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 …
My lovely friend and poet Julie Carter came for supper tonight. We’ve laughed a lot, been thankful for a lot, and cried too. Most of all we’ve talked about our human need to hang on to hope whilst noticing the indomitable insistence on peace and the fundamental goodness of life in some of the most unlikely, hurting places. May I commend this video, and Julie’s ‘Songs of Springtime’ (link) … ?
Even on a dreich day in Edinburgh, shrouded in mist, there’s still a wonderful buzz in the city – where the Science Festival exhibits outside the Royal Academy are attracting good conversations and cheering laughter.
The thing that’s delighted me most today, though, has been the arrival of Victory Kitty from Ukraine(link) into the household of the inspirational Yaroslava – sharing her #warcoffee (link) tweets with a huge and inspired community of wellwishers all over the world.
Newly returned to their own home, Yaroslava and her son have been longing for the arrival of their new kitten. It has truly warmed my soul to see images of the tiny bundle of joy playing and settling with them.
There are some really great souls in this world who encounter Victory in tiny, gentle, lovely things, no matter what …
Daily conversations touch upon the shock and grief that pervades the air as hearts reach out to Ukraine. Closer to home in the UK there are daily reports of extreme poverty as energy and food prices soar. There and here we struggle to find words to express the sense of helplessness and underlying fear in so many, many lives. And so for me, tonight, as so often before, I am profoundly grateful for those whose words, and others whose whole-life examples, articulate what, with the best will in the world, I cannot …
Dozens of lambs cheerfully cavorting like mini jump jets – many of them calling ‘mmmaaaaaam’ – have added to the sunshiny beauty of this Mothering Sunday. I’ve been chatting on the phone with my 86 year old mum while out walking this afternoon. Were I still to have her energy, enthusiasm and zest for life at that age I shall be a happy man! Meanwhile ‘happy is how I look / and that is all …’ – be it in Lakeland, in Edinburgh, or in dozens of other wonderful places, all around the world. And happier? – yes, when I think of the peace that must come for Ukraine and other war-torn nations – sooner, rather than later.
Caoineadh Cú Chulainn, Bill Whelan Uilleann Pipes, Tara Howley
This is lament and love for an entire culture: a piece about mourning Cú Chulainn, a warrior hero and demigod in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, as well as in Scottish and Manx folklore. The underlying ‘drone’ of orchestral harmonies that are gradually heard here, like ‘dawn’ behind and around the lone (in this case, female) Uilleann piper, may bring tears to your eyes. Our lives are surrounded and supported by ‘other’ sounds – the cantus firmus, the enduring melody.
Friends have responded to a musical note at the end of my piece about Riverdance the other day: that it might usefully take up a post in its own right. ‘Lament’ has a place in all our lives as an encourager of reflection, a being present to what is, now, and an invitation to hope for the future, even when ‘the times’ feel bleaker than bleak – immense courage notwithstanding. This morning I heard a young girl, a seven year old soloist, beautifully singing the Ukranian National Anthem in a crowded Polish stadium. I cried. And I cry out, reaching for hope and harmony. Riverdance (and all that the notion of a river’s ‘dance’ might imply) came to mind, in company and in harmony with treasured friends, and again and again I have listened to the depth in this Lament – and invite you today, in the coming days, and months and years, to listen and to lament too – because harmonies do dawn – quietly, courageously, and persistently. And tears carry pain away down-river – to join in the being held, by a vast ocean.
News bulletins 24/7 speak of terrible atrocities, fear, grief, hunger and pain in Ukraine. Hope is not easy to come by for people under bombardment and terror-struck.
May the sight of the homecoming of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori be an icon of courage, hope and all things humane. Whether at home, on the move, or in the corridors of aid, diplomacy and power, may hope and courage prevail.
First lawn mowing and raised-bed weeding of the season today. Satisfaction paradoxically coupled with prayer for peace in Ukraine – with every weed pulled and every blade of grass trimmed.
Every glass of water, cup of coffee, conversation, good book, meal, news bulletin, sleep or walk brings Kyiv to mind. Yaroslava wrote in her Twitter war diary yesterday
I dream come back home. Drink my delicious coffee. Read my books.
Break for #warcoffee. I write this diary for 20 days. Sometimes it feels like 20 years. During these ‘years’ I’ve been changing. Values, beliefs, thoughts. So the diary is not only about ordinary woman living through the war. It’s about new me being born.
Digging my garden, mowing my lawn, thinking of you and of all your fellow Ukranians, Yaroslava, my prayer is for a new and peace-loving inter-national ‘we’ being born.
The signs of Spring are all around us and we can’t stop our spirits rising to sunlight, crocuses, cherry blossoms, blue skies and daffodils – even while torn, conflicted, shattered, and full of admiration, too, for Yaroslava, the young Ukranian woman who wrote:
the birds were singing. I felt relieved. Dreamt about how I would be traveling around the world with my peace mission …
Rosemerry’s poetic touching upon the meaning of paradox is a gift that I shall return to often – a psalm of life, a profound reflection, something I know I will share with fellow wondering, wandering pilgrims for years to come, a great grace that has steadied my faltering.
I am astonished by, and profoundly grateful for the two wonderful women cited here – each bearing the weight of unimaginable pain. Each insistently singing more than one note at a time – and effectively inviting me (and all of us) to cry and laugh and love and dream and pray and sing along …
It’s an extraordinary world. Not so very long ago I could never have imagined I’d be keeping company – while seated right here in the UK – with piano improvisation teachers based in both South Africa and the Netherlands. There’s so much potential for good in a communicating and connected world. My friend in South Africa teaches a form of improvised ‘authentic singing’ alongside a piano improvisation that relies a great deal upon practised listening. Singing and playing today enabled at least some outlet for my frustrated sense that asking innocents fleeing from war zones to jump through well-nigh-impossible administrative hoops is – whichever way one looks at it – just fundamentally wrong. When our fears and ‘what ifs’ purport to trump the various degrees of hell from which millions are fleeing we’re in desperate need of some new improvisations. We need to be singing entirely new songs for our fellows from Ukraine – just as, one day, we might need them to sing some for us …
Sometimes I’m surprised by the most vivid memories of people, places, thoughts and treasures – and I’m so thankful for the wonders of the reflective human brain, albeit that as a young schoolboy I was convinced that mine was duller than everyone else’s!
These images, captured in Edinburgh a year ago, make me glad to be alive – and hugely looking forward to my forthcoming return there. I am one of life’s ‘returners.’ I love to retrace my steps in the times and spaces that have brought the joy in the centre of me most fully to life – even whilst occupied, too, with the new.
I am so lost for words when I think of Ukraine today that I hardly dare speak of it at all. But being ‘lost’ is no excuse for forgetting – and I am in awe of the courage, hope and kindness that we’ve seen coming to the fore in many a news bulletin – in the face of truly unspeakable events.
Perhaps we all love to retrace at least some of our steps? Perhaps our human ability to ‘relive’ joy is one of our chief sources of fuel for life – and even for facing up to the reality of (our own) death; for courage in times of darkness, for compassion when we hear another’s crying, for hope when everything we hold dear appears threatened?
Whoever we are, wherever we are, wherever we came from, wherever we hope to go – and especially today if we’re fearful, or feeling helpless – make eye contact.
It doesn’t matter with whom. All that’s needed is that they’re willing to gaze too. Let us learn to set words aside for a space, as often as may be, and simply to hold one another’s gaze. What we identify through the ‘windows of the soul’ is beyond words.
We turn from the windows to open doors and borders – and oddly, what we thought we saw in another we recognise, maybe for the first time in a long time, in ourselves.