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2017 Grateful 26

Philadelphia. 7 June. 1753. Benjamin Franklin sat down to write a letter to George Whitefield, an English clergyman who was taking America by storm. Billed as the ‘Grand Itinerant’, he called no church home, preferring to travel around the colonies preaching to the masses. For more than 30 years, he held his audiences in the palm of his hand, leading them to penitence and reigniting their souls with a passion for God in what was known as the Great Awakening.

I came across an excerpt from this letter recently and went in search of the  full text.  The more I read, the more I realised that BJ could have been writing today. June 2017.  And I wondered how much better the world might be, were we to heed his words. I read it through a number of times and the same line kept jumping out at me.

I wish [faith] were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers filled with flatteries and compliments…

How relevant this is. My mind began to draw all sorts of connections between dots that weren’t there back in the 1700s. We have so many friends today. Thanks to social media, many of us have friends we’ve never met, people with whom we might interact on a daily basis through a litany of likes and hashtags but couldn’t pick out of a crowd. Have we reduced active support to sharing posts and reacting to photos? Are we drowning in a sea of good intentions, blaming our shortcomings as friends and neighbours on a lack of time? Are our leaders more intent on replaying their soundbites than actually getting anything done, building foundations for the future on shaky rhetoric?

In sharp contrast to city life, in the village if you need something done, you simply ask. We needed to borrow scaffolding from friends in the village. 1 km door to door. It was too heavy to hand carry and too heavy for a roofrack. But a neighbour two doors up, to whom we’ve spoken to maybe three times, has a trailer and his wife has a car with a trailer hitch. We asked, he delivered.

My néni-next-door popped her head through the trees to say hi. She was curious to know what laundry detergent I was using, as the sheets I had air drying outside smelled wonderful. I had doubts at first that I was understanding her correctly but yes, I was. She disappeared and came back with money, asking me to bring some for her from Budapest next time I was down. She asked, I’ll deliver.

There’s hardly a day that goes buy without some ask being delivered on, in some form, shape, or fashion. Perhaps it’s still a few decades behind the times. Perhaps its the absence of distractions. Perhaps its simply a community at work. It feels good though. And is nice to be part of it. I’m grateful.

BJ captured it nicely in his letter to Whitefield…

For I do not think that thanks and compliments, though repeated weekly, can discharge our real obligations to each other …

We ask, they do, and we do in return. Practical living at its best.

When rugs were rugs

Ah – do ye remember when a rug was a rug and not a hair piece? When the back seat of every car in Ireland was covered in a rug or, at the very least, every car boot in Ireland had one tucked away for emergencies. When picnic rugs were part and parcel of a day at the beach or a walk in the fields or an afternoon by the river. Back in the days when simplicity was king, attention spans were longer, and people had interesting things to say. Back before we needed to be plugged in to function. Remember those classic old tartan rugs with the fringes that you could plait and unplait? Or the fancier herringbone ones that lived on the back of couches or over the arm of an easy chair, just begging for a cold winter’s evening? Or the rugs than seemed to come free with every wheelchair and stick like a second skin to very old person you knew?  [Sweet mother of Divine Jesus, when did I get so old?]

And then rugs were cast aside, unceremoniously, in favor of the fancier-sounding ‘throws’ or the ubiquitous duvets. Fashion crept in and things had to coordinate. We started to value things for how they looked rather than for what they accomplished. Tough, sturdy wool was relegated to the back of wardrobes or the attic in favour of softer, synthetic materials. Fashion won out and the only rugs being sold were made of human hair and came with a free pot of Brylcream. But now, as we find ourselves dusting the cobwebs off sensible words like frugal, hard-wearing and solid, rugs are making a comeback. At Bath Farmers Market recently, Amanda Bell from Featherbed Trading was doing great business where tradition and fashion merge using bright colours and contemporary design. Had I not been travelling with RyanAir…

An aunt of mine, God rest her, the proud owner of a selection of tartan squares, was very fond of wrapping me up and proclaiming me ‘snug as a bug in a rug’. Apparently, this originated with Benjamin Franklin in 1769 and he later went onto use the same phrase in a letter to a female friend whose squirrel (which he called Skuggs) had died, suggesting the following epitath (1772):

Here Skugg
Lies snug
As a bug
In a rug.

I think it’s now official. Am losing my mind. If I can get this nostalgic about a squirrell and a rug, think of what a stick of rock would do for me…