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Curious distractions

As someone who is easily distracted from what she's supposed to be doing, Heather Skull looks at the positive side to going off the beaten track...


Just lately I’ve been adjusting to a change in my life – a new job that I never expected to have. It is inevitably taking time to make that adjustment. Although the commute is much shorter than the one I used to make to London, it still means that I’m out of the house for 12 hours.

That’s definitely not a complaint, by the way. A commute that meanders its way through west Wiltshire, the Wylye Valley, Salisbury and beyond it Hampshire with its winding streams and rivers to eventually arrive in Southampton, is never going to be dull.

Picture: phanlop88/freedigitalphotos.net

The commute might be the same route every day, but the landscape is always changing. I remain excited about a journey that could mean spotting hares racing across fields or deer calmly grazing in the early morning light.

The pheasant showing up as a garish slash of colour against the white frost-tipped grass and the heron patiently waiting for a fish to approach slightly too close to its lightening-quick beak. The rooks nests hanging like puffballs in the trees and a row of bee hives standing in perfect perpendicular order on the edge of the wood.

You see? No such thing as a dull commute. I can see why Jerome K Jerome got carried away with his descriptive passages in Three Men in a Boat and kept having to bring himself up short and bring himself back to the point.

Distractions aren’t always bad. Although, I did once famously almost miss my station as I was watching the film Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists, but that’s a whole other story.

No. Distractions aren’t bad when they pull us away from things that take up too much of our time. Distractions aren’t bad as reminders that some things are more important than what we are currently doing. Distractions aren’t bad when they cause us to raise our heads and look around us.

I made the mistake of buying one of those fitness bands. It now – often mercilessly – tells me whether I’ve met my targets of steps and aerobic steps (yes, there is a difference). There’s no room for complacency. If I meet my targets it sneakily raises them. If I fail to meet the targets it informs me in a message that seems both sorrowful and shaming in its tone.

What this has done of course is made me walk a lot more. I walk to the station, but now I also walk around Southampton where I work before I go into the office. Sometimes I take a proper planned walking route to a specific shop or place. Other times I just find myself taking another path ‘just to see where it goes.’

Yesterday I found a monument to the last remaining survivor of the Titanic, Milvana Dean. A few days before that I found an unexpected tribute to the war dead with a statue of Lord Mountbatten in a square in another part of the city. And there’s a clump of daffodils hidden away from the roadside and only accessible by walking to it.

I wouldn’t have found them if I’d not got bored of the same old route and been distracted by pathways leading off into unknown and potentially exciting destinations.

Occasionally I do run into a dead end and have to turn back and start again. But nothing’s lost or wasted. I’ve racked up a few more steps to shut my exacting fitness trainer up. And I’m meeting and greeting people on these walks. The young and beautiful Somali mother whose face lit up with a massive smile when she greets me. The Polish leaflet deliverer whose mastery of banter livened up my morning two days ago.

And I’m learning a lot about the geography of the city where I now spend a sizeable chunk of my week. Geography I wouldn’t have learned by walking straight from the station to the place where I work.

Following the distractions caused by curiosity can be a risk and sometimes a dangerous one at that. But imagine if no-one in human history had ever taken a risk. If there were no explorers because everyone kept to the same old well-used and well-known pathways. Or no inventors because no-one had ever wondered if there was a better way to do that thing that had been done in the same way for the same time. Or no breakthroughs in medicine because no-one wondered what would happen if you used that method to treat that sickness.

Faith and vision often combine to form glorious risk taking. The disciple Peter took a massive step into the unknown when he stepped out of the boat onto the stormy sea: ‘I wonder if I can walk on water.’ He could have stayed in the boat and been safe. But instead his curiosity, his wonder, his vision and his faith led him to step out of the boat into the unknown where risk met faith and promise and resulted in a miracle.

I don’t expect miracles from my walks of distraction. But I have learned that taking risks is more likely to end in joy than sadness. That nothing I do is wasted. And even apparently dead ends will lead somewhere I’ve not been before.

Sorry. Must go. The train’s arrived at Southampton. I have a walk to do and a few more distractions to follow…

Heather Skull is a former BBC Radio Wiltshire journalist and a member of Trowbridge Baptist Church. She blogs at tractorgirl66.wordpress.com, where this article first appeared

Baptist Times, 09/03/2015
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