More from Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy, on his day off.
Having just a fortnight before been looking out at snow in the garden, I was thrilled to have the first days of sitting outside in the sun with a cup of tea.
After a couple of busy months with work I’d decided to treat myself to a Friday off at the end of February. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I vaguely thought I might have a lie-in and listen to ‘Desert Island Discs’ in bed. But when I woke at my usual early hour and looked out of the window I was greeted by the radiant sight of a clear and perfectly round moon on its way down behind the distant trees. From the other side of the house I beheld a deep red sky with the sun beginning to rise. This was no morning for lying in bed. I dressed quickly and went into the street to find that nature had completed its stunning spectacle with a frost, whose delicate shapes I always love to see on the cars. With the birds in full voice it was all quite magical.
Being able to eat my breakfast later on at the bottom of the garden in full sunshine was a total joy. I’ve created a sort of spring bulb lawn near the shed, and was in an ideal vantage point to bask in the glory of clumps of snowdrops, yellow crocuses, purple crocuses and mini daffodils. The sunshine was also creating a beautiful sparkling sheen of water drops on the tips of the just beginning to grow grass. I knew what I had to do that day. I was going to postpone the one or two practical jobs in the house I’d thought I might do and instead get on my bike. There’s a long cycle I did many times last year in the spring and summer that takes me out of Canterbury through various woods to the coast at Herne Bay, then along the seafront to Whitstable. It was the first time this year to follow what had become for me quite a sacred course. It was lunchtime when I got to Whitstable and I stopped at ‘V C Jones’, the chip shop where I often went last year with my youngest Sean son when we were out on our rides. I phoned my order in from outside, as has been the procedure in these days! Disappeared now are the words that were chalked last summer in large colourful letters on the pavement outside V C Jones, ‘As Sting sang, Don’t stand So Close to Me’!
I picked up my scampi and chips and went and found a spot on the beach in full glorious sunshine with my back resting against a groyne. I ate slowly and happily, then took a luxurious siesta on the warm pebbles, followed by a little paddle. The sea was very cold but it felt good, also walking in bare feet on the stones and some isolated strips of sand.
The season of Lent is commonly associated with fasting and abstinence. The word itself comes from the Old English ‘lencten’ which means spring season; and it may also be derived from the Old Germanic ‘lango’, long, and be related to the lengthening of the days which occurs most noticeably and wonderfully at this time.
After a year in which many have died of Covid-19, to simply be alive can feel like a bonus. On a day when I could see and hear and smell the annual miracle of new life springing up so spectacularly all around me, it seemed a particular gift.
The Jesuit Gerry Hughes used to say that he imagined God asking him just one question when he died: “Did you enjoy my creation?” At the start of the spring season it’s difficult not to.