Category Archives: Reading Groups

“A heavenlier world than this?”

garden 2017Joy struck me again today – right in the heart – as I turned into our drive and walked towards the house. My sloping garden welcomed me with splashes of colour and reached towards me with an embrace of loveliness. How could I fail to smile at the sight of scarlet and bright yellow primroses? Or delight in the tightly clenched buds of the President Eisenhower rhododendron beginning to release their gorgeous magenta flowers? Newly placed rocks too sheltering the azaleas pleased me – they looked so ….. right, so absolutely right.

Then on the steps leading to the side garden, the white hydrangeas in pots and the newly planted lilac violas there – all just with nothing to do but give pleasure. I stand on the drive smiling at it all and then enjoy it all over again later from the kitchen window. There’s even another moment later, while having lunch, that I think, “I must go and look at the garden.” I can’t get enough of it!

hydrangeas 2017There are those days when I’m perhaps ill or tired or just plain fed up (not so many, I hasten to add!) and I know that simply looking out at the garden will lift my spirits. Last week, I was with a friend dealing with a very challenging situation. It was a painful one and it drained something from me. “I feel the need to go and buy bedding plants”, I said to him as we parted. Later, preparing the spot where they would go, positioning them carefully, patting them into place, watering them and then standing back to enjoy them, it was as though I was being replenished from what I had poured out. In every little face of those violas, I saw a smile that cheered me and spurred me forwards. Nature has the gift of restoration.

garden 3 2017So yesterday, as I prepared for my reading group, perhaps that’s what led me to choose some chapters from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story of a rather unlovely (and unloved) little girl, Mary; raised in India by Ayahs, as her parents found her sickly and unattractive, and brought to England by her uncle when the community is wiped out by Cholera. She is a strange little thing, with no social skills, little interest in anything at all, but is somehow stirred by thoughts of a garden.

“She could not help thinking about the garden which no one had been into for ten years. She wondered what it would look like and whether there were any flowers still alive in it.”

garden 2017It will be this secret garden that eventually helps to restore her, but for me, yesterday, it reinforced the thought that there is a deep connection between us folk and gardens. Perhaps it’s to do with having been placed in a Garden at Creation? God wanted us to simply enjoy and care for that place. We ended up messing that up, but for millions, tending to gardens, labouring in them, watching them grow and looking at the fruits of that hard work are what sustains and nourishes them. I love the connection that little Mary grows to have with the old, gnarled and grumpy gardener, as he too, sensing the draw of the garden for the child, reaches out to her, in his own, plain-speaking way:

We’re neither of us good lookin’ an’ we’re both of us as sour as we look. We’ve got the same nasty tempers, both of us, I’ll warrant.”

It’s the first step for the girl at developing self-awareness and it all begins in a garden – a place where she will find solace and healing eventually.

It wasn’t therefore hard, given all these thoughts, to choose the poem “In the Fields” by Charlotte Mew, to read with the group.

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,

Under old trees the shadow of young leaves

Dancing to please the wind along the grass,

Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;

Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?

And if there is

Will the heart of any everlasting thing

Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?

They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent

of hay,

Over the fields. They come in spring.

There’s the thought I have! “Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?” Yes, that’s it, I guess, because within me, I believe there is that God-placed yearning for ‘something more’, which I know I will share in- when all things come to pass. Until then, we seek out the beautiful things that grow and dance “to please the wind along the grass”. Our gardens, our parks, woodlands, hillsides, forests, seascapes – all these places of loveliness, where flowers, trees, shrubs grow and dance in breezes, show us glimpses of what it will be like. They are tantalizing promises of better things to come and meantime, in the here and now, they do more than cheer, they lift our hearts and souls to a place of delightful, energising joy.

Pass me my spade and my wellies!!

Monday’s Child

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Whose Children?

I’ve written before about the reading group I run in a Care Home.  I go monthly, meet with between 4 and 10 elderly residents, mostly women, but there have been 2 or 3 men who have come along. I’ve been visiting for over a year now and they have become dear friends. We share an afternoon together; moments in time where adventures of the mind and soul can be had.  Our reading can take us to wonderful places; we meet characters who delight or intrigue; we laugh; we are puzzled; we feel sad, we cry, we become angry. In short we are, as lovely Doreen said last week “We are stimulated”.

There’s plenty written about what makes us think and what sort of thing galvanises us into action. What I have seen and experienced though, on those Monday afternoons, is something really special. What would I say to a lady of 89 who I have only just met? Who spends her life now surrounded with those whose gait is even slower than her own? Who feels as if life is going on ‘out there’ without her now – while she waits, often in pain or at best discomfort, for the door to open to the next world? What do I have in common to begin a conversation? How do I find out what lies behind those rheumy eyes? Reading is the key that unlocks the mystery; that gently enables us to share a lovely time and a place – like  a little room we can go to. We keep it simple – short is good (listening and concentrating gets harder over the years) – poems work – little stories too – a fairy tale might occasionally enchant – but  Shakespeare, Thackeray, Elliot, Hardy – they are much loved too. Some of my friends know the classics well, some have read little throughout their lives but on those Monday afternoons we share in the delights of a variety of good literature

This week, I decided on the theme of “New Beginnings” – after all, we’d had a summer break and we were starting a new term. When you’re in your nineties, it always seems to be about ‘endings’ (they told me about two deaths there had been over summer) so I thought it would be refreshing to think about beginnings – about new born babies and the way we celebrate them. There were six of us this week. I read something we probably all know:-

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go.

Fridays’ child is loving and giving,

Saturdays’ child works hard for a living,

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay. (Anon)

Well, a few of them knew it and were joining in quietly and tentatively, but by the last line everyone had found their voice, were sure of the words and we chorused it together. Then everyone wanted to talk! I heard of an older sister who had been a Wednesday’s child – “Always whining, she was too!” said Mary. Bessie had been a Sabbath baby “A lot to live up to!” “Me too,” I offered, “I try to be perfect, but never quite make it!” Everyone  was laughing and the afternoon was filled with sunshine. And Jean told of being a Saturday’s child, “I was expected to do everything for my brother. He never lifted a finger”. A good time to move on to “For an Unborn Baby” by Janet Shepperson, then:

If she’s a girl,

I hope she’ll stretch her wings

and grow up free, wide ranging

like a seagull, dealing with the winds

competently, swifting on currents of air,

able to live on anything she can find

in the murky sea, or even on rubbish heaps,

adapting with ease when storms drive her inland.

May she choose wisely if in the end

she settles on one name, one piece of ground.

 

May she banish those who’d seek to protect her

from heartbreak, or joy.

– And may he achieve no less

if he’s a boy.

So began a discussion of how our hopes for girls might be different – how we might choose different colours for their clothes even. Emily started to talk about her daughter – she tells all about the dreams she had for her and how they never happened. How she married a man who Emily hadn’t liked and how she watched with sadness when the marriage broke up, yet couldn’t somehow offer comfort to her daughter and how even now, many years later, all that lies still unspoken, between them. “She’s never married again. That’s sad. But she’s happy. She seems content with her own company”. She sits pondering that thought and the rest of us keep a companionable silence with her for a moment. “She comes to see you though”, says Joyce. “Oh yes.” And that’s what matters now – that she comes; that they have that time with each other.

We laughed together at the next tale from “Blue Remembered Hills” by Rosemary Sutcliffe – about babies being brought by a stork. It ends:

“Nor did it occur to me that at age zero, I would have been unlikely to have had teeth to chatter”

That led to lots of sharing about what we believed as we grew up about where babies come from and some wonderful stories about how children ‘fill in the gaps’ when they don’t know the truth.

Our favourite of the afternoon was Kahlil Gibran’s “Your Children”

It begins:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

they come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrows, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

 

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that

His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He knows the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1950) https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/gibrn.htI

I read the last words and let them rest in the room. I feel it again – the magic of hearing words allowing thoughts to come from within our souls. Emily is the first to speak, “Very deep.” Joyce adds, “Fancy being a bow”, and she says it shyly. “I suppose that’s all parents can wish for, isn’t it?” puts in Doris, who hasn’t any children of her own, but was  a teacher, “To set them off on the right track and hope they get to a good place”. Soon, our thoughts still milling around, we are taking tea together and sharing a platter of fresh fruit, brought to us by the Activities Coordinator. When we are old, we need to have our activities coordinated, you know, we relinquish our ability, so they tell us in care homes, to coordinate our own activities. She is a good person though and loves the people whose activities she is coordinating.

I leave and on the way home I think of all my arrows, and wonder at the joy of how I now have learned “to be like them,” and I pray  to the Archer who I know and love, and thank him that he is guiding them, that he has a purpose for them and that “He loves also the bow that is stable”.

 

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