FROM THE BOUNDARY

Encounters

For the past month I’ve been at my little cottage in Wales. Fortunately, the weather, though gale-ish at first, was mild. Still it gave me the opportunity to wear my woolly clothes, always comforting, and so come over as ‘kinda cuddly’. Yes, well…Here are some of my encounters, with people, places and thoughts while I’ve been away. As usual, it’s been fun and full of ‘soft’ adventure.

Today, returning by the narrow, tarmac path across the flat bog and London-bound railway line from St Matthew’s church, I chanced on a fallen seagull feather, a distinctly ‘old aged pensioner’ feather from what must have been an OAP bird. One side was relatively uniform and still, I suppose, ‘spirit-of-life-ish’. But the other side was broken and, frankly, manky. Poor bird. Death catches up with us all. Now I should tell you I have a ‘thing’ about feathers in my path. I tend to think they’re the work of the Spirit trying to tell me something – well, in this case maybe a Spirit who, in his misshapen brokenness, has seen better days. Anyway, I picked it up and added it later to my collection. I can’t help thinking the feather spoke to me, I suppose to the effect ‘Thanks for picking me up. I am you.’ I can’t be certain, of course, but in any event it taught me something. Somewhere ‘out there’ there’s a misshapen, broken, somebody waiting for you or I to pick them up too, to reach out to them, to give them something which comes free – our loving kindness. Do you know someone like that? Perhaps it’s you that needs picking up, even by yourself maybe. Well, be prepared for the chance encounter and grasp it. Everyone’s worth it. You are, aren’t you?

At the service this morning, the lay reader told a story in his sermon which is worth repeating. The first thing an aged Christian lady would do every morning was to go outside her house, look up at the sky and exclaim ‘Praise you Lord’. An atheist moved next door and, not unnaturally, became increasingly irritated at the old lady’s morning antics. Sadly, she began to suffer hard times. Food was scarce. Yet she still didn’t forget her matins ritual. When the atheist heard of her condition, do you know he went out and bought her bags of groceries which, unknown to her, he placed outside her front door. When the old lady saw them, well, of course, she exclaimed ‘Praise you Lord’. The atheist said nothing but shook his head. Think about it.

I’m writing this now in Starbucks, an Americano for company. Everyone around me and out in the street have a dress sense exclusively black and dark grey. It’s the ‘winter look’. Well, I’ve brought the sunshine with me, an orange, wool hoody courtesy of ‘fat face’, a coat-of-many-colours Nepalese sweater – but I won’t go on. Isn’t the afternoon December sun dancing-twilight even here? Smiles are colours. I guess no-one’s smiling. Depressing really.

The other day I was in corner-shop Tesco. As I was leaving the cashier called after me. “I hope you don’t mind”, she said. “I wanted to tell you that the colours you’re wearing are lovely.” Well, OK SHE was smiling and she made my day. A complete stranger had the temerity to compliment a complete stranger. She didn’t have to. In our different ways, we welcomed each other. Welcoming the stranger – it’s a very Old Testament thing. It might be a smile, a thank you, a wave, a wink if you’re wicked, even just a nod, some other sign of recognition. See, we’re one world, aren’t we, and God’s still in His heaven? I’m reminded of a verse of Kabir. God is formless, he says, yet presents himself in a thousand forms. The stranger is one. Colours are another. And love? Well it’s “all around” us, isn’t it? Is that ‘God in His heaven’?

Odd: when I left Starbucks I bumped into my old busker friend – you remember, the one I ‘busked’ with crooning ‘Blowing in the wind’ in the street in September? Well we busked together again. And again no one took any notice. Not even the absurd moved them. It must have been all the black and grey stuff. His name is Mark. His origin, he told me, is the islands off northern Scotland. He busks for a living in several Welsh towns. These days, he said, relatively few people chat with him, a stranger, a nuisance even, and it gets worse the closer he works to London. It’s so unlike life in the Scottish islands where everyone looked out for each other, even strangers. It’s often said that life was once like that here, but now less so. ‘Mind your business’ has taken over. True – tourists pay tribute to our friendliness, but then they’re income generating and the stuff fake Philadelphian twang in smart stores is made from. In my 25 years here I’ve made my best friends ever, but there’ve been many frozen encounters too. They’ve all taught me something, so it’s all
good.

Go safely, then – until the next time.

Encounters, from the boundary: “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences…there’s no greater joy than to have an
endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” (Christopher McCandless).

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