Wednesday 6 December 2017

It's starting to look a lot like...

Tis the season to be jolly. Joy to the world. Peace to all mankind. Happy holidays, merry Christmas, church bells and jingle bells and cinnamon and oranges. Smile, laugh, be busy, spend money, see family, eat, drink, and be merrier than ever. 

No pressure there then. 

This year, I'm thinking of four more families who have entered the club no one wants to join; families facing their first Christmas without their beloved precious child. 

Families asking, how do we do Christmas now? How can we celebrate, with such a big hole? But also, how can we not celebrate, for the sake of our other children? 

Imi died four days before Christmas Eve. That tends to blow a bit of a hole in the whole excitement about the run up to Christmas. We buried her big sister on the last day of November, a whole three months after she had died. That also  has a bit of an effect on Advent. 

Grief runs like words through a stick of rock. Hard, inescapable, but achingly sweet. 

And I'm drawn back to that first Christmas. A tale almost too familiar in its repetition. A girl, pregnant, giving birth miles from home without a proper roof over her head. Angels celebrating. Humble shepherds gathering to worship. Heaven come down. 

Beautiful. Ageless. A miracle. God on Earth. We know the story. 

But I'm wondering about God the Father, God the Holy Spirit. One tiny baby Jesus, naked and vulnerable, entrusted to Mary and Joseph, sentenced before birth to a life none of us would choose for our child. And two thirds of the Holy Trinity stepping back, releasing their son, knowing what would happen, but easing him out of Heaven anyway. There was great rejoicing in the land. But I wonder if maybe there was a great mourning in Heaven? An anticipation of Easter? Things would most definitely never be the same again. 

Fast forward a bit, and whilst Jesus and his earthly parents become refugees in Egypt for a time (and don't tell me that was no loss to their own wider family and friends), Bethlehem weeps for the mass murder of every male baby under one year old. Somehow, I can't see Bethlehem continuing to celebrate that holy birth whilst weeping for their lost generation. 

A visit from wise men, or kings, stargazers certainly. And gifts. Gold, treasure. Frankinsence, for a King. And Myrrh, to annoint the dead. And Mary stored these up. Right from the start, the joy of life, and the forewarning of death. 

Did she dig out that myrrh when Jesus was hanging from the cross? Or was it lost in travels, sold for bread in hard times, or carefully preserved but never used as events took over so fast? I don't know. But I wonder, as she pondered on that visit in the times to come, did she know, as so many of us have come to know, that she would outlive her son? 

I don't know. 

Child death runs through God's story.  How long did Adam and Eve live without Abel? What did Moses' parents' friends and neighbours think, when he survived their great loss? How long did Naomi mourn her sons? The latter part of Job's life may well have been more blessed than the first, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't any compensation for such loss. David and Abigail dusted off their sackcloth, but their son won't have been forgotten. 

Rachel weeps for her children. 

And we weep for ours. 

But we do celebrate too. Because we knew our children, we loved our children, and because we know they are themselves preparing to celebrate with angels and archangels, and all the company of Heaven. 

How do we celebrate, when we have such empty seats around our table? That looks different for everyone. 

For some, it is good to carry on just as before. A friend pulls up an empty seat to her table, with her child's special things on it. Unthinkable to not set a place for him, so that place is set. Another hangs photos on her tree. One visits a grave and reads the Christmas story, another tucks her child up inside her heart, and keeps him there in that private place, a grief too precious to be shared. 

There is no wrong. For us, that first year, we just tagged along to plans made for us. Last year, we changed our traditions and hosted Christmas ourselves - easier to be in control than to be at someone else's beck and call. We decorated some rooms, left others plain, able to dip in and out of Christmas as we saw fit. This year things will be different again. 

But through it all, in every day, in the joyful times when things are going well, and in the ugly bitter times when it seems as though the world has not only forgotten but trodden on my memories in the forgetting, through all of this, I look up at God my Father. And I see Him looking back, and I know he did it too. He watched His Son die, through innocence, through chosen weakness, and not at his own hands. And He is there, He weeps. He mourns. He comforts. He knows. And that's how we do Christmas. 

A non update.

It's been a while. 

There's lots to say, but unfortunately it's news I can't share on line for another few months yet. Bear with.

We had a Spring, we had a Summer, A had more spinal surgery, and is loving life.  We had an Autumn, we are heading into Winter, we are very busy in a different kind of a way, and life is generally good. 

I'm fostering again, and A adores our little fosling. 

There's a post nagging at me but unwritten yet, but in the meantime, to people who have contacted me checking we are ok, yes, we are, I'm still here, still plodding along, walking this beautiful  road with friends and family around me. 

Thanks for your patience. 

Sunday 22 January 2017

A walk down memory lane

A is off on a church youth residential trip this weekend. I spent the night, doing the grunt work for her, and left her this morning to get on with being an eleven year old without me. I'm told I wasn't too embarrassing; this is a relief. 

It was a glorious morning as I left them 
Much too nice a day to drive straight home again. And so I upset Pat the Sat, turned right instead of left, and found Isham, the village where Grannie lived when I was growing up. 

And I remember. 

Trundling around the garden, with my cousin my playmate, no siblings for either of us yet. Was there really a bottomless well at the corner of the croquet lawn? 

The farmyard behind, the comings and goings and "don't go in there." 
Closing the house up at bedtime, the thick wooden shutters on the windows. 

A whole room just for trains, with stars on the ceiling. The men playing backgammon; my uncle's laugh booming  loud against the quiet night. 

Milk bottle crates; I don't know why. 
And so many lovely hiding places. 

I walk a little farther along the road. 
The gate is open; beyond the wooden door, the service has begun. 
And I remember. 

Sunday mornings, my legs swinging in the high pews, listening to a service which sounds a little like our own, but which is largely sung not spoken. All rise for the Gospel. Chorused Amens and Alleluias; I wonder as a child if Heaven will be this choreographed. 

"from thence he shall come, to judge the quick and the dead." The quick? And are the slow already dead then? I wriggle faster, I do not wish to join them just yet. 

Echoes of Grannie playing the organ, or perhaps it is just this morning's service, decades later. Is it still 1662 inside? 

Outside, in 2017, I cross over the road. 
I turn back, to see the church, and Langton House, and beyond it the village store. And now I am an infant, and my brother and I are staying with Grannie for a while. 

I go to the village school. As a temporary pupil, they do not wish to waste resources, and so with the discovery that I am left handed, I am seated on the seat to the right of an existing pupil. She writes in the front of her exercise book; I write in the back. I do not remember her name, or her face, but I can still see her fingers clutching her pencil, still feel the clash as we both reached the middle of the page. 

I don't remember playtime. Just her shoulder against mine as we sat writing sides to middle in her exercise book. Looking back, I wonder if a new book would really have broken the school's budget? 

After school, I remember Grannie and Colin coming to collect me. An ice lolly from the village stores, and a walk to blow the cobwebs away. 

The same walk, always, then and every other visit. Down the lane, and over the railway bridge. 
The stomp and clang of the metal bridge, and then the delicious thrill of standing on the top as a train came through. The screech and clatter of the train, and the shriek and squeak of the children, terrified as the bridge shakes, but desperate to wait it out and do it again. 

But not today. 

Today, on and over the bridge. A bridge so perfectly designed for pooh sticks, that all other bridges seem mere imitations. After the danger and trauma of the railway bridge, this is a wooden footbridge to stand calmly on, watching the water flow, hunting for trolls maybe, and to run across and into the freedom of the field beyond. 
The horses are new. 
I cannot find the trees we used to climb. Trees with long, low branches, where half a dozen cousins could climb and swing together, with roots for tripping over, and upturned trunks tantalisingly close to the river's edge. 

Nor can I find the flooded millpond, where Grannie let us make rafts from abandoned building supplies, and punt ourselves around until we were thoroughly wet and ready for tea. Perhaps this is just as well. 
Breathing in, all I can smell is crisp, fresh, country air. No hint of the Weetabix from the factory over the field. 

A new generation of dogs and dog walkers; I look in vain for Sally's Dachshunds, and remember carrying them over stubble fields on half term holidays. 

And so back to the village, and more memories there:
 Grannie's new house. The door is the wrong colour now, but the rest seems the same. I wonder if the new owners have a decaying caravan at the bottom of the lane, ready for a new generation of cousins to camp out? 

The dubious privilege of being the eldest; sleeping not in the cosy double but in the precarious plastic hammock. Every wiggle threatening not just my safety, but that of my cousin lying inches below me. 

Musty curtains, dodgy deckchairs, and the ever present croquet set. 

Back in the house, the joys of a proper coal fire. Bagatelle and Shove Ha'penny. Cousin concerts. Lying in bed under the eaves, knowing that anything dropped will roll across the floor to the window; wondering if one night the bed might follow. A dozen blankets, an eiderdown and a quilt. Waking in the night and trying to decide whether to creep through Grannie's bedroom to the upstairs bathroom, or else brave the steep stairs, and the achingly cold kitchen floor, in return for more privacy. 

Melting Moments and Queen of Puddings, and tiny, tiny cereal bowls, my brother's nemesis. The breakfast cloth on the table, always removed before lunch. And napkins with rings, and which one was mine? 

And just around the corner, the garage. A house now, I cannot reconcile this with the concrete floor, the coracle hanging on the wall, and the enormous potting shed table. No ricketty wooden ladder to a treacherous half floor now, I assume, just order and cosiness, and a cottage which looks to have been there forever. 

And now I have walked past the school, and past Mrs Swannell's house, and past Sally's house. Past the kindling shop, and past Mrs. Someone Else's house, past The Lilacs, which looks unchanged, and past the other pub, which has definitely changed. 

Someone is growing vegetables in the chapel grounds, and there is a vast house with a swimming pool where I remember rubble. I see three small cottages being turned into one, and remember that Langton House has itself been divided into two. The railway bridge has been made taller; standing on it, I cannot see over. But the graffiti remains the same. 

The bus shelter is still a bus shelter, and there are people in it waiting for a bus. As I walk past the church again, a lone woman files out and walks back up the road. Surely not the only congregant? 

But I am back to my car, and I must step back into 2017, and drive home ready to be an adult again. I have enjoyed the walk. 



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