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!
Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Heavy rain and wind in the UK seem relatively mild as I think of the ferocious hurricane over Florida, and of the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, of the continuing tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, and of loss of lives and livelihoods brought about by crises all over the world – both natural and political. There are times when we find ourselves lost for words. Times when the best we can do is hope for ‘a new day.’ Connecting with each other as best we can remains important – even when that connection involves admitting that we really don’t know what to do or say. Sometimes the connection is made by way of stillness and silence, at others by way of ‘small things’ and acts of kindness, come what may …
One thing is certain, and I have always known it – the joys of my life have nothing to do with age. They do not change. Flowers, the morning and evening light, music, poetry, silence, the goldfinches darting about …
Freesias, for me. For my desk. Peppery and colourful. And my best ever morning light? Two best ever! i – Sunrise over Galilee. ii – Normandy. Scented apple orchards and a golden mist hung a few feet above rolling fields, just after sunrise. Evening? In winter when it’s time for firelight. Music? Usually one piece at a time, silence before and aft to hold words, notation, resonance (!) and echo. Poetry? – my way of allowing the Universe to speak to me randomly: close my eyes and take down a volume – pot luck, usually followed by more of good fortune than anticipated. Silence? – why silence? William Stafford’s glorious ‘Listening’ suggests an answer more exquisitely than I’ve ever penned to date. And goldfinches? The ones who seem to enjoy my Japanese Acer as much as I do. Two little tininesses that fly-in disproportionate measures of duty-free joy from wherever they’ve been playing.
My father could hear a little animal step, or a moth in the dark against the screen, and every far sound called the listening out into places where the rest of us had never been.
More spoke to him from the soft wild night than came to our porch for us on the wind; we would watch him look up and his face go keen till the walls of the world flared, widened.
My father heard so much that we still stand inviting the quiet by turning the face, waiting for a time when something in the night will touch us too from that other place.
William Stafford Listening from West of Your City Talisman, 1960
Writing is a journey of discovery that takes me places that I never expected …
… a friend wrote to me today. And – in the way of such things – I have been taken thereby to places that I never expected, wondering all day about the extraordinary gift of languages in words, and in music, which can sometimes transport our words so exquisitely.
When I was first moved by Les Miserables in the 1990s I remember being sure in my mind that Marius’ grieving in Herbert Kretzmer’s Empty Chairs and Empty Tables was not for one revolution alone, but for every reflection and reconsideration of past, present and potential. A Universal Song.
Hearts are breaking all over the world for innumerable reasons today. Too many empty chairs and empty tables. I find myself awed by the purity of young Cormac Thompson’s rendition here – a clarity that carries an invitation to reflect straight to human hearts.
May our words be quiet, kind and clear; may our music sometimes be hope-filled silence – so that we really hear both, allowing ourselves to be reshaped, that we may the better transform our world. A quiet revolution. Thus may we be taken to unexpected, perhaps joy-filled and hopeful places.
8000 miles in diameter. We don’t take up an awful lot of space in the firmament but we sure make a lot of noise at times! I think I knew first time round that Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast was always going to warrant a second seeing soon. Oddly enough, years ago, I saw the 3+ hours long Titanic on two successive nights and was reminded today of her having been built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast’s famous shipyard – but I digress: I think I hoped I’d be able to shape a choate response to Belfast after second seeing. My friend and I agreed that, whilst the glorious cinematography stole hearts the first time, the nuanced and poignant dialogue won the day today. But further response? Still too early. Still too stunning. Especially poignant today – as Ukraine comes under fire. Words fail. I’m sitting in silence, gazing at a photograph of our small and precious planet, and for the umpteenth time I yearn for a quietening, wondering what – in the name of every imaginable good – what do we humans think we’re doing waging war with one another – nation upon nation, or one on one? When will we ever learn? My small silence reaches out unto the greater, knowing Silence. And recalling a bus, trundling down a tragic street, bearing away to unknown future a small and fragile family, far from all that had mothered them, parentally and metaphorically, I keen …
Raining again – and I remember to give thanks for it: everything that is, here, has need of it. I shall be glad of the hot shower when I return home. The grass in near sight and farther, on the fells, is the greener and the richer for it. And the tap tap tapping of raindrops on the hood of my jacket lends a rhythm to my pace and heartbeat so noticeable that it brings me to a standstill, slightly out of breath, and silenced by the grey light of this early morning. And – not for the first time – I know within my soul that music is sometimes silent. It is, in fact, as often silence as it is ‘sound.’ Without the silences, all the notes would be jumbled together. There’d be cacophany, well enough, to be sure, but lacking nuance, depth, expression; dare I say it? – lacking comprehension. But there are two melodies: ‘one easier to hear, the other / lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard / yet always present.’ And I so easily might have missed it – today, and a hundred thousand million times before, and in the future. So I shall try to remember – for I was, am, and will be created by The Great Silence.