This Bright Sadness

Walking past our local pub the other day I was stopped in my tracks by something I couldn’t explain.

It was a sort of ache and it took me a moment to diagnose it. I was suffering from an acute sense of wistfulness. I’ve been in that pub with my friends every week for twenty years — but not once in the last year. I realised how much I missed it.

Partly the ambience and the drinking… but mainly the hanging out with these people who make me laugh and wind me up and support the wrong football team.

This painful sense of longing is more frequent as lockdown drags on. At the funeral of a friend on Thursday, the loss was joined by a bitter-sweet poignancy at the sight of familiar faces behind their masks — people I’m used to being with on Sundays, singing and praying together.

It dawned on me that I was homesick, which is weird, considering we’re all mostly stuck at home anyway.

While our minds are telling us lockdown is a necessary evil, our spirits are telling us lockdown is not natural. Even the seasons outside remind us. Spring trying to chase off winter, the birds turning up the volume in the trees… nature getting on with life while we’re still forced to hibernate.

We long for a social spring — to meet relatives in care homes, to invite friends around, to see the kids or the parents who live miles away.

For a return to the rhythms and routines which are the scaffolding we built a life on, the scaffolding we never think of until we need to do maintenance on this life.

Home is more than the place we live. Home is who we belong to and who belongs to us.

There’s a Welsh word — hiraeth — which captures this yearning. It’s a sort of dreaming for that home, that time and place that we used to know, which is now beyond reach.

Next week, as if we haven’t all given up enough already, the Christian Church marks the arrival of Lent. You may feel like asking, ‘What more do you want?’

Lent is known as a ‘penitential’ season — an invitation to examine our lives in the forty days leading to Easter. Lockdown is its own kind of Lent — forcing a self-examination it would be easier to avoid.

But the eastern tradition of Christianity has a lovely expression for Lent — naming it a season of ‘bright sadness’. Perhaps a light is held in that darkness, perhaps the desert is not deserted.

Last week I bought a ticket to a gig in October — my statement of faith in the future. I’ve started making a list of places and people to see, when the desert days of this pandemic are history.

It adds brightness to my sadness.

I need to see my friends in the pub and in the church. I need to get home again.

(The text of ‘Thought For The Day’ delivered on BBC Radio 4 on February 13th)