It’s been a tough week for our planet. After the high of the Women’s March and all its positivity, the subsequent legislation emanating from Trump’s hand and our own government’s inability to stand up for what’s right, it’s been a momentous downer. I’m left feeling small, unrepresented and powerless. And scared.
I realise you’re here for a little escapism, but it feels wrong not to at least acknowledge what’s going on. Sign the petitions, write to your MP and don’t let any of this become normal in your mind. But then what? Go outside, breathe the air, and take comfort in our land and our heritage.
A few days after the Brexit vote, I found myself at some ruins on our summer holiday, while last week we decided to visit the ruins at Old Sarum. Although the timing of each of these visits was, if not coincidental definitely subconscious, at both points it was apt. At times like this, I often take comfort in ruins.
The crooked and haggard buildings of our past that still stand firm in our landscape. Ruins have been bombarded, or burnt, or pulled down, or abandoned, or all of the above and more. And despite that, their rugged remains hold resolutely to life. Battered by weather, by time, and by humanity they simply won’t collapse. It’s not like they’re just clinging to life either – they are strong and solid, the indestructible bastions of England’s past.
I feel this in churches perhaps even more so. I think it’s because ecclesiastical architecture was one of my postgraduate specialist subjects. I can read a church. I can see where it’s been wrenched apart, altered, and feel the ghosts of the bits that have been stolen.
I have a memory, on that Brexit day, of placing my hand on the softened iron handle of an ancient church door, of closing it quietly behind me and being plunged into the darkness of the porch, dazzled by the stained glass of the inner doors. Once I’d managed to feel my way inside, I stepped into a warm-hued little oasis, all sandstone and Victorian pews. Completely alone, I took comfort in the stillness. The smoothed stones, the musty, bookish smell, the gap where the choir screen once was.
I had a thought then that I return to frequently these days. If this church can withstand 800 years, civil and international wars, and a Reformation where it had its very guts ripped out, then we too can withstand our current political storm. Not only withstand it, but come out the other side with our heads held high, a little battered, but all the more magnificent for it.
So if you’re looking for comfort, take it in ruins or wander to the village church. Run your hand down centuries-smoothed bannisters, place your feet in the worn parts of flagstones, stepping in the very footsteps of our ancestors. Feel your place in history, here at the end of a long line of experience, and right at the beginning of the future. Do your democratic duty, and by all means feel and rage against it all, and feel the weight of history. But take comfort in that history too – it is there to teach us, to cosset us and to show us the way.