There is a time-honoured tradition that the very best weather of the summer occurs in the first week of the local school’s fall term. Which gives us something to look forward to, I suppose.
This Monday morning, however, lands in the last week of our summer holiday and it’s predictably drizzly.
It’s also the Spouse’s first day in his new job, so I don’t even have a colleague here at home to take a share of the scolding duties. I decided that the best course of action was to teach the sprogs how to play Crazy Eights. A little dash of competition helps to pass a rainy day, right? Turned out, it went surprisingly well. We sat for an hour or more at the kitchen table, playing cards, eating sliced apple, mainly thoroughly happy. Plum sat up at the table, too, with his own set of cards and a plastic box so that he could play a complicated game on In and Out. Involved and contented, too. More or less. Among the rest of us, competition was fierce and delightful, and it filled the morning. When the tournament finally came to a close, the drizzle outside appeared to have let up a bit and the boys decided to explore the garden, looking for slugs. Our new back garden is slug central, home to the biggest, fattest, fleshiest specimens I’ve ever seen. Fat as sausages and intrepid enough to make their oozy way right into the kitchen if you (I) leave the door open for too long. Erg. The boys like to examine them as close as they can, and I spent the rest of morning poking my head out the kitchen door at intervals, encouraging kindness to small creatures, no splashing, and please leave the stones on the ground and don’t for heaven’s sake throw them around like that.
Beangirl stayed inside. She was waiting for the delivery of a comic which should have arrived on Friday and still has yet to be seen. Glum and steady, she watched the mailbox and got impatient. Outside, the boys got soggy and tired of my interjections.
By noon, we were all a little goblin-faced.
I’ve a habit of taking/needing an early afternoon break, so we tend to institute Alone Time after lunch. Sometimes, I brand this as Quiet Time instead, or even Quiet Time With Books. When Beangirl was small, she rejected anything even rhyming with nap, so these handles came in handy. But naming gives shape, and it was with relief that, when Plum was snoozing and the other kids happily settled in their rooms with a tower of library books each, I sat myself down alone and picked up my own book. I’m reading Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach by Jean Sprackland. She is a poet, but this is a book of memoir-ish musings, reflections drawn from regular walks on her local beach. It’s a delightful book, enticing and inviting as any good travel book, and filled with stories and surprising details about all this things you can find when you walk the sands. Today, my eye was caught by a word – wrackline. It is the band of brown seaweed and debris brought in with the tide and left to dry on the sand, the line where beachcombers look. In the rafts of driftwood and seaweed, the crab shells, wet fallen feathers, twists of rope and broken buckets, you might find anything.
Another poet – this time Rowan Williams – also snagged my attention recently with another beach-related reflection. He compared prayer to sunbathing. In both activities, he suggests, it is your stillness that is required and the effect comes from elsewhere. You cannot sunbath better by concentrating harder or working or worrying. You need only to allow yourself to be still, to take off your shirt and be vulnerable. Your commitment to stillness lets the sun work its change.
Yes. That is a good and strong image.
But there are times, too, for beachcombing prayers. I’m sure of this. For walking slowly and looking closely to see what we can find. For a certain kind of searching through the tangle of our days along the messy wrackline thick with late-summer impatience, kitchen table Crazy Eights and the continuing work of learning kindness all round. For looking and finding and being grateful. That, too, is prayer.