In a world of displacement, migrations and wrenching from all that people seem to know, I find myself wondering about place. The place I call home. What it means to me. Really - when the chips are down, and there is little that makes sense, what is this notion of ‘home’? What does the man with all his belongings in a supermarket trolley do about a sense of place? He unpacks for the night, to sleep as a homeless person under a bridge near where I live. Does the knowledge each day that the little spot under the bridge is still there that night provide a tiny iota of stability in his daily rounds of survival? When the shacks burn down in a horrendous fire, where there is nothing left, just the clothes people were wearing. How to re-create shelter in a very particular place must underpin the feelings of shock, loss, disbelief and trauma. And in the endless lines of refugees, heading for ‘somewhere’, I imagine feelings of dislocation. Separated from what we know, uncertain of where we are headed, and tenuous strands each evening of a temporary spot to nest and rest.
Filled with awe at the sunrise every morning, glowing behind the mountains long before its arrival, is a silently exquisite announcement of a new dawn. It happens literally at every place under the sun. Today, before the mind-numbing heat of the day sets in, I’m right into spirit of place. The breath of a place, its heartbeat and pulse. What place brings.
In my place this week we are pouring out our grief at the senseless stabbing of a beautiful, young grade 8 pupil in the local high school. He was part of our place. Where his siblings are still at school. This is not something that has an explanation, no reason, no platitudes. Just a terrible and inexplicable event, a tragedy. Another statistic in the avalanche of crime. Only, now we know him. He was from our place. The overwhelming sadness we carry with us. It makes us quieter, stiller, like the exhalation of a gasp.
As I pray into the loss of this child, I find the intensity almost overwhelming. The ancient philosophical question ‘what makes a good life’ haunts me. If this child has died in the most violent of ways, what could we celebrate more in the lives of all our children, and how could we as adults be that might help create experiences of conscious loving, joy and flow in the children touched by our place? Generosity and abundant, thick beauty - Ben Okri says the best things in life are free. Loving nature, laughing til their tummies hurt, being safe and belonging.
It’s the thick meshwork of who we are as a community that I notice now. The Lynedoch Children’s House that is a magnet for a gaggle of laughing, purposeful tiny humans arriving each morning. Small groups of toddlers making their way down to the vegetable gardens and woodlands where they lose themselves in an adventure with nature - being held in beauty and life. A Montessori approach that guides their education, roots the children in an inseparable web of community, practical activities, art, maths, language and a myriad of cultural materials that link the world of the real to concepts then explored at the child’s own interest and pace.
Timelessness, a place to belong, gentle guides and loving safety. I’m not sure what ‘a good life’ means. Here, it seems to be threading together in the way we live with nature, connected with each other in good times and bad, caring about children and education, women crocheting and listening to quiet music at someone’s home, Nia dancing in the old transformed hall, creating a small village veggie garden and meeting to water each evening.
These are not of drama, nor grand narratives. They are the quiet, invisible threads that weave us together as simple people. Together in our place. Each and every one of us will experience inexplicable loss, heartrending pain and the un-understandable at least once in our lives. Maybe more. Perhaps the vulnerability that sadness brings makes us nicer. Less arrogant. Less taking for granted. More attentive and kind. Funnier.
I love the sense of hope in this place. Not so much hope for any specific outcome, but just hope. People whose eyes still sparkle, who are enthusiastic and joyful. Who stop and talk quietly, just to be together. With all the challenges of our country, with all the challenges of a world turned upside down, I love the feeling of being connected, of belonging to place. Place brings all there is, every joy and every challenge. Being in that directly and grittily seems to create space for grace, and grace begins where I stop.