It's cold enough to wear cardigans (aye, and a vest). It'll be Christmas before we know it.
I've taken to doing all my photos in the bathroom because I love the honesty of the light. What you might call wrinkle-light; the camera that doesn't lie.
But that's not what I came here to say.
I've been thinking about the ways we influence others quite inadvertently. I know so many people who think "I'm not important. Nobody listens to me. No one pays attention to anything I do. I haven't really got any contribution to make." Not a pity-party — they really believe it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"Let your life preach," George Fox said; and, yes, he did say "preach", not "speak" as modern Quakers have rendered it to suit the creep of secularisation. Well, it does, doesn't it? Does preach, I mean, not does suit secularisation. Your life. Everybody's life preaches; the question is, what message?
And I was remembering a nun who influenced me massively.
I got my first job when I was fifteen, working on the checkouts in Sainsburys supermarket. Then, when I was sixteen I started working for some nuns who ran a home and school for people with epilepsy.
At one end it had a school, then the various accommodation units for the children, graded in ages, then the offices and the chapel and the stairs to the nuns' accommodation upstairs, then the kitchen and the units where the adult residents lived, then the nurses' home and the little farm with its cows and orchard and sheds and everything. The building was strung out in a long practical line, with a central corridor running the whole length of it — really, really loooooooooooooooong.
The nuns wore twentieth century clothing; I was going to say "modern" but that doesn't quite describe their gear. This was back in the 1970s. They wore, for the most part, either skirts and blouses or pinafore dresses (US "jumpers") in profoundly synthetic easy-care fabric. Navy blue and white, in various combinations. But though they'd eschewed their groovy habits of old, they kept their veils. Not the full wimple and whatnot, you understand, just this kind of thing, or this (but black). And they wore walking shoes or sandals.
Monastics have a particular walk. Doesn't matter if they're Buddhist, Catholic, whatever — they have the same walk; a quiet, deliberate, self-effacing, recollected tread.
One day I arrived for work, came in through the front door in the middle by the offices, and turned right to make my way along the corridor to the children's department. From about fifteen miles away down the far end of the corridor a nun was walking towards me, wearing sandals over her heavy-gauge tights, proceeding along with that quiet monastic tread.
Above the big old 1930s radiator, on the window ledge, stood a telephone. Like this. It was ringing. I was merely a minion and only the nuns or the office staff could answer the phone. It rang and rang.
The phone rang and the nun walked. It kept ringing and she kept walking. Gaze recollected, head slightly bent, veil lifting a little in the breeze, tread, tread, tread, that nun walked right on by the ringing telephone, and she never even spared it a glance. She kept on walking and she didn't look back, and eventually it gave up and stopped.
That was forty-five years ago.
I hate telephones.
As the years have rolled by I've noticed most people are kind of compulsive about the phone. I remember one Methodist minister, a Circuit Superintendent, no less, old enough to be just coming up to retirement (and they don't let 'em go early), who used to run to answer his phone if it started ringing — no matter what he was doing or who he was talking to. Just couldn't stop himself. Intriguing.
And I count myself lucky to have learned so early that you don't have to answer the phone.
We do have one in our house, but not by my choice. It rings, every now and then. And when it does, in my head it sets off a kind of video of a nun walking. She starts at the end of a long, long corridor. On she comes, tread, tread, tread, never stopping, never lifting her eyes from the ground, her veil slightly lifting as she goes. Tread, tread, tread. On she goes. Right on past. And eventually the damn thing stops ringing.
Thank you, Sister Whoever-you-were. Sister Carmel, I think. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Tread. Tread. Tread.