Last night I watched Jeremy Paxman ‘putting up with Parkinsons’. Paxman is endearingly straightforward, a quality that in other arenas, and former days, could come across as formidable and frightening for those on the sharp end of his questioning. But last night we saw a pleasant and endearing person, still straightforward in his speech, but a language which now reveals a simple vulnerability in the man. And it is our vulnerability that endears us to one another. We do not like to live with people who are dressed in invincible body armour. We need more comfortable humanity to share the sofa with.
At one point Paxman goes to visit Sharon Osbourne, wife of Ozzy, the singer with Black Sabbath. In the course of early conversation Sharon asks Paxman, ‘Are you married?’ Paxman answers ‘No’. ‘Oh for God’s sake,’ says Sharon, ‘Who have you got to tell you things?’ This line was for me the highlight of the programme. Yes the piece was about Parkinson’s disease, and very good it was too, but it was this line from Sharon that hit home with me.
For a great deal of my life I did not have anyone to tell me things. If you go into catholic celibate priesthood this can happen. You have no close or intimate other to tell you things you need to know about yourself: Things that you cannot tell yourself. When I left priesthood and monasteries and came to be with my wife and son, I suddenly found myself with two people who had no hesitation in telling me things about my self. It was a new experience. I am very grateful for it.
Self-knowledge does not come from simply looking in a mirror. Self-reflection is all well and good but it is not the final word. We all need another person to tell us things about ourselves that we are blissfully unaware of. We hope for sympathetic observations but we do not need soft soap. We need observations that bring light into our life.
So, thank you to Sharon Osbourne and her direct and straightforward question – Who have you got to tell you things?