Temet nosce

‘Temet nosce’ (or ‘know thyself’) might be the briefest of phrases, and yet these two small words convey such an important message.

However, before I go on, I feel duty bound to set the record straight. I am not (by any stretch of the imagination) a Latin scholar, and the irony of having chosen a Latin phrase as the heading for my latest blog will not have been lost on those who remember me from my school days…

As a nervous pupil starting Year 7 at secondary school, being placed in the top set meant that the (rather dubious) honour of learning Latin had been ‘bestowed’ (or rather thrust) upon me. And so, my (not so) illustrious relationship with the language of the Roman Empire began.

It ended just 12 months later when the teacher gratefully washed her hands of me, noting on my end of year report that I had “spent a good deal less time inside the classroom, than out in the corridor” – a fitting punishment for my “poor application and lack of reverence” apparently!

Anyway, in spite of all of this, I am often fascinated by the extent to which Latin words still dominate our language. After all, the notion of working on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, perhaps for a ‘bona fide’ company, in an attempt to ‘carpe diem’, makes a good deal of sense when trying to take control of one’s own destiny.

‘Temet nosce’ then, will possibly resonate with many of us, as we strive to overcome the many challenges associated with living through a global pandemic. Bereavement, loss of income, a sense of isolation and the sheer anxiety of trying to juggle work with home schooling / childcare are factors that have put untold strain on people. However, there have been countless stories of human resilience too, and so it strikes me that to ‘know oneself’ is probably currently more important than ever. Because, in understanding our own psyche (and dare I say it, ‘limitations’) we are enabling ourselves to set realistic targets (through tailor-made strategies) that will propel us forwards – hopefully with our mental health intact!

Time to embrace the decline?

Words (whether written or spoken) can be incredibly powerful. Carefully chosen, they can serve to motivate or embolden. Sensitively proffered, they can provide immense comfort at times of great sorrow.  Imaginatively crafted, they can provoke an emotional reflex that leaves a profound impression upon the reader or listener. But when they are delivered in anger, haste or simply without thought, they can wound and belittle. Indeed, the notion that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ has real resonance here, because it is quite extraordinary how a perfectly innocent throw away comment can engrain itself in your subconscious and then continue to torment you, many months later.

Today’s reminiscence though, is not one of deep resentment (or offence bitterly taken) but of genuine gratitude that someone (albeit unwittingly) gave me the wake-up call that I so desperately needed!

We had set out for a lovely walk in the Peak District, taking in the stepping-stones at Dovedale. Our boys were still very young at the time and so we were not looking for anything particularly energetic, but we felt fairly confident that meandering streams (complete with large boulders for scrambling over) would be an instant hit. We weren’t wrong. In fact, the outing had all the ingredients for success – fresh air, exercise, and great company.

We had arranged to meet up with another family whose two little girls were the same age as our own children. Inevitably though, our two didn’t want to adopt the same pace as their counterparts (preferring instead to examine every conceivable rock in minute detail, whilst also relishing the possibility that their brother might yet end up in the water!) so Hubby ended up bringing up the rear, whilst I (rather predictably) chatted happily with the other adults in our party.

It was during one such conversation that I became aware that I was really quite out of breath, and that I was making decidedly ungainly progress up the various screes. In my (somewhat futile) attempt to divert attention from my woeful lack of fitness, I asked my friend if she was limping. After all, by showing interest in someone else’s apparent discomfort, I was buying myself valuable minutes to re-group, right?!

I was quickly informed that ‘yes’, it was the result of a sporting injury. Not quite the ‘get out of jail’ card that I was hoping for – Sport? What was that?  I needed to look back at my school days in order to find a genuine example of vigorous exercise

Perhaps the bewilderment of my facial expression (coupled with disturbingly crimson cheeks and ridiculously laboured breathing) led to the statement in question. Whatever the catalyst, it really hit home!

I listened dutifully to a terribly painful sounding account of how a cycling accident in central London (during the early morning commute) had caused temporary damage to her Achilles and Patella tendons. This, of course, led me on to evince surprise that she was cycling regularly into work, when previously the number 56 had more than sufficed… She fixed me with a steely gaze and said (without any discernible emotion) that she had reached the conclusion that she should “either do something about her general level of fitness or embrace the decline”. Well, at just two years younger (and easily about 3 stone heavier) I felt suitably chastened!

Indeed, many weeks later, I found myself pondering those words again.

As an older parent, (of two incredibly energetic boys) I realised that my (hitherto) largely sedentary lifestyle probably wasn’t going to ‘cut it’ long term. I didn’t want to be the type of parent who is always ‘too tired’ to play, or who looks for the (superficially) ‘easy’ option of a ‘quiet afternoon in’.

And so, a heartfelt ‘Thank you, dear friend’ is in order here, for nudging me in the right direction. Having chosen not to ’embrace the decline’ just yet, we have effectively opened up a wealth of opportunities. Some of our most cherished paternal memories now originate from our encounters with the great outdoors, and of family sporting activities that we would previously have dismissed as being ‘out of our reach’.