Word of the year 2017

I walked from my office, down the long dark hallway, up the stairs, past the big window that looks over the car-park, answered the door, signed for the parcel, and walked back to my office. Expect I wasn’t walking, I was rushing. My footsteps thudded through the carpet onto the wooden floorboards, creaking and squeaking them where we had lifted and relaid them, last year. My thoughts raced a few steps ahead of me, and I tried to catch up with them. I was answering the door long before I reached the door, and as I answered the door I was already back in my office, answering the next email.

What am I adding to the world, when I fall into states like this? What does the quiet person in the library, next to my office, make of my percussive comings and goings?

A few years ago Satya introduced me to the idea of having a word for the year. I have chosen a word each year, since then. Sometimes it guides me consciously, like an extra precept I keep in mind, checking myself against. Sometimes it sinks into unconscious depths, and works away without me knowing much about it, until I look back on the year and trace the path I have walked.

On New Year’s Day I was thinking about a word for this year. I remembered rushing, and thought of the tortoise and the hare. A few days before the end of the 2016 I had seen a bronze hare and tortoise, a few inches high, in a gallery in Ludlow. If I was a rich man, I might have come home with it, but as I’m not, I appreciated it where it was. Perhaps the image had stayed with me.

But the word that floated into my mind, along with this image, was turtle, not tortoise. I gently chastised my mind, putting it down to a linguistic filing error, but turtle was the word my mind kept returning too. I gave it some attention then. Turtles are not slow, as far as I know, in the way that tortoises are. But they are graceful in the water, and there was something appealing about that, rather than the ponderous slowness that I associate with the tortoise.

I thought of Pratchett’s Great A’Tuin then: the giant turtle who swims through space, carrying the Discworld on his (or her) back.

In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…

Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination. In a brain bigger than a city, with geological Slowness, He thinks only of the Weight. Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and startanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.

From ‘The Colour of Magic’

Here is a slowness that is graceful and grounded. The turtle is the solid ground on which everything else rests, and perhaps, as the old joke goes, “It’s turtles all the way down”.

Thinking of the careful grace with which that giant turtle swims through the stars, I settled on grace as my word of the year.

I like the double meaning: the sense of graceful movement, which is the opposite of rushing; and the sense of being blessed. Perhaps the latter leads to the former: the more aware I am of being blessed, the less I worry, so the less I rush. Perhaps the former leads to the latter: the less rushed I am, the less busy my mind is, which allows me to be more aware of the blessings I receive.


1 Comment

  1. I do this too, last year it was simplicity. Now I’m confused because I want to choose simplicity again, but feel I should move on. I might spend the entire year now trying to find the word!

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