Two things have sustained me through these lockdowns, the kindness of people and the wonder of nature. Both are sacred, and humbling.
Those of us lucky enough to have gardens or live near open spaces know we’ve been privileged this year. So let me take you into our garden the only way I currently can, with words (and perhaps a picture).
Underneath the low branches of the yew, perfect for a child to climb, the daffodils glow yellow and orange against the deep green of the needles. Brush against the higher branches and a dust of fine pollen rises like mist, as if the tree were secretly on fire.
Down across the grass the catkins on the twisting hazel are caught in the dawn sun; through them the witch-hazel glimmers, its flowers tiny scented tendrils curled along the thin branches.
Everywhere are buds, furry grey-green on the magnolias, black on a miniature willow, red-brown on that small tree whose name I never remember. They’re all verve and readiness to unfurl their leaves and show their flowers.
Two long-tailed tits fly down to feed on a fat-ball; chattering quietly as it they were at some religious service they didn’t want to interrupt by being loud.
There’s liberation in the air. Pesach, chag ha’aviv, just three weeks away, is not just the festival at, but the festival of the spring.
I know I’m lucky; a garden is luxury. But I believe access to the natural world, park and woodland, pond and stream, is a basic human need. It restores the spirit; it nourishes the heart. It draws human life into the rhythms of day and season. It’s part of our moral growth, our humbling, our rootedness on God’s earth. So often refugees long for their childhood homes in spite of everything, not because they miss the politics, but because they yearn for that apple tree, the smell of that field at dawn.
Human kindness sustains me no less. It’s the little things, the greetings with neighbours whom we scarcely acknowledged before, rushing to the tube. Now we collect groceries for the foodbank, asking how we’re all doing.
It’s the big things which grow out of those little things. ‘My whole street has been amazing,’ said a man whose father is now, thank goodness, out of intensive care.
My mother turned 98 yesterday. As I left the porch after bringing a cake, I saw that half the street was there to serenade her with a huge ‘Happy Birthday’ banner There were children and parents, all socially distanced, all together. When her carer brought her to the door, they all cheered. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I still give a wave to bus drivers if I see them in the small streets when I’m running. They often wave back.
These are not little nothings;
A year ago I might have thought all this ordinary. I know better now. This is the triumph of smiling over cursing, resilience over frustration, goodness over adversity. This is the foundation of humanity, and, to me, of faith. I hope I never forget.
The mystics see in beauty, any and all, from the smell of the grass to a primrose in a ditch, the manifestation of Tiferet, that sacred wonder which comes from God. They find in kindness, any and all, the warm word, the quiet acknowledgement, the expression of Hesed, the divine lovingkindness which flows through every heart.
God is in the detail, and it’s humbling and transforming when we feel it.