It was a very different kind of Sunday.
I got up early (I usually ease off slightly when it gets to Sunday morning so as to fully recover from the busy week in London just passed and to rest a bit in preparation for the busy week to come, but as the lyrics of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky go “it’s a beautiful new day, hey, hey, hey” and following what seemed like months of rain the sky really has been so blue now in these past days) and went for a first (socially-distanced) walk of the day. There’s lots of time for walking now!
By the afternoon I was on walk number 4 (I usually go the gym on Sunday afternoon, and later to church, but both of those are out now, together with other activities that were fixed points in my week, like choir on a Tuesday evening and my cycling club on a Saturday morning). I headed up to the attractive campus of Kent University, perched on a hill overlooking the city and with wonderful views of the Cathedral, and I kept seeing people I knew. Sammy from the cycling club drove past and gave me a big wave. Gosia from L’Arche was out for a walk with her two school-age children and we had a little chat (several yards apart). She said “we’re going to learn new skills in this time”. “Like what?” I enquired. “Well”, she said with a smile, “how to be with people 24 hours a day”! On that cheery note (the amount of people in my house has gone from 2 to 4 in recent days, with our daughter Miran not travelling in Asia, and our youngest son Sean sent home from Uni to revise for exams which will be on-line, and it’s lovely to have them but a full house takes a little adjusting to) I carried on up the hill and when I reached the campus (largely free now of students but with plenty of locals…walking) I was delighted to see the Alexopoulos family who we’ve known for years, having similar aged children (and whose Big Greek Christmas party is always one of the hottest tickets in Canterbury during the festive season). They were there for a Mother’s Day trip out and were drinking takeaway coffee on a picnic bench. We had a very nice conversation and Eleftheria voiced something that I’d been thinking myself earlier in the day: “it’s like Christmas: all the family are home, and everywhere is closed”! “Exactly”, I said, “it’s Christmas every day now, without the presents!”
And yet, what are the gifts that we might receive at this unusual time? Could it be that one of the things we fear most (and try our utmost to ‘fill’) could be one of the greatest gifts i.e. time itself. Thought for the Day at the start of the week was from one of my favourite speakers, John Bell of the Iona community, and this is precisely what he seemed to be saying and he finished by wondering whether this period could be an opportunity to “love into life” some of the neglected aspects within ourselves.
I’m not sure yet how I’ll make the best use of these weeks (probably months) ahead. So far I’ve enjoyed having a bit more time to write, and am very heartened by the encouraging comments I’ve received from people in response to these blogs, not to mention the sense of connection. I also wrote a letter to somebody that I’ve been meaning to write to for about two years! And I discovered on Sunday the live stream of Evening Prayer of the Taize community in the South of France, one of my favourite places in the world. Mid-way through there was a group chat call from our eldest son Kieran to wish Yim Soon ‘Happy Mother’s Day’. There we were on the screen, the five of us, and I still had on my laptop the white-robed figures of the Taize brothers at prayer and could hear their singing (together with nearly four thousand others from around the world who were also listening in, and sending messages of hope). It was a special moment of communion. And whether it be Christmas or any other time, what a precious gift that is.