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Thought for the Day - Rabbi Lionel Blue - 06/06/11

Rabbi Lionel Blue

After this thought I must rush back to college to wind up seminars on science and religion, prepare sermons and chat with any students at the bar who need propping up. For all over the country, though exams are ending with jollifications, tense waiting begins for the all important results - the world students are entering is uncertain and unforgiving.

My concern is not with high flyers - who need no help to celebrate but with those who’ve failed or think they’ve failed. I might be able to help them because I was in their position some sixty years ago. I was supposed to get a first but only just scraped through because I had the mother of breakdowns in my second year. Being gay was criminal so I rejected my body, and as a Marxist I no longer believed in my soul. So my mind had to bear life’s burden alone and it cracked. I even toyed with religion, asking a friendly prior what I needed to become a monk and forsake the world. A low sex drive he said frankly and another phantasy hit the dust. My parents also threatened suicide. I remember asking a God I didn’t quite believe in to turn my failure into goodness. To my surprise my worldly failure opened a spiritual door in me. It’s when you lose your footing in life and your false pride goes down the drain that you learn mercy and compassion and what it’s like at the wrong end of the stick. My advice to my students and you dear listeners is Make friends with your failures - they may be the best teachers you’ve got.

Say you want to write a book, not study one. Get a bag from the supermarket and every day scribble one side of A4 and bag it. Only reread it when the bag’s full. You have to work your way through a lot of false starts, failures and wrong things before you realise what’s the right thing for you.

It’s the same with relationships. I’ve had three partners in my life, only the third lasted. But my first two failures taught me that you have to love people as they are, not as you’ld like to them to be - their reality not your wish fulfilment.

Finally some Yiddisher encouragement for those who get tiptop degrees but can’t find jobs. ‘Our son’ said Mrs, Cohen proudly got a double first in politics and economics. ‘Sure he can’t find a job. But our boy’s bright!' She added triumphantly ‘He understands why he can’t find one!’

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