January is all about returns. We return to our homes after the Christmas celebrations. Children return to school, adults to work. The Christmas tree is returned to the ground, whence it came, and the bells and baubles are returned to the big box, which, in turn, is returned to the cupboard under the stairs, for the mice to enjoy through the long cold winter months. It’s quite fun to discover half a fairy or a guddle of tinself that once was a long unbroken line of shimmering nonsense. How a mouse can possibly enjoy shimmering nonsense is beyond me. Must be one hec of a chewing job.
Amazon and other gift companies will probably define their January by the number of returns they receive. The wrong trousers, the faulty toys, a dress size too small, or, joy of joys, a size too big. Slowly and gradually we begin to rid our lives of packaging and cards, of old bones and stale buns, and most of us go further. We decide to tidy up our lives, beginning, perhaps, by emptying our tee shirt drawer onto the floor for sorting. If you are like me you only ever access the favourites anyway, the upper layer of lycra/cotton mix, the strappy ones that come down over my bum and stay there. The ones that ride up or gape in the wrong place or strangle me by the armpits, all are left in the dark to grow smelly from lack of use. But I keep keeping them just in case. In case of what? In case I suddenly grow gappy in the same place, or my armpits shift up a notch, or my bum lifts higher? Fat chance is the truth, but still I hold onto them.
What if there’s an apocalypse? Well, if Trump has his way, there just might be. Nonetheless I doubt any shape of tee-shirt would save me. No, what I must do is return them to the tee-shirt holding place – in other words, the charity shop on the island, having first washed the smell out first, of course. I think I need 45 of them when in fact I need 2 or 3. What is this fear of letting go? It isn’t just about tee shirts either, and when I consider the plight of my fellow women across the world, I am ashamed.
As I walk out into the wild, picking my moment as the last hail gale moves on to blast another’s afternoon, and with 20 minutes before the next one gathers in the north, I think on the movement of everything. Everything in Nature moves on, moves out, returns another day. This circular pattern means that this cold wind that tips my wheelie over and coats the ground with a wet white carpet of crunch carries on its wings, the breath of the Northern Folk. I look behind me as it passes by as if I might see my own breath joining theirs. What dreams, what stories, what whispers just touched me briefly, and moved on? Can I smell the high mountains, the pine trees, the ice rivers swollen with snowmelt and rain?
When the wind changes direction, coming from warmer climes, the stories change, the pictures in my head. Tides ebb and flow, the moon waxes and wanes, and all is a circle, many circles, constantly moving, turning, returning. Sometimes when I make contact with a new person and feel, as she does, that we know each other very well, I consider the circle of life, the winds that blow between us, around us, through us, and the stories we hear that sound like our own. I know you although we have never before met.
Or did we?
Clearing out tee shirt drawers and cupboards and garages and so on might seem like a chore, like a very small task but in truth it symbolises the willingness to lay myself open to something new. Creating room is my job. As is paring down my material grabbiness and the clutter of centuries. What we need is never what we have around us. What we need is shelter, food, friendship and God, or, if you prefer, spirtual openness, a vulnerable heart and ears to hear another man’s story all the way through to the end.