Last night, the wind roared down the chimney. It sounded like a playful giant blowing over the rim of an enormous milk bottle. And in the morning, the plane trees on the High Road had been stripped of all but the most recalcitrant leaves. I sometimes wonder if the leaves enjoy their first and last moments of freedom, released from the shackles of branch and twig to dance in the air and skitter down the pavement.
I was away all weekend in Somerset, for a series of events to celebrate Aunt Hilary’s 90th birthday. Everyone that I spoke to told me how Hilary had been the first person to welcome them to the village when they arrived, the first person to help them find their feet in the community. At the afternoon tea party, there were little bunches of fuchsias and hebe and rosemary on the tables, and half a dozen ladies from the village had made scones and brownies, fruit cake and sandwiches. There was such warmth in the room, and in this it reminded me of Mum and Dad’s party.
Without wanting to be (particularly) morbid, it seems to me that moments of happiness and celebration are more and more important as I, and the people that I love, grow older. To anyone contemplating arranging an event, a holiday, a special evening with someone that they care about, I’d say ‘do it,’ however stressful the organisational process is. It’s the memories that count, not material things. My writer friend Dianne Crumbaker has been thinking along similar lines, as you can see here.
How can we evaluate a life, judge it as well-lived? I’m not sure why we were put on this earth, but I’m very sure that part of it must be to be of service, to use our skills and talents for the greater betterment of other people and the earth as a whole. It makes me wonder how I can give back to my local community, how I can make a difference. I have such a fear of committing to things that I can’t carry through because I might have to do something to help Mum and Dad. It’s a conundrum, to be sure.
This morning I stood in my kitchen, and marvelled at how a finger of sunlight was touching the beech leaves in the hedge until they glowed copper and gold. The sun burns along the narrow alleyway by the side of the house like a laser. I took a photo, and then took some of the starlings. At the top of the hawthorn and whitebeam the sun shines more gently over the house, and the birds reflect the light. They chortle and chat away, raising their crests and whistling continuously while eyeing the contents of the bird table and checking for cats. And then they descend like thunderbolts, tossing suet pellets and mealworms in all directions.
I look back at the hedge, and already the sun has moved on. Except, of course, that it hasn’t. We have. The world is turning under my feet, even though I can’t feel it, and the angle of the alleyway to the sun has changed in just a few moments. I have rarely been brought up so sharply by the realities of time and space. We are moving on, inexorably, getting older, travelling at thousands of miles per hour even while we’re doing nothing more exciting than taking pictures of birds through our cobwebby windows on a Thursday morning.
How quickly a lifetime goes, each slice of time followed by another, and then another. By the time I’ve taken some pictures of the goldfinches, the earth has turned further, and the sun is no longer on the hedge at all. A wren runs across the steps to the pond as quickly as a mouse. A neighbour’s cat rushes across to the pond and tries to extract a late frog, who dives just in time. The cat licks his paw and gazes around as if slightly embarrassed.
All night I was worrying about Mum, who has a terrible cough. The doctor is hoping that antibiotics and steroids will be enough to keep a potential infection under control, but I fear another hospital stay is on the cards, and there’s the question of looking after Dad in her absence. The parents can pretty much manage when there are two of them (with the help of their carers), but things break down quickly if there’s only one at home. And then, as I watch that slot of golden sunlight travel across the garden, it occurs to me that trying to control fate, trying to negotiate with the gods, is as pointless as trying to keep a leaf on a tree, or attempting to stop the world from turning. I feel myself rooting down into acceptance. What will be, will be, and all I can do is ride the season, the squalls and the bitter cold and the sudden, blessed gifts of sunshine.
Update: it seems that I was too pessimistic about Mum’s chest infection – she seems to be improving, and so far is still at home, taking her steroids and antibiotics and drinking lots of tea. Fingers crossed!