The Summer Solstice has brought bright sunshine. But there are no trips to Stonehenge to divine what the sun’s rising foretold today’s Druids. The longest day turns us to face the oncoming months of summer and review the fruition of the last few months of solitude. We are lucky and blessed, each with work that can be done sitting in a dressing gown on the sofa or – as some of us prefer – dressed for reclining out on the terrace.
We are also surrounded by a wonderful mix of neighbors gently watching out for us all. Tentative new friendships have begun between those of us who have been aware of each other for a mere twenty years. I now know that Leslie likes to read historical fiction, ‘I’ve got bookcases full of ‘em. You are welcome to borrow anything, come over any time.” She now knows that many of the flowers she enjoys when looking out of her window come from my mother’s garden.
Pressure on the government by ministers, businesses and the economy is growing. Non-essential shops have begun to open, though I’m not too sure what separates essential and non-essential, and for whom. One of my essential shops remain unable to get to their Piccadilly warehouse for what I require.
“The Prime Minister will share his outlines for reopening the economy on Tuesday.” The Government hands out information like school homework assignments and I’m not getting too excited about what Tuesday might bring. There will still be queues outside of the shops, there will still be people mindful of how they walk, and others uncaring as they pass you. And this new reality does not bear looking into too far ahead. Whatever Tuesday’s briefing may bring, I know that ‘we will never get back to normal, how things were.’ Intellectually I understand that, I really do. But emotionally I am a little worn down.
A friend and I had a socially-distanced wine bar meeting in the Library Garden. But as she steadies me down off of the ladder, where I have climbed for a little pruning, I longed to take her hand. Another friend is coming for tea in the Square’s garden on Wednesday. Will we be able to hug each other then?
Touch is the glue that holds us together. The skin is our biggest organ, it covers, protects and feeds us all at one time. Again we are lucky, there are two of us living side by side and touch is as much a part of our lives as is ‘time for a cup of tea then?’
The moments of solitude and intense personal work can also be a time to pause and look inward. It is James Baldwin’s clarity of thought and literary articulation in his essay ‘Faulkner and Desegregation’ that helps me delve into the minutiae of my mind and think of the prejudices that I carry.
“Just because they speak the same language, remember, they are still foreigners.” Said my mother in 1964 as I sat on her bed late one evening before leaving for America. I was appalled, as I often was, at ‘the things my mother says.’ I left for America determined to pay no attention to her words. It took a month, six weeks at most, for our cluster of three Irish and one English nurses to start squawking at how the Americans we met, patients, doctors and fellow nurses, behaved. Where was their stiff upper-lip? Did everything need to be written out before we got a patient out of bed? What, in other words, was the matter with these people? Our little gang of gals grumbled our way through winter into spring. New York and all across America was in racial turmoil during those months and on throughout the summer.
My mother arrived in July for my marriage (to an American!) in August. She came bearing gifts, lists and more scoldings on what I still had to get done in the remaining two weeks and also with an openness that put me to shame. For her ‘They are different’ translated into a sincere effort to understand the differences she encountered in the Americans she met. Naturally, she found more similarities than differences, and absorbed them all.
After the Friday morning wedding and lunch time snack we left, heading out for a six week motorcycle Odyssey to California. My mother stayed with her new relatives for the weekend. I can only image that after we had left, and the guests slowly finished up the sandwiches, champagne and tea, and also departed, my new in-laws, the grandmother and uncle who had flown down from Toronto and my mother had all sat down together with some relief. Conversation would have relaxed as they sipped something soothing and maybe smoked a little before dinner.
On Sunday our mothers went to hear Martin Luther King speak at Riverside Church. For my mother whose knowledge of Africans was from Africa this must have been an extraordinary event giving her another glimmer of understanding. And a glimmer is maybe all that most of us can hope for however hard we try.
Fifty-five years later I look back, and see how far we have not come, how much work there is still to do and how the tap and tide of human kindness does not always seem to be turning clockwise. On our little terrace I try not to be discouraged as I add Hibernation Gin to the Elderflower cordial and listen to the blackbirds calling to their fledglings. But I can smile and give thanks for all the young people we have raised who are finding those glimmers of understanding and a light to shine for us all.
This has been A Letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch