I am not a great one for marking special days, for anniversaries and the like. It’s part of my rebellion against my Catholic upbringing (when it was always someone’s bloody feast day, so there was always some pressing obligation to light a candle or say a decade of the Rosary, or remember some gruesome martyrdom and feel suitably sorry/rebuked/penitential) Enough already! Today is today and the past is over and done with.
But I’m surprised to discover that today is a day for remembering – remembering so very much! It’s a day of nostalgia! Whether I want it to be or not. And it’s OKish because it’s a gently happy sort of remembering. 28 years ago today my husband died. and I find that I’ve spent quite a bit of prayer time thanking God for him. His name was George, my blond haired, blue eyed, broad shouldered, Scottish, quiet, funny and really infuriating bloke. I miss him when I think about him, so I don’t often think about him these days. It’s deliberate – there’s enough pain without volunteering for it. He was here, he was lovely, and he’s gone and so I don’t dwell on missing him, but he’s also a part of my history, he’s a part of who I’ve become, and in a way he’s always with me. If I saw George walking down the High Street towards me, I wouldn’t really be surprised. He is still very much alive in my memory – his energy, his bouncy walk, the great smile. I know that time is an illusion, and we are already in eternity, so when I go to glory it will be as if he and I have been parted for only a breath, as if he was at my side a moment ago and now I have turned around to find him just a step away, waiting. And I won’t be too interested in him, anyway – I mean, c’monnnn…. he’s lovely and gorgeous but I’ll have God to look at! Blinding. Amazing. Wowser. All that and more.
George wasn’t a flowery man, but he did like sweet peas. At his funeral we found a florist who could get a huge box of them, although the season was almost over, and we scattered them all over the coffin. A neighbour has brought in a bunch of sweet smelling sweet peas today. How lovely! Maybe that’s what’s taking me back 28 years, making that terrible day as real and as clear as the present. Damn it. I was determined not to weep. I have to shake it off, there has to be a sort of gentle discipline to mourning ; I can remember, I can love, I can regret, but there’s an end to it to – wallowing ain’t good, morose-ing ain’t good, certainly not after 28 years. It’s self indulgent. And I know that morose-ing isn’t a word, but it should be.
I have a few friends of my age, and we’re all adjusting, lumpily, to being in a new phase of life. I say ‘lumpily’ because that’s what it feels like – some days are smooth sailing and balmy – we say daft things like ‘The world is for the young’ and we almost fool ourselves that we are serene and untroubled, and then a damn great clot of memory or uncertainty, or realisation comes along and … yeah, it’s lumpy. Life as an oldie is…. different.
In the good old days, in Derbyshire, my life was very different. Mostly I began the day with a short drive to the David Lloyd Centre to swim for an hour or more in lovely clear water, with sparkling tiles, the sun streaming through the windows if we were lucky, and if the sun really was up to the mark I’d swim outside, up and down, lazily, and it was just wonderful. Then, a leisurely shower, and a long coffee and maybe toast in the cafe, drive home, walk the dog in the local park, be sitting down at my desk by 10am, when my London colleagues were also arriving at work (after a much less refreshing start to their day). Then I would work through to about 4 or 5, and to the next walk with the dog, maybe around Markeaton Park, past the lake, watching the boats and the children… or maybe we’d drive to Carsington Water for a much longer walk through the Derbyshire hillsides. Then back home, supper and work, work, work, work, writing until the wee small hours, falling into bed at about 2am and up again at 5.
Some days, of course, the routine was broken – we’d have a production meeting in the house, or pals would come for the evening, and we’d while away the hours. Some days it was a London trip, and I would be in St Pancras by 9.30, ready for meetings and all the noise and horribleness of a stinky exciting city, meeting friends who were also colleagues, sorting problems, maybe sitting in an edit suite, or over in the now defunct BBC Centre on Woods Lane…. I even remember when Central TV was in Portman Square! That’s how old I am! Central TV which is no longer, the concrete doughnut of the BBC that is no longer…. apparently it’s now luxury flats and I bet they cost a fortune.
So! What do I want to say? Listen, this is what I want to say. Today I’m not in Derby with pals and life and busyness and all that, today I can’t glide up and down, up and down in a sparkling swimming pool, and chat to my dear friends, and sit in my garden with my dogs. I have no swimming pool to go to here, and my friends are two hundred miles away, and there’s no garden… Today I have no George… but this is what I did this morning; I stood in the sea, up to my knees, as my dogs played in the waves, I gazed at the blue sky, I basked in the sun, I walked on the warm sand with another good kind friend. I came home and listened to a joyful life-affirming sermon, I took part in a Zoom call with church people as we said a heartfelt ‘fare well’ to one of our church family who’s going back to Canada. Then I went into my courtyard and realised that the sun was still reaching it (it goes into the shade around mid-day) so I sat there for a full 15 minutes just BAKING! That was lovely. When the sun went behind the chapel next door I came in and now here I am, snug in a cardigan and thick socks (my home is cold) talking to you.
Not a bad day, eh? How much do I have to complain about? Totally, absolutely, completely NOTHING.
If the Grinch is reading this, or the Grinch’s sidekick, down there in the hospital, in the clatter of a busy ward, this is for you, my dear friends: God is with you, God loves you. Through all the twists and turns of life he has you, tight. Even today. Especially today. Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn. That’s Isaiah that is. Surprise, surprise.
And this is David in the Psalms. He knew a thing or two as well. Psalm 121
He will not let your foot slip –
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm –
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and for evermore.