Encounters

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Utterance

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.

Happy New Year! xx

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