And it seemed that the wind stilled and that stars above our heads prepared themselves for the night lighter’s quiet encouragement to twinkle. A single lamp behind a window animated a framed oil painting in much the same way that toys leap and dance around a nursery in the moments before nanny tidies them into the stillness of the night hours. And the painting, and the toys, and the sunset watchers alike breathe softly, profoundly aware of the gift of a great, deep, silence – a silence that is itself an abiding friendship; for all of our many busynesses, words and music are steadied and reassured when they find their treasured place between sunrise and sunset, sunset and sunrise, stillness and silence – glad companions …
Have you noticed forgetting even the most piercing, wind-driven cold when faced by astonishing beauty? Friends have been sending me glorious photos of sunrise and sunsets in Edinburgh. Two drove South for a happy day in Lakeland today, and as we watched the sun go down, albeit that we had to watch our footing on ice, I don’t think any of us felt the cold!
I wonder how many conversations you have been engaged in today? How much eye contact, argument, celebration, compassion, healing, helping, hoping, learning, listening, mourning, speaking, tenderness, touch, understanding, writing?
And I wonder how much distance has been lessened by all of the above? How connected we’re able to feel with our fellow pilgrim-explorers on the face of this beautiful and extraordinary – but complex and sometimes tragic – earth?
To my surprise, I’ve had to revisit my count for the day – there’s been far more connection than I at first recalled when my question arose; and the types and variety of connections have been wide – all covering, so to speak, a lot of ground.
This often astonishing array of worldwide connection is the daily stuff of my life – of our lives. And in each connected dew-drop shimmering in the web there are untold depths and reach of reflection and of prospect. Alone but accompanied, I come to the close of another day aware of many levels of gratefulness – and of love.
It’s as though Whoever’s in charge of the weather knew that frost and a wide blue sky were called for today. New Year requires, somehow, that – at least for a while – we come out of our various forms of domestic hibernation / indulgence to breathe a bracing air. I greeted a couple of neighbours on the road and smiled at the young family who were revelling in the clean, cold, still spaciousness as much as I was – rosy cheeked little one carried aloft on Daddy’s shoulders. I greeted the day, the sun, the earth, the sky. New year, new day. Life’s way.
Sitting over words very late I have heard a kind of whispered sighing not far like a night wind in the pines or like the sea in the dark the echo of everything that has ever been spoken still spinning its one syllable between the earth and silence
W S Merwin
It’s quiet in Lakeland tonight as I bring to mind some of the human encounters I have enjoyed in the year just past. It’s an enriching exercise: for all that there will have been innumerable encounters now forgotten – as in the blink of an eye – so, too, I revisit so many remembered.
Month by month – sometimes aided by a photograph, sometimes a remembered dance, poem, scent, sentence, song, taste, touch, laugh or cry – I see again the faces I’ve connected with: I feel again the berating, the beautiful, the bereaved, the creating, the fleeting, the holiday-making, the joyful, the laughing, the living, the loving, the sick and the dying. Ponderous window shoppers, kindly parents helping their children build sand castles, ninety-nine year old Mrs M telling me her glad story on a bench in summer sunlight at Holyrood. Awe-struck fellow sunset-watchers atop Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat.
Shadows, mine and theirs, touching one another, the hula-hoopers and the slack-rope walking, the community circus and its hand-painted tickets, the Hanover Street cupcakes, the Abyssinian acrobats, the nervous Festival comics warming to their being well-received, the picnics, the walks, the boat rides and the conversations at brasserie tables. Glowing people. Shining individuals. The thoughtful, the generous and the kind. Sharers. People who know me as neighbour. Others who love me without limit, or shyness, or any obvious reason.
The lovingly-tended campfires at the beach and the bothy, the faces glowing pink, the huge shared cooking pot, the miracle of poppadoms, the warm ease of friends gathered in an Edinburgh flat for a summer celebration party, the quietly spoken community seated in a warm circle in the dark on Salisbury Crags, the Lakeland walks and talks, theatre companions, good company at supper, the human contacts warming hearts across neighbourhoods, cities, towns, villages – and oceans. Those who will not, or do not, or cannot talk much but yet communicate deep truths in many another way. Rainbows. Sunrises. Sunsets. Streams, summer swimming, icy dips, rivers, oceans, mountains, plains, cloudscapes, cobwebs, frost covered fields, wildflowers, the urban fox in moonlight.
The shop assistant who will have forgotten me though I recall her kindness, the hugs and the warm encouragements, the quiet conversations and the vigorous, noisy ones. Grandchildren at the swing park, Christmas television with my mother, Christmas lunch at a grand family table, hot chocolate in a Christmas Market with friends who make a cold night warmer, those who remember me – and keep in touch, the war torn and the weary, the bright-eyed and patient soul sitting hopefully in front of the food hall who sleeps under cardboard at night and still smiles again next morning.
We’re made for these encounters and they grow us. I’d do well to make more time, in the course of a year, not just at new year, to recall them – the chastening and the happy, the celebratory and the sad, the murmurs like a night wind in the pines. I’m amazed at the panoply still held in the many rooms of my mind. Recalling rich seams of life’s being lived, I look forward to more such living – and more remembering – in a happy, hopeful 2023.