USE IT

Did you ever look at yourself and wonder if you were coasting through life? Perhaps it has been a while since you did any exercise or were at the gym, but you think you are still in okay shape, until one day you find yourself at the top of a flight of stairs gasping for air.

Did you ever think that perhaps your country, your society, your culture is coasting, still riding on work that people did years ago, when in reality everything has got a bit soft in the middle and we are struggling to catch our breath?

My mother was keen gardener. She had a large garden and she devoted a huge amount of time to digging the soil, pulling out weeds, feeding and watering the plants and generally putting in the hard work of creating the beautiful garden she wanted. Even when she wasn’t outside physically working, she was spending hours pouring over gardening books and catalogues, planning out what flowers and shrubs she would get so that there would be an abundance of colour and blooms throughout the year, and learning better ways to make sure her plants thrived.

The garden continued to flourish and look beautiful for years after my mother became too ill to work in it. Her hard work and careful planning ensured that the garden was a place of wonder – until it wasn’t. One day I saw that all her plants were dead, that weeds choked the flower beds, and brambles and vines were slowly killing the trees. This didn’t happen overnight. It had been happening all along, the weeds slowly encroaching and taking over until – bam! – there was nothing left but nettles and dandelions.

Recently it hit me that I am coasting. I have been relying too much on stories I wrote years ago, ideas that I’ve had bouncing around in my head for decades, rather than on finishing new work and coming up with new ideas. In my personal life too, I have been fooling myself into thinking everything was fine, denying the existence of the weeds of laziness that have been growing up all around me.

My country has been coasting too. The garden is not bountiful, as I thought it was. Seemingly overnight, weeds have choked out the flowers.

During my mother’s final illness, one of my sisters started to work in her garden. She dug out the weeds, cut back the overgrown shrubs so that light could get to the darkness beneath their branches, and planted new flowers. It was, and continues to be, backbreaking work. Now, several years since my mother died, beauty is beginning to steal back into the garden. There is a lot of bare soil between the plants and the flowers are small and fragile, but they are growing. Wildlife is coming back, with the variety of birds and butterflies growing every year. The hard work continues, but the rewards are beginning to be seen.

If we are to get the most out of life, there is no room for coasting. Physical and mental health need to be worked on constantly to ensure peak performance, not just rushed remedial work when something breaks down. The gifts we have, whatever they may be, should be exercised and strengthened daily, not only for our own good, but for the benefit of society as a whole. This requires work, and at times very hard work, and I am the first one to admit this is not pleasant. However, the work will have to be done sooner or later, so we might as well start digging now, rather than wait until the garden is choked with weeds and we mightn’t remember how.

In what area of your life have you been coasting? Did you pick up on it and take action before the weeds choked out your flowers, or are you having to dig it all out and start again? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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