Every now and then, I read a book which helps me understand myself better. Some authors can eloquently put into words feelings and experiences I struggle to.
This summer I read Richard Holloway’s autobiography Leaving Alexandria. I had listened to him on Radio Scotland and he sounded like he had an interesting story to tell.
I really enjoyed his biography but it was his meditations on some of his past experiences that resonated with me. I found myself pausing my reading and thinking, ‘ that’s me he’s describing’ or ‘that’s exactly how I feel’.
Anyway, I wanted to collect some of these passages from the book in some blog posts, I suppose as a way of giving them further thought and to share with anyone who might read this.
Quite early on Richard found that 'he was theoretically qualified to do something he was actually incapable of performing. He had the air of confidence and of appearing to be knowledgeable about something he was actually making up as he went along'. He was winging it with his gift of the gab. I found this part thought provoking:
The toughest lesson life teaches is the difference between who you wanted to be and who you actually are. And it can take a whole life to teach it. (p.10)
Later on in the book he returns to this realisation of how time can steal everything from us and leave us feeling disappointed in how we turn out:
Any normal human heart feels the knife edge of regret at moments of retrospection and self-examination. But there is another kind of regret that is more difficult to explain. It is sorrow not over what we have done but over what we are. It may even be sorrow over what we are not. And I don’t mean handsome or rich or charming. One of the lessons a long life teaches is how formed we were by characteristics that were entirely beyond our control. Being who we were, we were bound to act the way we did. To have acted differently we would have had to be a different person. Maybe a better person, because, tragic as it may appear, even unfair, there are good people, not so good people, and bad people. And the big discovery we make in life is the person we have been revealed to be. We don’t have that knowledge when we start out. We imagine there’s a list of characteristics we can acquire if we fancy them, whereas the main lines of our own personality were cast before we knew it. This does not mean that we have no control over our decisions and choices. It does mean that we will have little control over them till we acknowledge who we are and accept the reality of the hand we have been dealt to play. (pp.226-227)