Some people think I’m crazy when I tell them but I love cycling in London. I ride from home each morning down to Canterbury West station on my fold-up bike, and when I get out at St Pancras International I cycle up through the wonderful new, water feature-filled, Granary Square development, then along the canal which takes me out close to the Irish Centre in Camden where we have our offices.
When I’m out for appointments I always go by bike if possible, whatever the weather. I must admit it’s a bit more pleasant when it’s warm and dry, and it’s a particular pleasure in the Springtime with the profusion of bright colours to be seen in gardens and parks: the cherry blossoms, the azaleas and rhododendrons, and one sight that thrills me each year and which seems especially common in the big city with its tall houses: the wisteria. Besides the beauty of the flowers and the subtle fragrance I’m staggered by the sheer height that some of these climbers can reach. Whilst on my way to a meeting the other day I passed several that covered entire 5 storey houses. I imagine it must take decades (and a lot of proper care) for these plants to get so high and to produce so many flowers. And I’ve read that some varieties can take up to 20 years just to produce their first flower. It struck me that the person who planted the initial seed may well never have lived to see the wisteria in all of its mature glory (or even to see the first flower). And perhaps there’s a bit of a metaphor there for our day to day lives. The words we speak, the things we do might have long-term consequences (for good or for ill) that we will never live to see. A small act of kindness, a friendly word, a simple smile: these can touch (and even in some situations save) a life in ways we may never be aware of.
I’m reminded of the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
That is what we are about.
We plant a seed that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations
that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation
in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
The first seeds of the Irish Chaplaincy were sown in 1957 and I’m pleased to say that the plant which grew from those seeds seems to be still producing good fruit 61 years later through the tender care of some of those Irish people who find themselves most on the margins of British society. And I’m happy to have the chance now to do my own little bit to tend the plant, to water the seeds, and perhaps to sow one or two new seeds that maybe someone in the future will tend.
I’ll also grateful to those people who all of those years ago planted outside their London houses all of those then-tiny wisteria plants which today bring me such pleasure as I cycle past in early May.