Last evening, a few, including Bertha, Jessie and myself, gathered at an undisclosed location in Tillydron Terrace, Old Aberdeen, to celebrate P.T. Forsyth’s birthday, which falls today. (Peter had been back in town to catch up with old friends, and to give an address on Goethe at the Newtondee Village Gentleman’s Club.) At an unarranged point in the evening, some considerable time after dinner, the birthday boy motioned his desire to make a short speech. In addition to being mostly polite, none of the guests at the party were in any mood to argue, and that despite knowing that ‘short’ speeches were not in their friends’ usual repertoire. It was by now late, many of the conversations had degenerated to talk about sports and favourite movies, and most of the guests were semi-sozzled (Laphroaig had been on special this week at Sainsbury’s.) But ever feeling up for the challenge, and most probably to quell the conversations about that most outré of sports, curling, he arose from his burgundy velvet chair, the one with the studded arms, adjusted his perfectly-tied size 16 white cotton bow tie (none of this polyester ‘one-size-fits-all’ arrangement), and spoke of how ‘Life begins as a problem, but when it ends well it ends as a faith: a great problem, therefore a great faith’. Already by this point, some of the guests hoped-against-hope that he’d finished his wee oration on life and, feeling confused but anticipating that they may be able to send a message to the beloved speaker that it might be a good thing if he started to wrap things up, began that body rustle one does to get ready for a few brief jokes and the raising of a glass to the tune of ‘Co-latha-breith sona, Peter’. But he went on:
Ordinary experience gives us the first half, it sets a problem; gives us the first half, it sets a problem; but the second half, the answer of faith to us, comes from God’s revelation of grace … To overcome the world and master life takes all the deep resources of Eternal God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ‘When the Gospel is duly preached it is the Trinity that preaches’ … [Life] offers a task rather than an enjoyment. The soul must be achieved. The kingdom is above all a gift, but it is also a conquest. We are here to fight the good fight rather than to have a good time. The people to whom life is only an excursion, a picnic, a stroll, or a game grow more and more outlanders in society. Most people—more people than ever, at least—feel life’s problem to-day more sharply than ever before. Indeed, some feel nothing else. The trouble with so many serious minds among us is that life is no more than a problem to them. They are loaded with the riddle of it. They are victims of the age of uncertainty and unrest. It is not work that kills, but such worry. What does the life of worry mean but that life is felt to be much more full of problems than of power? … The problem is disquieting, anxious, and even tragic. It is not simply interesting and musing: not like a chess problem, or a mathematical, or a literary, to be solved at arm’s length by our wits for the pleasure of the thing. We are in no Kriegspiel, but in the real thing always. It touches the nerve. It is a problem, it is not a riddle. It has become a war. It involves the realities of life, the things most dear, solemn, searching, commanding. Darkness—is it the cloud of night or the mist of dawn? Disaster—is it there to burn up life, or to temper and anneal it; to crush life, or to rouse in us the spirit that overcomes it? Death —does it explode life or expand it, stifle it or solve it? Life is not a seductive puzzle; it is a tragic battle for existence, for power, for eternal life … To grasp the real, deep tragedy of life is enough to unhinge any mind which does not find God’s solution of it in the central tragedy of the Cross and its redemption. But life’s tragic problem to-day is not merely discussed in salons by philosophers and their circles, nor by petits-raítres and amateurs of thought; it lays hold of almost every man who takes things seriously at all. And especially it takes religion seriously and gets beyond the Cheeryble brothers. Life is not a riddle for a tea-party, but a battle of blood. It is certainly not a matter of snug optimism in philosophy, nor of mauve religion in fiction’.
At this point, Kentigerna said to Somerled, her husband and co-host, ‘Right. Perhaps we ought to attend to the cake and then call it a night. Big day tomorrow at the curling club’. Peter looked sad and, after a permission-giving glance from Bertha and Jessie, headed towards the cake table for the song and ceremonial cutting, not knowing that his words would continue to unsettle the soul, and the nerve, of not a few on the morrow.
Some other guests sat still, almost paralysed, somewhat confused but certainly unhinged by what they had heard. These were brooding on the possibility that somehow and in some way, even in this little loungeroom in Tillydron Terrace, the wind of God had blown through.
For the record, I very much enjoyed the Carob Cake. It had rich, fudgy frosting.