Letter from Roger Tarbuck, June-July 2017

Dear Friends,

I can’t play the guitar properly. I can’t even play badly. I couldn’t play with my teacher. I couldn’t play with a metronome. I couldn’t play for anyone, except through a closed door, if they happened to be passing at the time. But in spite of all this, I’ve owned a guitar for the past fifty-seven years. Good grief! How daft I must be to hang on to such a state of mediocrity, of unsuccess, of living in hopeless, helpless, useless failure, getting nowhere fast – in fact, going backwards now, because arthritis and neuropathy affect my hands and all I can do is play the simplest stuff, with plenty of stumbling and stopping and starting again, which has always been my normal method of playing.

But I love the classical guitar. I love to listen to others playing. I love toiling in my own simple way, and in 2004 I was presented with another love – a flamenco guitar. It’s divine – like having a wife and a mistress (so they say). Each guitar complements the other and in its own way provides the exercise which is necessary for my arthritic fingers. Music-wise, I haven’t got much further than the standard I reached a short time after starting, over half a century ago. At that stage, after about ten lessons, I could battle my way through a sweet little piece and my teacher at the music school suggested that I should play it at the weekly concert given by the students and listened to by students, staff and friends, for which I would have to wear a black-tie suit, hired from Moss Bros. I was absolutely terrified and said no. I knew what would have happened – I’d have jellified in front of all those clever people and slithered helplessly from the stage, never to be seen again by friend or foe.

I’ve mentioned before – I must have done – what Sherlock Holmes said: “Everyone should have the luxury of doing one thing badly.” He was, of course, referring to his violin playing, and hinting that the other stuff that he did was done superbly. Well, I’m not in that category. I can do the bad part easily but not the superb bit and I know that I speak for a lot of ordinary people. We are what I call – after Theresa May’s Just About Managing people – the Just About Muddling people.

We need clever, energetic folk. They have God’s gifts and a duty to use them. And people, young and old, need to be encouraged to do their best, but in all this encouragement, little thought is given to the muddling people who fall by the wayside, except for them to be given evermore vigorous encouragement, which can make the person who has repeatedly failed to do well feel pretty wretched, an outcast – perhaps even suicidal. The successful people don’t all know about this. Thank goodness they’ve taken the word “dunce” out of school. Once given, it could stick for life.

What a relief it is to accept your deficiencies, to discover, also, that there are certain things you can do, with people who can help you to open your personality and widen your vision to countless opportunities in life. A young pupil may be depressed and made ill with worrying about facing a university course. He or she knows that they can’t cope. People have been bullying them about it always, and they just haven’t been able to grasp the work, but then they meet someone who tells them about alternative ways in which they can make a career through apprenticeships and special training courses, which can bring out the best in them – ideas they’ve never dreamed of.

All my life I wanted to enter the Church, but couldn’t accept the dogma. Then I discovered Unitarianism. I was trained by sympathetic people, and I thank God that I was so guided. I know my limitations, and I’m grateful to the many good and talented friends I have made. Some are wizards at administration; some are good with children, others with the elderly. But we are not all good at everything, and in some things we are not very good at all.

In the ministry, some are spiritual athletes, some are great leaders, yet others are blessed with humility, who accept their own imperfections and weaknesses. Acceptance – that is what we all need, acting on what we are able to do well and using our lesser abilities – or inabilities – to understand our own situation and that of others who will need our sympathy and understanding when light doesn’t shine upon them. That is when all of us can come to the level of the lowliest sufferer of failure, and shine the light of comfort, hope and joy. And if that thing we can’t do well is harmless and enjoyable, well lets jolly well do it!

Yours sincerely,
Roger Tarbuck