It’s year two of living alone, for the first time in 10 years or so. I had no nervousness about it. Not from the point of view of feeling vulnerable, or frightened by things that go bump in the night. Being on my own in a house has never bothered me. The main thing that bothers me – but perhaps less so than I might have predicted – is the odd smattering of loneliness that erupts from nowhere like a pimple on your forehead. That empty thud feeling when talking to the radio begins to feel far too one sided. It’s one of those paradoxes: when we get overwhelmed by too many people, too much rush and bustle and noise, we crave seclusion; then, when we get time to ourselves, its attraction can quickly fade. Yet something unexpected has transpired: whilst I’ve never been so alone, neither have I been so connected, and some of this is down to the magic of the (mostly) one way conversation of this blog. There are new people out there, friends whom I’ve never met. I don’t know their ages, the colour of their hair, and sometimes I don’t even know their sex, but I’ve begun to feel as though they are a link in the chain of my life. There’s full moon girl down in London, full of spirit and humour and wisdom and grace; an anonymous lady gardener in Australia from whom I can read regular weather reports and receive gardening tips; someone from an undisclosed location in the U.S. (who may or may not be a teacher on leave), who speaks Spanish and likes to swim outdoors. The chances are that I will never meet any of them, but I love how words, phrases, stories, anecdotes, feelings, and thoughts, can link us together and cement invisible friendships.
84, Charing Cross Roadis a charming book by Helene Hanff. It chronicles the correspondence between Helene, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London based at 84, Charing Cross Road. Although the book was published in 1970, the letters start much earlier. They begin writing towards the end of the war and letters tumble back and forth across the Atlantic for twenty years or so thereafter. In their exchange of letters (centred around her search for works of English literature), they begin to share more of themselves – thoughts, lives, hopes – and, although they never meet, their friendship deepens in a gentle, meaningful and enthralling manner. The book has always appealed to me, and (although not consciously, as I have not thought of it for many years) perhaps reading it strengthened my belief that relationships can be bound together by lengthy, meandering, all-encompassing correspondences. I have a legacy of letters between my husband and I that were like mortar between us when we just met and lived (like Hanff and the book dealer) in different continents. Even when we lived together the letters would continue to bridge short trips and periods of separation. Although I still write many letters, in some respects this blog has filled the space that was left when my husband died and the letters stopped. Hence, whilst this blog is not a personal letter, I feel some parallels with 84, Charing Cross Road, and the unexpected friendships that have ignited, that have been re-kindled and that have been sustained through sending words out into the world. I love the messages that I receive from time to time; the posts, texts, coincidences, feedback passed on from others. I can close my eyes and imagine friends across the world reading: Sister S. so far from her homeplace in rural Ireland, but happy in her adopted Texas; L. slipping into winter in South Australia; N. breathing in the pure British Columbia air as she treks the trails of Whistler; and K. quietly nestled at the foot of Nephin Mountain in Mayo. I think about Hanff’s line:“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.” That’s just what its like, this slow conversation we are having – a comradely sense of sharing. ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’ is a sad, sentimental song that focuses on the past, on loss, on what cannot be retrieved. But as long as we are all still here, part of the world, in the stilly night, or the stirring morning, we can be linked together with friends, even those of us who live on our own.
‘Oft In The Stilly Night’, by Thomas Moore (abridged)
‘Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together.’