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BBC Radio 4:Rev Dr Rob Marshall - 01/09/17

Good Morning

One of the quotes of the week so far has come from Richard Henry, Curator of the Salisbury Museum who observed: “It’s surprisingly difficult to find someone to run over a hard drive with a steamroller”.

But the author Terry Pratchett’s wish that a hard drive, containing all his unpublished work, should be crushed by a steamroller after his death was finally granted when a steamroller called Lord Jericho at the Great Dorset Steam Fair this week did the trick.

On the back of this, on this programme yesterday, we heard a discussion around posthumous publishing. Should the dead have the last word or should, at least, a bit of time be given to reassess the situation a few years later? The American dramatist Eugene O’Neill wanted 25 years to pass before his play Long Days Journey into Night was performed.

There’s clearly an appeal to an unfinished work. We see a poet, dramatist or novelist prone to exactly the same frustrations as we are when we struggle to use the right words – however hard we try.

Most of us, of course, will be remembered by the words we say during our lifetime – and not in a fine tuned, choreographed kind of way. But by a narrative formed over the course of our interaction with others . Our own words carry more weight than perhaps we imagine as a culminative story emerges. Our words define who we are.

So often, when I visit a bereaved family, they will tell me things that the deceased person used to say. Words which summed them up: and the manner in which they said them: sometimes just a phrase or a word which reflected their spontaneity and character without the slightest hint of control.

It was almost three decades after his own death and resurrection before Jesus’ words were collected, edited and published as a Gospel. But during his lifetime Jesus warns clearly about using what he describes as “empty” words. Instead, he urges, think about what you want to say – for this will ultimately determine not only how you are judged by God but, also by others. [cf Mat 12.36,37]

Looking through the social media activity after Lord Jericho the steamroller had done his work – one person commends Terry Pratchett and tweeted “Words are too important to be left lying around”.

Which is why, whilst we’ve still the time, we should at least be aware that what we say and the way we say it - and how we act in the here and now - will inevitably form and fashion the picture and memory others have of us.

And, let’s be honest, there’s nothing Lord Jericho will be able to do about it!

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