My friend C. has a sticker on her vehicle, which says, “My other car is a broom”. She keeps it by the back door, ready to sweep out dust and other unwanted dirt. To keep the house clean from unpleasant thoughts. Clear of prejudice, sorrow and fear. “We cannot afford the luxury of fear,” she once told me, a quarter of a century ago.
I notice her as soon as I get off the train at Cambridge. She stands out from the crowd. There is a soft glow around her. White, with a hint of lilac – echoed in the lilacs, purples and violets she so frequently wears. Twenty-five years ago, when I first went to see her, I knocked on a lilac front door.
Today, her long, abundant hair is braided. Its rich, chestnut brown has only just begun to fade. Age, however, has not dulled the knowing and gently amused glint in her deep blue eyes. Eyes that look at life’s problems with inquisitiveness, like on puzzles to be solved. Lessons to be learned. Her hug is gentle yet full of healing warmth. Everything about C. is healing. She once cured me of an ailment two years’ worth of medics could not get their heads around. All it took, was a little sideways pressure on an area on my feet. C. knows the map of the foot like an expert geographer. When I told her I was suddenly better, she said, “Oh, good,” the way she would respond to someone telling her the weather forecast promised sunshine, or that the post had been delivered early. Then there was the time when she suggested a herb which dissolved an ugly scar. Then, it was a flower, then an oil. It was C. who helped me see that illness can be a teacher and thus a friend. C. who inspired me to study the precious art of observation, of questioning, and of trusting in nature.
She drives us through vibrant green meadows so flat they could go on for ever and ever, where the horizon is at your feet. Along the river, elm trees sway against an expressive Cambridge sky. The moody East Anglian wind moulds lead-grey clouds into purple mountains, golden valleys, and cyan blue oceans. We reach the village, and turn at the church. I look up at the clock, always expecting it to show ten to three, and begin reciting lines from The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. We go past The Green Man, apparently named after the ghost of a headless knight that is rumoured to wander across the Fens on moonless nights. Or so I was told, when I first arrived in Cambridge, as a teenager.
We have coffee sitting on deck chairs, in a orchard. The blades of grass tickle my ankles, and a cheeky breeze slips its cool fingers under the collar of my jacket and brushes my skin. We air is laced with pear, moist soil, dewey grass and coffee. A wasp sits on my bare forearm and begins grooming its antennae, my skin a temporary sunbed. Not wanting to startle it, I use my other hand to lift my coffee cup. A perfect creature, lemon yellow with black stripes, and a waistline to envy. A ladybird flies onto the table, and begins to promenade on the edge of C.’s saucer. We listen to each-other’s news. We have not seen each other for a couple of years. In between words, we listen to the Fens, and stories as old as the land, older than the University. From a time when you could hear the river Cam giggle, the willows sigh, and when sprites came out to play.
I ask C.’s advice on a matter important to me. She does not give her opinion. Instead, she helps find stones to rebuild the interrupted path between my head and my heart, so I can find my own way to my answer. She helps me not be afraid of my decision. I grin, relieved to have been reconnected to myself. She smiles that otherwordly and yet very real smile , as though that is no big deal. “Take care of yourself,” she says, later, as she drops me off at the train station. I know behind these ordinary words, there is a gift of true friendship. A blessing.