I didn’t know we had crocuses in our garden. When we moved in, almost a year ago, they had already been supplanted by bluebells and Alchemilla. Now here they are in swathes, brightening the front garden, popping up boldly in my new veg patch, creeping into the lawn. And here we are, suddenly, a part of the community. As the people of the town emerge into the welcome sunshine, we emerge with them and begin to call this home.
It was a rash decision to come here. Letting our hearts rule our heads, we left practicality (a five-minute drive to the hospital, a two-minute walk to the station) for a house that leaked like a sieve but had ‘character,’ with a hallway too narrow for a wheelchair but a garden big enough to run around in, in a town we barely knew but would quickly come to love.
It was all new to me, born and bred in suburbia: row after row of boxy 1930s houses; people rushing past each other on their way to the big city; no particular pub to call a ‘local;’ only the dog-walkers sharing a smile as they pass. So I find it quite novel knowing the names of everyone in the street, stopping for a chat in the greengrocer, taking in each other’s bins; the centre of my world is now two minutes down the road.
Already everybody knows us – how could they not? I’m the girl in the tumbledown house with the heavily-laden buggy, the lively toddler and that poor, sweet disabled baby. But they also know everyone that’s ever lived in our house: “Oh yes, number one, that’s Alice Donaldson’s mother’s old place, two up from the Anderson’s and along from the family with the boat.” There is a sense of continuity here, of meaningful links between past, present and future.
Here, I feel we really might be able to join that continuum of human life I believe in (and have written about before). Here we can’t hide ourselves away, wallow in our own problems, despise people that stare at us in the supermarket and will never see us again. Here people genuinely want to get to know us; we are part of their lives now, all of us. Philosopher Professor Jeremy Waldron of New York University said, in a recent series of lectures at Edinburgh University, “the profoundly disabled are human persons too, endowed with human dignity … the relation is not straightforward, but just because it is complicated does not mean it is tenuous or ambiguous.” We don’t need to understand this, only to feel it, and here, where the pace of life is a little slower, such feeling seems to come naturally. His biggest problem, at least until I get around to cutting Benjy’s hair, is people mistaking him for a girl!
I’ve been along to our local church, St. Anne’s, a few times. Not seeking God, particularly, but tradition, familiarity, ritual and peace. I found those, and I found a welcome, not just to me, but to the whole family. I mentioned to the priest that we would like to arrange Benjamin’s long-overdue christening, and he was over-the-moon with excitement. With a small, typically retired congregation, they haven’t had a christening since last summer. Would we consider Easter Sunday, as is traditional? It would be the highlight of the church calendar. So, on Easter Day, that congregation will welcome Benjamin, and us with him, into the church and into this loving community.
At every turn we find not just smiles but support, not just curiosity but concern, not just compassion but care. It might have been rash but it was the right move. We have found the village that can raise our child.