Below is a little story I told a good few years ago. I was reminded of it recently by a reader of the book, 'Mindful Days', in which it appeared.
He suggested that I run it again for those who hadn't been on the list when it first went out.
So, here it is.
"It’s a peculiar thing about life, but we can learn anywhere, at any time, at any age.
Sixty nine years ago, in a small seaside fishing village, I first learned a lesson in life that, though I didn’t recognize it at the time, was one of the most inspiring and useful pieces of practical wisdom that anyone could wish to experience.
“Take your decision, do it with a will, and see it through.”
I was ten years old when I was first told that.
Like most people, I was influenced in life by certain figures.
In times of difficulty, or indecision, or when faced with problems, I have turned often to my people of influence for guidance and direction.
Three people figured mainly in my life; an American President, an English Novelist, and Jake.
Jake was a gentle, fearsome, giant of a man.
I first met him when I was ten, in nineteen fifty four, on a scorching July day. I had been swimming in Kilmore Quay harbour. I had paused at his moored boat for a rest, and seeing no one aboard, I had climbed up on the stern deck, where I’d soon fallen asleep in the hot sun.
And that was where he found me, a short time later, when he came to work on his boat.
Jake was highly regarded in the community, not only as a as a fisherman, but even more as a seaman, and highly esteemed as a sailor and a member of the lifeboat crew. He was a quiet, softly spoken individual, except when angered.
In those days, trespassing on property of any kind, usually meant a clip on the ear and being dragged to your parents to explain yourself, or, if you were unlucky, to the local sergeant.
But Jake’s approach was different. He started to talk to me about the coiled ropes underneath the deck, about tillers, rudders, masts and spars, jibs, mainsails, blocks, halyards, lanyards, beam widths, waterlines, and the thousand and one other things related to small sailing vessels.
For Jake’s boat had no engine. You either went with the power of the wind, or got the oars out and put your back into it.
Jake was also reputed to have seven bullets in his body, picked up on a beach in Normandy ten years prior to our meeting. He was rumoured to be living on borrowed time. I never asked about it, and he never offered information, except to say he was on the D-Day invasion, and that was that.
Tragically, the rumour about his borrowed time was true, and Our Jake succumbed to his terrible injuries three years later.
But in those three years, I spent much time with him, hauling lobster pots, laying long lines out around the Saltee Islands, and on the warm windy days in August, chasing the Mackerel up and down Ballyteigue Bay, between Kilmore and Duncannon.
For every day I was privileged to spend with him, he never, ever, let me leave his company without the admonition,
“Whatever you do in Life, Boy, take your decision, do it with a will, and see it through.”
And so, I learned a lot about maintaining, repairing, running, and sailing, one of the fastest, over-canvassed, best made boats on the South East Coast.
What I didn’t realise, was that the man was giving me one of the best life lessons that any boy could get.
Though I did discover that later.
A few years after Jake’s death, in my late teens, and my adulation for John F Kennedy, the American President, and Howard Spring, the English Novelist, was at its height. I realised that my admiration for both men was because, to my mind, they both fulfilled Jake’s criterion for life, ‘Take a decision, do it with a will, and see it through.’
JFK had shown his mettle in the Bay of Pigs incident, not to mention taking on Organised Crime with his brother Bobby.
Howard Spring was a perfect role model for any aspiring writer, of any age. He had developed himself in life from very humble and disadvantaged origins, into a journalist, and then a novelist, of the highest calibre.
It was Howard Spring who, for his powers of observation, Churchill brought when he went to meet with Stalin and Roosevelt in the Second World War.
Often, in times of difficulty or indecision, I have asked myself what Jake would do in the same circumstances.
Whatever the answer, it has always been a help.
And even now, over 69 years on, when the apprehensions, the doubts, the anxieties, begin to creep in on some project or scheme I’m working on, I hear again that strong, resonant voice, “Take your decision, do it with a will, and see it through.”
And I do.