There are days when we need to re-calibrate, find a new and truer perspective, stiffen the sinews and summon the blood. And then, having tried valiantly to find that stiff upper lip, we need to have a bloody good bawl.
This is one of those days. Two dear friends are leaving the UK to return to their family in Canada. In the global scale of things, it’s a small fry incident. When we consider the terror and death of Afghanistan, Covid, families wrenched apart, the ills of the world, this is a tiny tiny moment. But right now, it’s huge in my heart. Huge huge enormous.
On the beach this morning… here… this is the beach this morning….. beautiful but somehow severe…
… on the beach this morning, there was no stiff upper lip. There were tears.
Today I recognise that, while I can be kind to myself, and tears are inevitable, it’s just plain exhausting to wallow.
What’s the use of wallowing? It never was worthwhile,
so pack up your troubles in your old kitbag and smile! Smile! Smile!
That seems to be the theme for this blog. I am an army brat. Brought up in the heart of a British Infantry Regiment, posted to a new home and school and circle of friends every couple of years, sometimes more often. In my first ten years I lived in Derry, Scarborough, Egypt, Cyprus, Omagh, Kilroot, Lancashire and Wiltshire. I’m very well schooled in making friends and losing them, a lifetime of saying goodbyes, and even now I’m still fabulous at packing, fantastic at choking back the tears. That’s how I learned to cope at a very early age. We had mechanisms to make it easier not to cry, to feel Ok when we plainly weren’t, to adopt a new home when we were still grieving for the old one.
Every time my dad came home with news of a posting we would begin packing. It never took more than a couple of hours. The furniture (mostly) belonged to the army and so all we had to box up was clothes and toys and a few personal bits and bobs. Then a Warrant Officer would arrive with a clipboard, usually a cheerful sort of bloke, and he’d ‘march us out’. That sounds more military than it really was – all he did was check that the house was in good order and the itinerary was complete. And off we’d go. Because dad was in the admin office, we were often the first to leave, to organise the new ‘home’ for the rest of the regiment. Sometimes there was no time to say farewell to friends, or to finish up at school, we were just…. gone.
In the new house, or flat, or (on one occasion) Nissan Hut, the first thing my Mum would unpack was a small reproduction of a painting, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. We, my brothers and me, knew that wherever she was, that was home. It was a tatty little reproduction in a gilt frame, battered and cracked, but it meant that we were home wherever we were. This is my version of it today, on the wall in my kitchen.
So, with that past behind me, and an uncertain future before me, and dear friends at this very moment loading up a van and charging off to the airport… what am I recalibrating? I’ll tell you what. Hang on, this is an emotion packed blog and I’m making it up as I go along…
I am recalibrating that an ocean is nothing, to God. That the world is in his hands and he holds us all secure. That we are family and miles cannot change that truth. That time is relative and we are already, all of us, united in eternity. That time and space do not diminish love. That we came together for a reason and we are parting for a reason. That we go wherever we are posted, and the last thing we put in our bag is our Bible and the first thing we take out of our bag is the Bible, and wherever the Bible is, that’s our home. And the Bible is everywhere. It’s in their hand luggage as they board the plane today, it’s here beside me as I tap-tap this blog, it’s in our hearts, and it binds us together, holds us, in eternity and love.
In the last six years, with the example and the encouragement of my two departing friends, I’ve re-discovered the amazing truth of the Gospel. And I’ve learned what it might feel like to belong to a place, to a family.
The title of this blog? The saying ‘steady the Buffs!’ originated way back, when each regiment of the British Army wore a flash of colour to denote which regiment they belonged to. I think that the Buffs (a sort of sandy tan colour) were infantry, like my dad’s regiment The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and it became a sort of rallying cry ‘Steady the buffs!’ when any sort of disorder threatened, from the parade ground to the front line of battle.
This morning, on the beach, disorder threatened. I have been feeling the loss of these very dear friends for some days, the sense of their departure building and building… and now they are on their way, gobbling up the miles, and I am here still, stranded on the shore. The enormity of this loss, so small to the world and so huge to me, was overwhelming. Seeing my tears a friend threw her arms around me and gave me such a great and very welcome hug. Then she asked if I wanted to walk alone, and I said yes (no one likes big snotty sobbing) . And under that great steel sky, those thunderous clouds, with my three scruffy dogs chasing birds along the shoreline, I sang a blessing on my sweet friends, and I thanked God for them, and when a little voice echoed down the years “Steady the Buffs!’ I said
Sod the buffs. I’ll cry if I want to.