As I look out of my window today I can see only great clouds of dust, like smoke, swirling past and coating everything in a thick film of grime; the gas company is ripping up great chunks of the street to replace old pipes with new and safer ones. They’ve erected traffic lights a few houses away, and there are diggers in the road, men in high vis vests, lots of plastic barriers, hardly any parking spaces, and – over it all – the constant noise of drills and saws and cheerful blokes calling to each other. I love it! I do. Usually my house is absolutely silent because, being a bit deaf, unless it’s really very loud, music sounds off-key to me, discordant and indistinct, so it’s just easier to have silence. I do like my silence, thinking of it as a blanket or a protective cloak, but today I’m just as happy with the background noise of the street, the confusions of disrupted traffic, the cheerful mock-grumbles as we all navigate around workmen’s trucks, and I like catching sight of a digger chugging up the hill, its bright yellow making a cheerful splash in the clouds of dust. You know what it all boils down to? I like having men around.
Tall ones, fat ones, bosses in jackets carrying clipboards, scrawny ones, workers grimy and heavy booted, fellas with ear protectors, others with folded arms standing back to watch their colleagues working. I love them all. 35 years of widowhood with a family of girls, has made me really appreciate men.
In the months after George died I found myself consciously ‘drinking in’ the sight of a male chin, a 6 o’clock shadow, a beard, a muscled arm, and now – all these years later – I still enjoy the reminder that there are men out there! God knew what he was about when he made one lot female and one lot the opposite.
But my appreciation goes a bit deeper than that: as my granddaughters were growing up, and as we drove along through country lanes, or up on the wonderful hills, or skimmed along the motorway, I would occasionally say to the girls “Think of all the work that went into these roads. Think of all the people who went before us, first of all creating paths in the undergrowth, and then tracks, and then lanes, and then…” and the little girls would do their best to look interested…. But we take so much for granted! We miss out on so much if we never consider the people who went before us, and those who are even now making comfortable and safe lives possible.
And of course it isn’t just men – men and women together make our lives comfortable and safe. I think of the people who cart away our household rubbish, who maintain the water supply, who man the fire stations and hospitals, build the roads, service the railways, farm the land, keep the lights on, uphold the law, stock the shelves, fish the seas.
Where would we be without them? In chaos. And not a happy chaos. So I took a few minutes to thank God for humankind, for all the thousands who have supported my life and still support it, for the unseen army of workers who have made my life possible.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
That’s a Psalm I try to remember as I drive to my quiet time, or prayer time, or whatever you like to call it, every morning. Yesterday I was stuck behind the rubbish truck for ages and ages, all the way to the beach, and I was so impressed with the energy and the speed of the men who took the rubbish from each gateway and threw it onto the cart, sorting as they went, over and over and over again.
We have so much to be grateful for.
Last week I came across a woman who was very recently widowed. She was broken, overcome with grief and loss. She seemed bewildered. It reminded me that when we lose someone we love we also lose the future we had imagined, or taken for granted, or planned. I remembered that when George died, when I was just 43, I felt as if I was on the edge of a desert – everything I had known had been blown away in an earthquake, a sandstorm, a flood. Now there was nothing. Nothing but waste for the rest of my life. I sat with this broken woman for a few minutes in the sunshine, and I didn’t quote the Bible at her, or give her any great advice. I just told her that when George died I saw only desert, a vast panorama of nothing stretching to the horizon. And I told her that I didn’t have to do anything, I didn’t have to be strong, or wise or clever, but that time stepped in for me. I told her that first of all there were little shoots in the desert, and then little flowers, and then trees, and shade and gradually streams and then a river and now, 35 years later, I stand in a world that’s green and vibrant.
And then I left her, because I know that words don’t chase away grief, but I hope that when she feels the first stirrings of recovery she will remember that desert, those flowers.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
the splendour of our God.
With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”
That’s a bit of Isaiah, that is! Isaiah 35. It’s a promise for the future, for those who love God.
HOT NEWS! I have, literally, this very minute, received an email from a dear friend who went to the gym this morning and broke her wrist. She sent me a photo of the offending and offended wrist, as she sits in A&E, as if to prove it really is broken. It’s OK, Beth, I believe you!
And so now I am thanking God, in addition to all the above, for doctors and nurses and technicians where Beth is languishing right now. Not really thanking him for fitness instructors and silly diet plans.