“There’s a difference between solitude and loneliness.” ~ Maggie Smith.
My father was an eclectic music lover. Brought up in a Welsh chapel, he had an abiding love of hymns, especially as he grew up to be a minister of religion. In his collection of LPs (long-playing records, from the olden days!), and then later his CDs, you would find Ella Fitzgerald, Oklahoma (the musical), classical music, African Liberation music and more. But I always loved a story he told about one day going to a live brass band performance in the nearby park. Brass bands were a feature of working class, mining communities. They would be named for the town, or the mine, and they provided a release for the soul-crushing work done thousands of feet below the surface of the earth, digging out the black diamonds, coal.
The brass bands (who featured only brass instruments and an odd percussion instrument here and there) would compete against each other, and would also perform on special occasions, marching through the town, or playing in the bandstand of a local park on a lovely summer’s day. It was on such an occasion that my father went to soak in the beauty of the park, and absorb the soulful strains of the band, the only catch being that he had responsibility for his two daughters. They were his only children at the time, so they could not have been much older than 4 and 2, I imagine. They of course were not entranced by the band’s performance, and as he tussled with them to be quiet, he eventually in desperation (covered by the volume of the band) yelled at them ‘For heaven’s sake, shut up!’ Unfortunately, his yell coincided with a moment of silence, a pause between notes, and was heard by the crowd! Including (again, unfortunately) one of his church members!.
There are times, especially when you are the parent of young children, of young lively children who constantly have questions, or demands, or needs, or separation, or distraction, or nourishment, or entertainment, or countless other things, there are times when a parent longs for a moment of peace, of being left alone. And then there comes the time when you are left alone, and you think nostalgically of those hectic days, remembering only sweet loving times, with no raised voices, no broken plates, no cuts needing the ER, no yelling and cussing through the house. Ah, the good old days!
When you are lucky enough to have your parents live long and relatively healthy lives, you get to see a side of them that you never knew existed. My mother had to be very frugal when I was young. My father, as a young minister, did not earn much money. We were fortunate to be given a roof over our heads, so that was an expense they didn’t have to worry about. She had grown up through World War II, and had known how to save and reuse, to repurpose, to take one item of clothing for an adult and turn it into two items for little girls. She had repurposed one of her slips and constructed a pair of running shorts for my father (the athlete) when he ran for his university team. So she was resourceful, she recycled, she wasted not, wanted not. But after retirement she became much more relaxed with her spending, she loved giving away her money, or gifts. Whenever I would visit my parents in Wales, when she was still active, she would have a little gift to push into my hand – money to spend. The phrase came to me the other day: “Mum would want you to have it”, a phrase to encourage you to treat yourself when your instinct was to look at the price and say too much.
We miss things and people when they are gone, that is for sure. And yet in life my mother could drive me crazy! These days of social distancing have shown us how much we need each other. But it is in keeping apart that we show how much we care for those ‘others’ in our lives. And it is the fact that we are apart, and facing a common enemy that we are thinking of those we haven’t been in touch with for a while, and reaching out to them.
Human beings are social creatures, even though we may be introverts. We may not mind being alone, but we still need to hear that others are ok. Like trees falling in a forest, we need to know that someone out there hears us, and would notice our absence. We may love our peace and quiet, but there is nothing quite so good as fellowshipping together, whether in a religious setting, a secular dance, a birthday party or a brass band. And so we are learning to find alternate ways to do so. This morning I listened to a brass band playing the encouraging ‘Lord of all hopefulness’, in beautiful harmony, even though each band member was playing in the privacy of their own home. Taped and played together, the horns soothed and hypnotized, reminding you of the closing lines: ‘…and give us we pray, your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.’
As we deal with this pandemic, with the particular challenges we all face, let us not focus on our own frustrations, our own difficulties. Let us hold close in our hearts all those who are facing existential crises, all those who have lost a loved one, or who have to stay separate from someone who is fighting for their life. Let us do everything in our power for the good of the whole community, even as we are separated from them. Let us hold our leaders accountable, and not let them forget the huge disparities in our social safety net, in our healthcare system, in people’s wellbeing that means that this crisis will have far different outcomes for communities of color. And if you get a chance, participate in an online communal effort – something that promotes our togetherness even as we stay far apart.
On this Good Friday morning, may you enjoy the peace and solitude without feeling lonely. May you feel the love of your family and friends, even though they may be far away, and may you share in the memory of those no longer with us, whether through brass brands or treating yourself.
Have a wonderful, peaceful weekend, Family!