Fire Precautions

It’s been a tiring week, so on Friday night I was pleased to be able to get to bed at a reasonable time. I drifted off within minutes, but woke again in about an hour. Too much on my mind. I put on the Walkman, and drifted away once more. Those little earbuds are useful, in that they will stay in place when you drop off, and deaden any noises from out in the street. This is handy during the summer months, when you want to leave the window open all night. 

I often wonder why the residents of the small estate at the bottom of our street ever bother going out in search of entertainment, since they return from their late-night revelry in the foulest of tempers, screaming and shouting at each other and abusing the world at large as well. It isn’t my idea of fun.

Just before three o’clock in the morning I woke up again. Someone was shouting, and even the earbuds were unable to block it out. It didn’t sound like the usual obnoxious, drunken obscenities. It was loud and hard and hateful, a man’s voice rising over and above a woman’s shrill tones. My memory is a little hazy, as I was still half asleep, but it was along the lines of: “It’s over! It’s done with! I’m completely (expletive deleted) with you! It’s over! I’m done with you!” A door slammed, there were a few more noises; then the rest, as they say, was silence.

Later that morning my neighbour and I were talking over the backyard wall, discussing The Return Of The Hot Tub. After the ritual “You rich people! You know how to live!” remark, I asked him if he’d heard anything during the night. Yes, he said, and he lowered his voice, and pointed a few doors down, and made a couple of comments that it would not be right to repeat. Then we went on to the water shortage, and to his holidays, and I went back inside.

It was on my mind for the rest of the day. I was sorry for those involved; but it also brought back memories of long ago, and a conversation with a former friend. His marriage was breaking down, and I was trying to encourage him to make another effort to save it, “if only for the sake of your children...” But the clichés didn’t do any good. It didn’t matter, there was no point, it was all over.                     

"But why not give it another try?”

It was an unremarkable reply, just as clichéd, in its way.

"There have been things said that can’t be unsaid.”

The words have stayed with me over the years, as has the expression on his face; and that is a good thing. Why so? Because they have helped me to hold back from saying many things - in anger, in frustration, in fear - on many occasions: words that would have harmed and hurt and been of no help whatsoever. Once uttered, no matter how hard I might have tried, they could never have been taken back. 

I also remembered a conversation a couple of years before that. I was talking to a psychiatrist that I knew - socially, rather than professionally. I was trying to sound wise beyond my years - how embarrassing, looking back! - and I had casually remarked that I always tried to learn from my mistakes. He shrugged his shoulders. “Why not learn from other people’s mistakes? You’ll find that it’s a lot less painful.” Ouch, as they used to say in comics.            

"There have been things said that can’t be unsaid.” 

Proverbs 18.21 reminds us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”, and James urges the following upon his “beloved brothers”: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”

I’ll leave you to look up those texts in context and to ponder upon them, should you so wish. It’s time I had a little rest, and caught up on lost sleep.