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Reform Magazine | August 13, 2020

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On the pilgrim way: ‘January blues have hit’

The January blues hit me early this year – on New Year’s Eve. For the past 30, or even 40 years, we have brought in the new year at my husband’s brother’s home in Lincolnshire. Because the brothers had a Dutch mother, new year has always been special, with mulled wine, oliebollen (a kind of doughnut) and fireworks at midnight. We didn’t fancy mulled wine this year, and we stopped the fireworks some years ago because they had a nervous dog. But I did make oliebollen.

It seemed a very long evening, with my brother-in-law grumpily commenting on how long we still had to wait for midnight. We reflected on those who had died in the past year – some full of years, some shockingly young, some a release from dementia. We agreed that it had been a chaotic year for the country, followed by a disastrous election, and quickly moved on from the subject. And so we waited.

Hearing firework sounds, we all went outside in our slippers. Suddenly the mood lightened as coloured stars shot up into the sky behind houses. We laughed and admired and found ourselves saying: ‘Wow! That was a beauty!’ With some enthusiasm, we wished one another a happy new year.

‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ Yet the blues had returned by the next morning, as I peered into the darkness of the coming year: my brother-in-law’s declining health, homeless people on our streets, disaffected youth, the precarious situation in our local church with the retirement of our splendid church secretary. A shaft of light came as I remembered there was going to be a wedding at the end of January – the first wedding of our grandchildren’s generation. A wedding is such a statement of hope, of firm commitment, of stepping out bravely into the unknown.

‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ The four of us went to the RSPB’s Frampton Marsh nature reserve. Brother-in-law and Sister-in-law were able to walk to the first hide. I had a chance of a brisk walk, with my husband on his scooter, to the sea bank. To me, unlike to my fenlander husband, the scene across the salt marshes seemed utterly desolate. Then I tuned into the sounds, the chuntering of thousands of geese. The place was actually full of life – I was just not seeing it. Over to my right, a shot was fired. Hundreds of starlings took off and wheeled in glorious patterns across the winter sky.

Some lines in Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Starlings in Winter’ could perhaps speak for me:

I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground

Perhaps…

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the February 2020 edition of Reform

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