A few days ago I was struggling with overdue formatting work on a report–hardly an ideal task for someone with a visual impairment, but I should have taken the problem seriously and gotten help with it before. I have long struggled with managing and balancing and prioritising different demands, and it can seem that the inefficiency inherent in disability and the way (post-)modern life is disruptive adds up to a particularly challenging set of circumstances. Of course I can and should get better at organization. But it can also be important to keep perspective not so much to preserve self-esteem or inner calm. as important as that is, as to serve the greater good.
In Confessions, Augustine explains his thoughts along such lines like this: ‘although, in your presence, the voices of our hearts are raised to your ear, all kinds of trivial thoughts break in and cut us off from the great act of prayer’ (Penguin Classics ed. p. 244).
It is easy to think of the activity of ‘the great act of prayer’ as a way to escape formatting a report or ignoring the importance of prioritising tasks. It seems to me, however, that Augustine can be understood as describing a kind of mindfulness that opens us to a new perspective. Here we can see the greater sweep and scope of life and this seems the starting-point for really priopritizing and managing what needs to be done.
That evening just before bedtime our eldest child asked me to catch a spider — again, hardly an ideal task for someone with a visual impairment; but working together we found the spider on her wall and I popped him into a glass. Our daughter was most concerned when I offered to let him return to the great outdoors by way of the second-storey bathroom window; what if he falls? she asked.
In the end, we watched the spider climb down the wall of the house in the fading light. Somehow the distances of sky, ground, spider, and wall staretd to lay out a new perspective.
Later that night the horrible news of the attack in Nice came over the radio as I lay in bed. Prayer has not helped me escape this horror or explain it away and I hope it has not made me trivialise it. But as politicians have talked about attacks on an ideal, I have been aware of how what happened was an attack on real people in their random particularity. Commentators have observed how such events put other things into perspective. This certainly seems true. And living this perspective is not just a matter of thinking about our own lives, but of reminding each other of the irreducible preciousness of the lives of others. That is the big picture.