Matt never knew and would never easily take into his mind, but what he did know (what none of the rest of us knew), and what his body accurately sensed was when another person truly needed his time, presence and full attention.
The single and most satisfying thing every person coming into contact with Matt always received from him was himself! From the moment they approached Matt and he'd ascertained the nature of their need, until the matter had been properly responded to within the interaction, the person seeking Matt out would feel that they were the most important individual on Matt’s mind and in his life!
Sadly, this tale does not have a happy ending. Two months before the one-year Probation Officer course ended and two weeks before the final examination that would pronounce each student either ‘passed’ or ‘failed’, Matt was driving home one weekend and while on the motorway, he had a heart attack at the wheel, crashed and died. Fortunately, no others were killed as collateral damage.
His funeral was one of the saddest, best-attended occasions I’d ever experienced, and I cried for his loss throughout, along with the rest of the congregation who knew this lovely man. The most remembered thing everyone who spoke about Matt that day remembered about him was, “Matt always had time for you!” which is the Geordie way of saying ‘You were always important in his eyes’’.
Matt started life in the poorest of circumstances. He lived the simplest of lives, was schooled with the woman he married from the same mining community (the sister of a work colleague on the pit face) and is today buried in a Peterlee graveyard alongside other mining colleagues he once worked alongside. All these mining workmates were proud of 'Our Matt' (his common name) when he got accepted on a university course.
Matt would often show me his hands after he’d washed them and swear that he’d never rid his body of coal dust in his deepest of crevices or from beneath his nails. He believed that after ten years at the coal face, the coal dust flowed forever through one's veins. And yet, despite his lack of formal schooling and prior academic study, what he did know was how to make anyone approaching him feel welcome and important. This is this reason above all others that leads me to conclude that he will remain one of the greatest of men I ever had the pleasure of meeting and knowing for one brief passage of time. God rest his soul.
Love and peace Bill xxx