Dear Donagh, I've been meaning to write to you for a long time, I think you may be able to help me. […] I was married for 18 years and widowed three years ago, but I pulled my life together and I carry on, but with an empty feeling at times. […] There’s a woman at work to whom (I have to admit) I'm very attracted. She is single, and I worked out that she is ten years younger than me. She has always been friendly towards me, but then she's friendly to everyone. I fantasise about our friendship developing. I would love to spend the rest of my life with her, but I could never get up the courage to ask her out for a meal or a drink. If she thought I was too forward it could destroy everything. When I think about doing it I feel like a kid and Im too embarrassed. I'm afraid too of what my own children would think of me. So I'm stuck there. When I read this long letter now I don’t really know what I'm asking you. I was going to scrap it, but I'll send it anyway. If there’s anything you can say to me I'd be grateful. Tom
Dear Tom, Thanks for writing, I'm glad you did. I omitted the parts that would identify you and where you work - this internet is a very public place, you know! Unless, of course, you wanted your friend to discover your feelings this way…! But I think not.
I'll take one aspect of your letter and try to respond to it here, and I'll send you an email in which I'll talk about the ‘heart’ issue - I have no experience or skills in that area. I noticed a theme of hesitation running through your letter, and I'll take that up here.
When we hesitate, things immediately begin to look bigger and more difficult. A letter to be written weighs just a few grams in reality, but in the mind it weighs a ton; and it keeps putting on weight every day that we don’t write it. Everything, even the smallest thing, becomes a problem - because of postponement. Soon, everything is a burden. To ask your friend if she would like to go for a coffee or a meal with you is nowhere near a proposal of marriage. But if you think long enough about it you’ll start wondering if you should get down on one knee. Since there’s a friendly atmosphere in your office, it would seem to me - and to anyone else, I think - the most casual thing in the world. If you are really terrified, ask her while you have some papers in your hand, so that you can mask your anxiety by pretending to be busy with them, if she says she has an appointment with the hairdresser. That's what I would do, anyway.
But to get back to more general considerations (that's what I specialise in!): postponement is the trick for burdening oneself. It is a kind of holding back, from fear or from laziness: fear in your case. But the space created by the holding back is the very space in which your fear grows. Fear is irrational in this situation, and that makes it all the easier for it to manipulate your rationality. You think of a thousand things that could go wrong: all very rational - but irrational.
I heard the other day that if the wren (the second smallest bird in Ireland) were the size of a human being, its voice, magnified in proportion, would register on the Richter scale. It would have no trouble filling the National Concert Hall! Everyone would have to have earplugs. Maybe even seatbelts. But we human beings use only a trickle of our energy. That constriction is caused by thinking too much, which in turn is caused by fear. Your approach “could destroy everything,” you said. What's the ‘everything’ it could destroy? There's nothing there: you’ve put nothing on the table. If we were to think long enough about anything we could list a thousand reasons for not doing it. When something is right we don’t need any reason at all for doing it. What reasons do you need for eating when you are hungry or going to bed at night? Or, to go back a step further: what reasons did you have for being born? What reasons will you need to die? If we were consulted about these things we would never do either of them.
I did two other sections of this month’s material with your question in mind. Take a look at ‘Jacob’s Well’ and ‘Wisdom Line’.
Someone said that today is the tomorrow you were thinking about yesterday. But now that it’s here you do nothing with it, and you start thinking about another tomorrow…. My advice to you is: do it now! And the best of luck to you, Tom!