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If I hit on anything that seems a cliche, I apologise
If this were an episode of South Park, I might say "I learned something today". However, this is real life and the lessons I am about to relate were each learned over ten years ago. What follows is a pair of tales about my formative years - please feel free to skip reading this. I'm not normally this giving of myself and I could imagine that some would find this uncomfortably introspective.
Our first story takes us back to 1982 (or thereabouts). I was a mere slip of a lad - about eight years old. My family was staying at a hotel which had about twenty floors. This was, at the time, the tallest building I had ever been in, and the lift itself had the largest number of buttons I had ever encountered in a lift - many more than the three found in the lift at my grandparents' flat. It was customary for myself and my two siblings to press all of the buttons in the lift for the floors above our hotel room. This amused us greatly and delayed us in no way, while probably causing great annoyance to other users of the building.
On the morning of the incident, we got what was coming to us and I learned my first lesson. We had entered the lift and done our usual trick of pressing extra buttons. There were no adults present - we were returning to the room from the swimming pool or something. Unfortunately, something stopped us getting out at the correct floor - I forget quite what it was, but it was a momentary obstacle of some sort. The doors closed and the lift started off, headed for the spurious higher floors that we had selected. As the eldest of my parents' progeny, the eyes turned to me to get our collective asses out of this mess. I acted in a panic - I pressed the lift's stop button.
The lift stopped. It just stopped. We sat there and then the question dawned on us - "What next?". A wee press of the alarm button proved fairly futile - it rang a buzzer and nothing of any importance happened. A fluster was enjoyed by all. Then, a small voice in my head told me to stop what I was doing (looking round in desperation) and think. A moment later, I attempted to reverse the pressing of the stop button - I pulled it. The lift continued to the next floor, where the doors opened and we got out.
Later on, having calmly called the next lift and told it to proceed directly to our floor, without passing GO and without collecting two hundred dollars, I found myself having a quiet moment to myself in the hotel bedroom. I asked myself how I had been so stupid as to get us suspended in a lift between floors. This question proceeded to bother me for months. However, I found the answer in that hotel bedroom and I repeated it to myself for those months that followed. I had allowed panic and reaction to supersede my ability to think my way forward. I vowed then that I would avoid panic and I would always try to get myself out of trouble with planning and use of my intellect.
Nobody is perfect, but my second reaction after fear, these days, is usually calculation; that is an aspect of my personality that I value.
Our second story is far more embarrassing. We are transported to around 1988 - I am a thirteen year old lad who has been in single sex education since the age of seven. The only girls I know are related to me, and the old teenager-juice is starting to flow. Unfortunately for me, my body is screaming out illogical thoughts to my mind and I cannot help but consider the girls at a particular teenage youth group as something of a buffet. It seemed to me that what I needed to do was just pick one and then I could have that girlfriend I wanted. I think that I must have genuinely believed that the only thing you needed to form a relationship with a girl was an intense desire to do so and a few slick lines... well, I had not really got to know any girls and had nobody to advise me what an arse I was about to make of myself.
I pity the poor girl who found herself the object of my affections. I am glad to report that the two or three incidents of attempted contact with her were thankfully brief. She cannot be blamed for her disinterest. I can be blamed for not leaving it there. Unfortunately, it was my belief at the time that there might still be an alternative approach to try, one which would win her over. I was wrong and my additional attempts to woo her fell on very deaf ears.
The lesson cannot be learned from what I have told you so far - it's a classic taste of unrequited desire, which has probably happened a million times over. My tale takes an additional turn, which makes me cringe to think of it, but which taught me a new lesson to share. A couple of years after my ill-thought-out advances, I was drinking with a few friends. We were underage, but these things happen when you look old enough to buy alcohol. Anyway, it occurred to me that I had, a couple of years earlier, made a complete arse of myself and that the person who had had to bear the brunt of that buffoonery deserved an apology. Therefore, I decided to apologise and I happened to know where this person was that evening.
Funnily enough, the phone call didn't go down too well. The visit, with gang of my mates egging me on, to the front door of the house where this person was, also failed to convey the nature of my apology. Finally, the anguished shouting in the street, when seeing the person at a distance later that evening, well... it didn't make my point either. I have managed to avoid that particular person for the rest of my life so far.
The lesson? Ah yes, let me scrape my ego off the floor a moment and remember it. Some things in life cannot be fixed. After my initial rebuttal, I should have let go of the idea of courting the young lady. After the fool of myself I'd made, I should not have imagined that it would be possible to exorcise the demons of that particular embarrassment. The lesson I learned, perhaps aged sixteen or seventeen, is that the adult is able to let go of certain problems that cannot be solved and leave them alone - especially if they are not all that important.
I mentioned the danger of cliche in the introduction to this piece. I am now going to endanger myself in that department and try to bring the two lessons together into one theme. It's all about time. As adults we have to learn how to use time to our benefit. When I was in the lift, I needed to take time to think before acting. When I was a dumbstruck teenager, I needed to use time to put some distance between myself and my embarrassment, rather than acting hot-headedly and making matters worse.
Time can be a great enemy - it steals our youth, our memory and some moments we wish would never end. However, time can be a great friend too - it allows us to gain perspective, it gives us space to think and it takes us a safe distance away from moments we might wish to forget. Though I have read Mr Hawking's brief history of time, he mentioned none of this - I hope that any reader of this piece will at least appreciate my sentiments, even if I seem to have revealed too much information this time.
20 September 2001