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Reform Magazine | December 15, 2017

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On the pilgrim way: ‘This holiday felt particularly precious’

Sheila Maxey puts happiness into words

We had a brief holiday in Woodbridge, Suffolk, this March. We rented the same place as last year – a little converted Malthouse next to the station, overlooking the railway, boatyard and river. This time though, I had to return home in the middle of the holiday, in order to conduct my dear friend John’s funeral. In some strange way, this fact made the holiday feel like a particularly precious gift. Happiness tends to slip away through memory’s fingers, and so I feel I want to try – perhaps foolishly – to hold on to this gift from God by describing it.

Some contributing factors were, it seemed, quite mundane. Woodbridge is only just over an hour by car, and, once there, we never used the car, apart from returning for the funeral. We received no phone calls and only made two – to say ‘happy birthday’ to family members. Kees’ mobility scooter meant I could walk at my normal pace. Woodbridge has lots of coffee places, restaurants and interesting little shops, so there was retail therapy for those, like us, who have enough money.

We had time – and, it seemed, complete freedom to use it. Time to get up when we wanted, to go out and in as we felt like it. No arrangements to meet anyone, no opening hours of interesting places to consider. There is something very luxurious about sewing or knitting or reading in the morning!

The sun shone every day and the beauty of the season was spread out before us – daffodils everywhere, the churchyard full of primroses, the birds so busy. The special feature of the house is its picture window where we could sit and watch the world go by. The little train passed hourly under our window; beyond it a steady stream of dog walkers, joggers, mothers with buggies and couples hand in hand set off along the sea wall. Beyond that, a chaos of boats, and beyond that, the river ebbed and flowed with the tide. Most days we joined the walkers along the sea wall, watching the red shanks and curlews with their long beaks poking about in the mud and the terns swooping down to steal the bread the little children were trying to give to the ducks.

Woodbridge is rich in history with buildings from every period which somehow put our brief lives in context. We walked around with a history guide in hand to open our eyes and tell us what we were seeing. As we walked up Turn Lane, an old wooden door in the wall invited us into a designated ‘Quiet Place’. It was the old Quaker cemetery – and there, poking out of a riot of daffodils, were the simple gravestones. They spoke to me of death and new life, just as John’s funeral had done. We sat there in companionable silence.

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the May 2017 edition of  Reform.

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