During this contemplative time, when it feels wrong to try to be cheerful, perhaps there’s some joy to be had in quiet service. There will be rather a lot of such devoted serving, by many kind and careful souls, over the next weeks, as two community funerals, and later a memorial gathering, take place. Not only in the preparations for the funerals themselves, but also and especially for the wakes that follow. Eating and drinking together, and the quiet service that attends these functions, are some of the joys we celebrate as social creatures, collectively.
This is not to say these things are easy. Far from it, and the service is hard work, a diligent effort of conscientious perseverance, from the hall caretaker and cleaners, the caterer and serving staff, the bar preparation and of course, the courteous serving of whatever libation helps the grieving friends and family to get through the day. I always thought, during my time helping out at the village hall, that one of the highest, most ennobling contributions the facility could provide was kindness and thoughtfulness at these occasions.
But now that I am a kind of recluse, deeply ensconced in my personal writing endeavours, I rarely venture out to participate in any social affair. I’ve hoped that these reflections, these ‘roads to joy’ might help me to appreciate some of the quiet wonders I might otherwise just take for granted, and so they have. But I’m also conscious that I’ve avoided the joy of gathering with people, and I’m not entirely sure why. The pandemic restrictions have a lot to do with it, I’m sure, but I was on the road to hermit land before that. I sometimes tell myself that I feel too burned out with past service to participate much anymore.
But I miss serving other folks — I’m sure I miss the joy of offering that kind of service, requited or not, of just being quietly serving, of being in a position to help. On the other hand, I definitely don’t miss the responsibility for ensuring that things go smoothly at public events. The reclusive life of a writer may be seductive and an almost selfish delight, away from the vicissitudes of responsibility, but participation is also de rigeur for a full life, I’m beginning to realise.
I shall have to try harder to do what I can to enjoy social gatherings, and to experience again the joy of fellowship. But for just now, I’m sure that quiet contemplation is an important part of the process of recovering a social identity, a place in a community again.
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