After returning earlier than anticipated from a visit to Australia recently, I immediately made an appointment to see a medical practitioner at my local surgery.
I had been advised to do this following a health concern whilst in Australia, one that involved a number of examinations and tests whilst in that country. As there is no NHS in Australia (health care is privatised), there was also a financial consideration to take into account.
Following extensive discussion about medical matters affecting me, the doctor who examined me at the surgery, knowing that I had the title “Dr” before my name (it was on my medical record with the surgery), asked me if I was a medical doctor. It would seem that, during our conversation, I had used sufficient medical terms and with some accuracy to lend credence to the possibility. I duly explained that the medical knowledge I may have shown was an accumulation of medical and hospital jargon and procedures (hence knowledge about them) over time.
I further informed the doctor that the doctorate in my possession was, in fact, for studies in a branch of theology – and one with very few implications for medicine (though my doctorate is of a professional nature modelled on the Doctor of Medicine awarded in the United States).
Over the years, in both my professional career and privately, I have welcomed the opportunity of conversing in matters theological with a wide variety of people. Not all of these people have had an academic background in areas of study to do with theology, but their conversation indicated that they were well read in the subject – or, at least, capable of putting across a point of view (not always the same thing).
To be sure, in these days of universal education, multiple printing houses, newspapers, educational radio and television, the internet and a wide variety of informative CD’s and DVD’s, it is possible to become quite knowledgeable about anything from gardening to astronomy – the former has little appeal to me, whilst the latter challenges me to the point of awe.
That is not to say, of course, that the day of listening and following the advice and practical example of the experts is over. This is certainly not the case.
I will always be grateful that I can be treated by a medical practitioner who specialises in medicine and surgery, or can view DVD’s produced by reputable academics about subjects that continue to stir the embers of academic enquiry that are still warm inside me, or, as a former teacher, I can have confidence that today’s children and young people will be taught by teachers who not only have an academic background in the subjects they teach but also have been trained in the techniques and skills associated with the teaching of those subjects – a topic of some concern in the UK at present.
It is probably for the above reasons, and others like them, that I would consider myself to be a person for whom the “glass is only half-full”. I believe that the glass can be further filled. Some might consider that this makes me a person who is never satisfied. In some respects that may, arguably, be a way at looking at a part of my character.
However, permit me to illustrate my viewpoint with reference to my academic background.
I left secondary school at age 15 – to be trained for an expected career in telecommunications – with a respectable but not particularly eminent Technical School Diploma. Whilst still a teenager, and in preparation for a new career in the ministry of the Christian Church, I resumed part-time academic study in order to matriculate for university and theological school studies – which I then undertook full-time for four years from age 23 (and a further 10 years part time after that).
As a married man with a family and holding-down two church appointments, I commenced post-graduate studies in my late 30’s. This process came to an end with the gaining of a doctorate in ministry and then post-graduate studies in education a year or two after reaching the mid-century of my life. Comparatively few of my first 50 years were void of study of one kind or another (even though I had no formal pre-school educational experience).
Whether it was the consequence of leaving formal secondary schooling at a relatively early stage, or simply a desire to acquire knowledge across a variety of disciplines, I was obviously not content with the academic glass being only half-full, or less. Other “glasses” associated with my life, for example, sporting achievement, remained at various levels as a matter of choice. I will leave others to be the judges of whether or not other major areas of my life, for example, as a husband, a father, a friend or a colleague, were glasses that remained half-filled (or less) or reached for the top.
I regard it as one of the privileges and joys of retirement to be able to look back over the life that I have so far enjoyed and to reflect on what have been the achievements, disappointments and all those things in-between – to measure the level of the various glasses that could describe my life. This process would be done in the hope and trust that sufficient life – in terms of time, energy, relationships and, yes, even finance -remains for me to do something about, if not remain content with, the measures already poured out.
Part of that enterprise will be the continuation of my pursuit of knowledge and, hopefully, the acquiring of some wisdom along the way. In this way I will be able to enjoy the conversations I have with family, friends, former colleagues and even the future unknown persons with whom I will cross paths or sit next to on a park bench.
Let me conclude with one example of the above.
Last week I accompanied my wife to the staging of the “Antiques Roadshow” at Kirby Hall, a former stately home – now mainly in ruins – in Northamptonshire. After lunch, and whilst Vicky explored the various stalls, I sat at a table in the open-air lunch area and was soon joined by two strangers, a mother and her daughter. The mother was of my vintage, but it was the daughter who subsequently proved to be the conversationalist.
From an initial comment about the acceptable level of the beef-burgers we each enjoyed for lunch, we graduated to a lengthy conversation that included: the areas of Northampton in which we each lived, stately homes, television programmes, politics, religion, pop music over the decades, the up-coming soccer World Cup and, no doubt, other topics I cannot remember due to the delightful engagement in the ones I can remember sharing.
I am not sure how full would have been the conversational glass in the surgery of the medical practitioner I spoke with on my return from the interrupted visit to Australia. I am quite sure, however, had there been a glass on the table that could have measured the level and contentment of the conversation at Kirby Hall, then I feel sure that it would have been near the brim.
In the final analysis, I suppose the question of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty depends on which of life’s numerous “glasses” is being measured.