Sunday, 5 June 2011

Underneath the Stars

The lyrics of a Kate Rusby song have been bouncing round my head all week. It is a beautiful song, which reminds me of many things, not all of them connected. Sometimes I think songs can remind me of many different things because I am classically 'scatty'; not concentrating, my mind naturally wanders from topic to topic making unique connections of its own devising, and not always letting me in on them. However, with this song, I think it reminds me of so many things because it can be read in different ways. Have a listen:

Songs are intensely personal, and related to experiences in life and connections to people and places. Everyone hears them differently.  This song reminded me of a friend who, on visiting my parents house for the first time, commented: 'You have such beautiful stars! You are lucky!' I laughed because the stars do not belong to anyone - they come and go as they please. My friend was, at the time, having a bit of a roller coaster journey in life, and I remember watching him drive off and silently praying for him: 'Go gently'. Since then, I often sign off messages and notes to those I love with those words. To go gently through life, treating self and others with that quality of care which recognises their vulnerability, is a virtue I greatly admire and long for.

For half term I was sleeping under the stars in the back garden of my parents. My brother is visiting us, with his wife and family, from their home in Taiwan. It has been a great celebration. I miss my brother very much when he is away, and it has been almost a year since I saw him last. We have had much fun together - going on little adventures or just chilling out at home. Each night, heading out to my little tent, I have seen the stars and they are beautiful and remind me of St. Teresa of Lisieux writing: 'When was the last time you looked at the stars? Truly, we are surrounded with Love. Simple happiness is all around us.' 

Then, there was that night on the camino de Santiago. It always comes back to me. In June 2003, I walked from St. Jean Pied la Port to Santiago de Compostela alone, and almost without mishap. One day though,  after an early start,  feeling very very tired after a long flat 30kms (yes, it was a big stretch), I got turned away by a Franciscan Monastery. They had no room at the inn. It was the middle of the day, and the heat was overpowering. All the restaurants and bars had closed (it must have been after lunch). I had no choice but to move on. It was another 12kms to the next village. I asked the Friar who had answered the door to ring ahead to the next refugio, and let them know I was coming, I hoped he would. The road was hot and dusty, and very quiet. There was a line of thick trees on my right hand side. They were tall and dark. I was scared and tired and hungry. I remember thinking I would never get to the next place. I must have been walking very slowly, because it was 7pm when I finally made it. There was no room at the refugio there either. I could not go on, that much was clear. I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I did not know what I was going to do. The parish priest called his sister. Around 8pm, two more exhausted looking pilgrims arrived. The parish priest rang his sister again. Soon after, the sister arrived, well into her 80's, in a pick up truck with three spare mattresses on the back. They were placed on the floor in the portico of the village church, and we, the pilgrims, were told to get into the back of the truck. We were taken away to the sister's home, given clean towels and pointed in the direction of a hot shower, fed soup and mountains of bread. I don't remember much chat, we were tired and communicating in different languages was hard. After supper we were were trucked back to the church, and reunited with the mattresses. The last thing I remember before drifting off into a deep deep sleep, is looking up and seeing the clearest, most beautiful stars and a thin crescent moon - my refuge for the night. I woke the next day to the sound of Mass being said in the Church. It was 7am. There was only one door into the Church, and my two fellow pilgrims and I were sleeping in front of it. The parishioners must have crept around us to get in! I have never been more grateful for such simple hospitality. I will never forget that place or those people, and I will never forget those stars.

And a last unconnected thought about stars. 'You come and go of your own free will - go gently'. Those words remind me of today because it is the feast of the Ascension. I would love to be eloquent enough to be able to explain that, but sadly words fail me. Except to say that, looking at stars, I can truly feel present to and in the presence of those I love. Stars are so far away,  so far above me, and far beyond my understanding, but they remind me of how close I hold people in my heart. Sometimes people feel the Ascension is a feast about 'going away', but, as I was reminded today, it is really a feast about Christ's arrival at the heart of humanity.

Anyhow, enough from me.
Go gently.

1 comment:

Tracey Wright said...

Lovely post Elaine! I have a thing about the stars too. Do you remember a couple of years ago, you gave me a card for my birthday - it's quite simple, it just has the words 'One Million Gold Stars' on the front. There's something I really love about it. I keep it on my bedside table.