Lent 2023: Monday Lent Week Three

The photo accompanying this week’s reflections shows a statue of a solitary Mary looking out over a vast, beautiful natural emptiness in County Cork, Ireland

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I was taking a very early flight – six in the morning. After security I had to trek on a cunningly winding path through the dazzling wilderness of perfumes, alcohol, chocolates, cigarettes and cosmetics and all the other things that make modern life worth living and keep our way of life going. Crowds of travellers gathered willingly in an early morning frenzy of browsing and buying, or better described as a dull addictive compulsiveness. On the other side of this, I found an oasis to have breakfast, tea and toast, maybe with an egg although I hadn’t decided yet. Smiling servers who must have got up at three am, like me, led me to a table. From there you had to go to the bar to order. Most of the customers there were ordering trays of drinks as if it was an evening at the pub. One thirsty, serious looking man drank two whiskeys while he waited. I had failed to note the number of my table so I went back and memorised ‘34’. From then on it was simple. After my breakfast, remembering I was there to take a plane not consume, I went out to look at the departures board. I checked the gate number. It also was, strangely, ‘34’. Do I wake or sleep?

As an Irish friend of mine used to say with a meaningful nod about strange things like this: ‘it only goes to show’. He rarely said what it showed. There are many things we can’t explain and have to consign to silence, small coincidences that stop you in your tracks for a moment or great losses that takes a life to process. We have to park or forget them in order to get on with other things, like not arriving at an airport before dawn and missing the flight because you spent too much time shopping. So, I left the ‘34’ hanging unsolved, after thinking if it was ‘35’ it might have had more meaning. (Suggestions please.)

Later, I was talking to a friend who was describing something that was hard to verbalise. I understood what he meant but, like him, could not quite find the right word for it. ‘It’ was about finding something within a relationship that had been interrupted, felt to be missing and then feared lost. When it quietly returned, it was as if it had gone away just to test the relationship, in order to show what the relationship itself might mean. My friend was trying to articulate that particular kind of subtly unnameable feeling. It can come when you find something that you thought had lost and had let go of. Perhaps you know what I mean.

Finding the word to describe something like this can feel like an urgent need. One is reluctant to select the obvious words because every one sounds, what?, incomplete, falling short. A poem might be needed to express the inexpressible through the magical combination of sound and sense. Nevertheless, between people, the joint attempt and failure to find the right word can also be expressive. The silence of the fruitless search creates connection and a clear shared understanding. The limitations of words can then be peacefully consigned to silence. The desert of that silence blooms in joy. It is very different from the wasteland of duty free and its false claims to restore us to the happiness we have lost. Sometimes, the best way to find what you are looking for is to admit that you have lost it for good.

The photo accompanying this week’s reflections shows a statue of a solitary Mary looking out over a vast, beautiful natural emptiness in County Cork, Ireland.

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