It seems to me that they can apply to any relationship, not just the God one. The opposite truth is also relevant – to create distance all that is required is a lack of time, a lack of talk and a lack of trust. All relationships need to be fed and nurtured.
Let’s start with time. This last week has been spent with my friend Marion in her house in Armadale, the south end of the Isle of Skye. The house is amazing. It’s not a new build but an old house. It smells not of new paint but old dust. Piles of books inhabit every room. Stacked against every wall there are pictures in frames. Nothing gets thrown out and everything is waiting to be assigned a place somewhere.
I have this habit of assuming that because I like someone’s company for an hour or two in a specific context, I will like that person’s company for a longer period outside the context of our usual meeting. It doesn’t often work that way. We discover quickly that we have little common ground and things become awkward after a while. It has sometimes led to the end of a friendship. So, yes, spending a whole week with someone I spend a couple of hours with once a month qualified for the bitten-off-more-than-I-can-chew label.
I arrived at her house a little after two in the afternoon. It was a slow drive – made stressful by the incredible beauty of the landscape and hairpin bends, other drivers overtaking and being midgie-attacked-and-bitten when I stopped for a picnic just outside of Kyle of Lochalsh. It was more than anyone could ask of me to negotiate the curved drive without hitting the white stones that bordered it.
So, we sat down to a cup of tea at two o’clock and talked our way almost all the way around the clock face. We woke from a deep and involved conversation to realise it was way past our bed times.
Marion’s house has no television, no radio and no mobile phone or wifi signal. It has field mice that sit on the kitchen floor undisturbed and a family of ducks that pass by the back door on the way to the bay for a morning swim. It has two rooms decorated in 1950’s style, the living room and the kitchen, which form a film set for Aunty Peggy’s house in the ALABA series “Bannan”. The film crew arrive, like migrating birds, in the spring and the autumn.
I discovered that I loved being in Marion’s house and in her company. We spent a lot of time together!
What about talking? Marion is writing a book on Scottish clans. She began telling me about some new houses that had been built just across the road. They are not like Marion’s house which has character and history and two rooms of a film set. These are neat white boxes with green wooden porches. Apparently when the diggers came in to pull up the soil, it was more than soil they excavated. Archaeologists were no doubt called in to examine and date the bones found – three or four thousand years old - and identify the black ooze in stone jars – brain matter – but once they were all moved to a safer place the builders continued with their project. History was an inconvenience. No clues left as to who the bones belonged to and seemingly no desire to find out. Too many aspects of life are in the same kind of danger of being neglected and forgotten. Living in a place where MacLean and MacGregor are becoming just surnames and losing their history – Marion stands like King Canute trying to halt the waves of “who-gives-a toss?”
The lesser known stories of clan events, along with snippets of Marion’s life story and grilling me on my views about God TV and American evangelists, there was no shortage of things to talk about.
Marion had worked with a publisher friend of mine, but he hadn’t met someone like Marion before. Her synapses are always firing and she probably can’t write in a straight line. We called her diversions “rabbit holes” and there were lots of them. I remember once being taught how to roll out pastry by continually tapping the edges to keep it square or round. Marion needed the tap the edges of her creativity to keep it in shape.
So much talking. When Marion is staying in Armadale, she tends not to leave the grounds. She said it was because people talk to her and hours can drift by. It’s not wasted time by any means but it doesn’t help progress the book.
And trust? Writers are strange people at times. There are times when they lack confidence and are not sure that what they are writing has any value to anyone but themselves. My publisher friend was looking for a particular book format that he recognised. It was as if he tried to snatch the pastry out of her hand and start tapping the edges into his kind of book.
Much of the time Marion and I spent talking was about finding a format and a structure that she was happy with. It was as if she had put the pastry into my hands – her hopes, her dreams, her stories, her personal anecdotes and all of her confidence issues. We worked together shaping her book, identifying themes and stories that would make the grade and setting aside the ones that wouldn’t. It will be such a book that I will be first in the queue to buy.
I found plenty of time to sit down and plan a second book of poetry. It has been something I have hesitated to do because the first one was so good that I didn’t think a second book could match it. But, as the first book was, it was never my book to make such decisions about, but God’s. I know that I had Marion’s support anyway, but talking to her it really helped.
The three “T”s? Marion and I did them all and our friendship is deeper for it.