During 2006-8, in the final stages of my recovery from a long bout of burnout and retreat, I wrote a short memoir recording some of the early influences – via significant people and experiences up until the age of thirty – which had been important in determining the direction of my particular spiritual quest. I’d like now to share some of those episodes, which might very well trigger my readers’ own reflections on the early influences shaping their spiritual lives. If they do, it would be great to hear from you either via comments or email!
It was a very stormy day, as is frequently the case in the Outer Hebrides in winter. The ferry was tossing alarmingly, the passengers were very scared. Some were lying being sick in the toilets. Others, white faced, were on the cafeteria floor, clinging to the table legs for comfort and support.
Grandpa Donald’s nerves were steady. Despite being over seventy, he was dapper, and had never lost the sea legs he developed sailing between South America and his native island before the First World War. He made his way with a calculated stagger into the cafeteria full of screaming children and whimpering adults, serenely advancing to the serving area. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a cup of tea?”
He was on his way to South Uist to do a spot of lay preaching, and saw no reason why a force nine gale should come between him and his afternoon cuppa.
Donald died when I was eleven and he was eighty three. Typical of the man, chasing hens up the street was the last thing he did before taking his leave of this world, serene in his faith that he would be re-united with his departed loved ones in the Life to Come.
He used to babysit for me. I have no memory of those occasions, but according to my mother he used to say, every time my parents returned home, “My goodness, that child. What questions she asks, what questions!”. About the stars, and God, and where we all came from, and what life was for, apparently.
I do remember his serenity and good humour, and his kindness. I adored him and was devastated when he died. Donald had always made me feel safe, secure and valued. No one else in my childhood years had done this for me in quite the same way, as I struggled to grow up and get away from my parents. They loved me, but were too damaged in themselves and their unhappy relationship to support me in the ways that I needed.
After Donald died, I asked questions only of myself and my books.
The next episode will be
Where does the longing come from?
Early memories may carry clues – tucked up in bed, cosy and warm, safe and sound, I would listen to the winter North wind tearing the world apart. This could go on night after night after night. Other nights were clear – cold and still. I would stand on the concrete garden path, gazing at the luminous sky above the roofs of the houses at the top of Anderson Hill, awestruck with delight at the blaze of radiance dancing in the heavens. The Northern Lights, heavenly dancers….
to be continued
(note: inspiration for the title of this series of posts was taken from a book which I read a very long time ago but whose haunting title I have never forgotten: “Swimmer in the Secret Sea“ by William Kotzwinkle)
600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
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