Where can we live but days?


What a beautiful day.  Ash Wednesday came and woke me early with the beginnings of  a dawn chorus.  I rode my bike to the cathedral – a mile away downhill, mostly along a path crossing Beverlie Meadows, a big expanse of green between St Stephens where I live and the city. At 7.30am, the shadows of the trees made long stripes along the grass and the great Bell Harry tower was misty in the distance.

Where can we live but days asked Philip Larkin?  Circular time brings them round again, to do the same things in, but differently.  Days have their own colours, sounds and sensations. Even though I haven’t done a nine to five for decades, Fridays are still yellow, floppy, full of the relief of the end of the working week, Saturdays a bit grey with chores, Sunday, something to do with bluebells or crumpets for tea, the smell of shampoo for the weekly (in my childhood) hair wash.

Ash Wednesday moves with Easter, which moves with the moon and is late this year. There are primroses all over my garden, irises going over, tulips on the way and the bliss of the light lasting longer and longer into the evening.  I remember other Ash Wednesdays of grey skies, cold winds and bare earth and branches.

A late Ash Wednesday seems to put the brakes on spring – Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return – said over, and over to the queue of celebrants, the firm thumb of the priest pressing a mixture of oil and and the burned remains of last year’s palm crosses onto our foreheads. Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return. Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return …

Yes, we remember, and are appropriately sombre. I make all kinds of resolutions for how this Lent will be spent. The black smeary crosses look both comic and tragic – reminiscent of urchins, chimney sweeps, the stunned look of people after a bomb explosion. The men either side of me each shed tears at different points in the service, something intangible touching them. The sun at one stage catches the long straight hair of a teenage girl in front of me, turning it molten.

Then it’s out of the cathedral and into the bright spring morning, back on the bicycle and a sunny scoot over the cobbles and home via the Goods Shed with its Italian baker to coffee and conversation, before the ‘working’ day starts.

I’ve already failed to do some of the things on my Lenten list – and done some things I resolved not to. But it’s been a happy, beautiful day.  What are days for, after all?