The amiable television and radio presenter Bill Turnbull has disclosed that he is a cancer sufferer.
Not only has he been diagnosed with cancer of the prostate cancer, but he has also been informed that the disease has spread to his bones.
There has been no complaining, simply an appreciation of the career he had enjoyed, and the love of family and friends which has surrounded him. His consultants have advised him that while his condition is incurable, they anticipate that he may live for another ten or even more years. Like execution, the knowledge of one’s approaching death does concentrate the mind wonderfully. The presenter has therefore determined he will make every hour count.
The Russian novelist Dostoyevsky made a similar resolution. As a young man he was arrested as a member of an underground socialist cell in St. Petersburg, and the ruling Tsar demanded exemplary punishment. Twenty members of the group were publicly executed by firing-squad in the centre of the city.
Dostoyevsky, stripped to his underclothes in the freezing December morning, heard his sentence read out. But before he was blindfolded and led to the execution post, the event was stopped. An amnesty had been declared, and his sentence commuted to four years penal servitude in Siberia, and four further years service as a soldier. Writing years later, Dostoyevsky stated that the experience made him resolve that ‘I would turn every minute into an age, nothing would be wasted, every minute would be accounted for.’
Life is a fleeting thing, and many looking back regretted the time they wasted. A king in Shakespeare confessed, ‘I wasted time and now doth time waste me’. Dorothy Wordsworth complained that her brother William was ‘wasting his mind on magazines’, and he himself later confessed that he had ‘read lazily in trivial books’.
Times of leisure are important, of course. We all need space to rest and recover. Jesus knew that time spent in refreshment was not time wasted. He told his disciples, so busy that they scarce had time to eat, that it was important to ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ (Mark 6;31). The labourer who sharpens his tools does not regard that as time wasted; it is time which makes his future work more proficient and effective.
Yet in our age of increasing leisure, we need a different lesson, that of using our time effectively. The New Testament encourages us in Ephesians 5.16 to ‘redeem the time’(Authorized Version) or ‘make the most of every opportunity’(New International Version).
As Benjamin Franklin remarked,’ Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life’s made of’. It could have been Bill Turnbull speaking.