Fisticuffs and Happy Christmas.

This morning I was up at five. Amazing! I don’t know why I was so awake and so eager to be off, but I was. We went to the beach (the dogs and me) in the dark and my iPhone showed us the way through the detritus of the recent high tides. We saw the light of day creeping over the world, kissing the beach into life. It’s great to be down there at dawn, especially when the tide is so high, because out of nowhere (it seems) and very suddenly, the sky is filled with gulls, with sandpipers skimming the wave tops, with flocks of those little brown birds I never know the name of….. suddenly, suddenly the world takes a big gulp of breath and wakes up, and today I was there to see it! What a privilege.

I’m an inland person. For twenty years I lived in Derby, just about as central as you can be on this small island of ours, a two hour drive from the coast, and not the coast anyone would choose to visit over… well, just about anywhere else. There’s Skeggy for starters (Skegness) with its tired sea front and sprawling holiday camps, its shabby amusement arcades and roller coasters. Of course there are other, less spoilt stretches but this is the edge of the North Sea so don’t imagine sun beds and parasols. It’s more likely to be windbreaks and waterproofs. A constant gale. And the road from Derby to Skeggy is a nightmare in the summer – a long, wide dual carriageway for the most part, but nose to tail with coaches and cars and lorries. In twenty years I went to Skeggy twice, for work. That’s how inviting the place is.

So now, I love this West Wales beach. This morning I was just brimming over with wonder at the universe, the whole lovely amazing universe. And this little bit of it, this unremarkable beautiful scrubby little beach….. ooh – look – by the torchlight I can see a tiny yellow flower… it’s growing on a that old rotting log. Brave little thing. And a shell…. in the grey near-light I see the tips of the waves, the sparkle of foam… the hotel is lit up on the cliffs …off goes Pip chasing a rabbit in the dunes… and here comes a murmuration of thingies, brown birds … Pico’s chasing them along the water’s edge, in a frenzy, infuriated by their shrill cries…. and now the hill tops are painted with a line of silver… the light has reached the boats at anchor…. and is that a seal out there? (no, but that didn’t matter)

My senses were sated, no room for any more of anything. I don’t think I prayed, I was too full of the awareness of God and the excitement of knowing him to have a coherent thought…. It was lovely. I was brimming over with joy and a deep awareness of Christmas around the corner.

And then, because we’ve been isolating for 16 days and this was the first day of freedom I went to the supermarket to get all the things we’ve grown a bit desperate for in the last few days, you know, the staples of life, ice cream for Frankie and a doughnut for me.

As I walked through the wide doors into the brightly lit and welcoming palace of plenty, I heard the joyful sound of mankind, readying for this season of peace and goodwill. Two men, one about 80, and one about 40, nose to nose, mask to mask, yelling at each other “I’ll bloody kill you, you thick old bastard.” “Yeah? Yeah? You’ll have a bloody job, you stupid git.” “Try me – go on – try me!” “Yeah?” “Yeah!” and the old man’s wife was trying to pull her husband away as a store employee hurried towards them. The scuffle was over in seconds, but the old man was upset, his wife anxious, and the younger man was – gone! I wonder how long the elderly couple will be upset for? I wonder how uncomfortable the younger man feels when he remembers the incident? Does he bolster his guilt with indignation? Does he remind himself that he didn’t start it… not his fault. (I think he was entering via the exit doorway and the older chap had protested) I wonder if the wifie says, as they eat their lunch, “It’s your own fault, you’re always spoiling for a fight.” I wonder if they all realise that they were shouting at each other mere inches apart? I wonder if the younger man feels the need to tell someone about it, to make his excuses, hoping to hear them say “Miserable old sod. I don’t blame you!” I wonder if the old man tells the tale to his son and puts a different slant on it.

That’s what I do. It is. It’s exactly the sort of thing I do. If I’ve been unreasonable or sharp with someone I find myself telling the story, often just to myself but if I get the chance I might tell it to someone else. And why? Because I’m hoping that by telling the story, painting myself in a slightly better light than the true one, I’ll find approval. That somehow I will become less blameworthy in the telling. That I will feel better. OK, I don’t have a dust up in the supermarket but I’ve lost my temper at times, and I’m hugely impatient, so I’m just the same as them. It’s so easy to take a stance about others but we can’t do that – Jesus said “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Those men in that scuffle can huff and fume all they like, but their anger has harmed themselves as well as each other. It tainted their day and it tainted the air around them. I won’t be the only one shaken by that incident. When we have known violence, we see the danger of even a ‘silly little spat’ like this, because anger is never ‘silly’. It’s Godless. Our reaction should be pity, and a sort of recognition – that’s us. That really is us. No one is blameless, not even one (shades of Psalm 14:3)

We’re a funny lot, humans. Under the bright neon lights of Tesco it’s easy to forget that just down the road, across a medieval bridge, along a country lane, the sea is breaking on the land as it has since time began. This is the world God has given us. As we guard the space we walk into, the things we reach for, it’s easy to forget that with a flash of temper we can ruin the day, blot out the sun, starve our souls of love. So much beauty, so much miraculous life, so much to be thankful for, and yet there we go – merry bloody ructions at any and every excuse. God has given us so much and here we are, hell bent (literally) on mucking the whole thing up.

Good job God loves us. And he does.

Here’s a link to the online book launch of my autobiography. You’ve nagged me enough. I’ve finally given in, and it’s taken only a month.

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