New life can appear in surprising places, even in something which I thought was totally dead.
I’ve somehow made it through the first couple of weeks back at work after Christmas in one piece, even if getting out of bed was a struggle on mornings that seemed as dark as ever. The daily news is unremittingly bleak. Covid-related deaths are rising at an alarming rate; and there are calls for this third lockdown to be made stricter. How much more strict can it get!
And all seems lifeless in the natural world. Or is it? We had in our garden in the final days of December the appearance in full flower of a single, defiant daffodil, and it was indeed, as Wordsworth put it, “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” At the very beginning of January I walked through the cemetery near us to a spot where I knew there were early flowering snowdrops. There they were, a great big clump of white magnificence. A lady was coming the other way, also in search of snowdrops. I showed her my secret cache which was partly obscured by a grave and her face lit up. “A sign of hope,” she said, “and how we need that at the moment.” The snowdrops at the bottom of our garden, carefully arranged around the trunk of a gnarled old apple tree, are thrusting through the earth, which is always a welcome sight, and some violet crocuses have already appeared. There is even red bloom already on the quince, and a first tiny bit of yellow on that great harbinger of Spring, the forsythia.
At a time when the trees and shrubs look largely stark and bare, I was cheered one day when looking out of the window of my office (aka my daughter’s bedroom). The first shoots had appeared on the climbing rose which I’d hard-pruned back in November, and they’re now about 3cm long. Even more amazing is what I spotted one morning in our living-room. I was sitting in the spot where I’ve been eating breakfast and looking at the Jesse tree (a sort of Advent thing) which Yim Soon had made at the start of December. It’s basically (or so I thought) a load of dead twigs nicely arranged in a vase! But then there seemed to be tiny green buds appearing and those have now opened out into fully-blown leaves.
There is hope too in the acts of Covid-related kindness that continue to delight and inspire me. We were contacted this week by Finbar of the Claddagh Ring, an Irish pub in Hendon. He said they had decided this weekend to provide meals to some of the most vulnerable members of the Irish community in London. And what a choice was on offer: roast beef, lamb or chicken, chicken curry, Irish Stew and vegetarian lasagne. All we had to do was say how many we wanted of each and then ensure we had enough volunteers mobilised to take the collection and distribute to some of those elderly Irish we support. And like many organisations have found during the pandemic, it’s not just the provision of a tasty cooked meal which is appreciated. It’s also the bit of social interaction which takes place with the delivery and the incalculable power of an act of kindness. In the end, we’re taking fifty meals from Finbar and they will be distributed by ten of our wonderful new volunteers from Clifford Chance.
I was similarly struck by a letter Breda showed me this week from a man in HMP Wandsworth, who was one of 100 people in prison whose children benefitted from a grant to purchase Christmas gifts for their children (and this was thanks to a special Covid-19 Christmas fund set up ESP, the Emigrant Support Programme):
“Breda Power, I write to you to thank you and to let you know I really appreciate all you have done for me and my kids. I don’t even think I can really find the words to let you know how grateful I really am. Christmas itself has been a brighter and just in general better one down to you.”
And I’ll give the final word again to the Australian poet Michael Leunig, some of whose beautiful prayer poems have, I know, come from places of deep darkness in his own life. It may seem a bit premature in the middle of January to be welcoming Spring, but it seems to me as I look around that this annual, unstoppable miracle, has already begun.
We celebrate Spring’s returning and the rejuvenation of the natural world. Let us be moved by this vast and gentle insistence that goodness shall return, that warmth and life shall succeed, and help us to understand our place within this miracle.