I sat in Newcastle City Centre on a Friday morning amidst the great cathedrals of that place – the shops and cafes full of worshippers and looking quite satisfied with their commitments to these rituals.
I picked up my mug of fair-trade coffee and sat outside in the square watching the world go by. Warmed and encouraged by the sun there was a sense of cheer in the air. I am never very sure about what to make of the generalizations about our materialistic culture and its capacity to diminish our happiness. No signs here of a lack of purpose, meaning or fulfillment.
The north east – my birth place – always feels like home. We northerners are friendly people! We enjoy conversation. We love laughter. We have a deep sense of pride in family, home and place. The great buildings and enterprises of the industrial revolution have shaped us. The magnificence of our castles and churches shape our pride in unexpected ways. The beauty of miles of coast line that have inspired so many broaden our horizons. This is the cradle of Christianity – the land of Cuthbert, Aidan and Bede.
Well – that is one interpretation – and perhaps an understandable one. The visitor sometimes sees things in a way that those totally immersed in the struggle for life and its anxieties. My own views are shaped by relative comfort – a life where food and friendship; work and security are enjoyed in good measure. Many in this part of England have been devastated by unemployment and poverty. The way we see things is shaped by all our life perhaps especially the difficult parts!
As I drank my coffee I became aware of my age and how much has happened since school and university. I have an appreciative sense of the opportunities that life has given. I watch a young man selling The Big Issue and realize that his life narrative has a very different shape.
It is time to move on. Suddenly my eye catches an engraving on a War Memorial : Memory Lingers Here. Part of what it means to be human is to remember. The way we remember shapes the pattern of our lives. We need to stop and listen to these memories – and allow them to linger and disturb.