A poem for 2020

Looking back on looking forward

Those of you who have bought my book of poetry, Glimpses, may have noticed a poem simply titled 2020 01 01.

I’ll be honest, it’s one of my favourites. The words take me right back to where I was standing when I wrote them.

For the last few years it has become our custom to celebrate Christmas here in England before flying to Sweden for New Year and Epiphany to see my wife’s family and friends. This is what we did last year and one set of friends in particular, Isac and Erica, hosted us once again for New Years’ Eve - a tradition we all appreciate and cherish. It’s a time to simply spend time together, for good food and conversation; for reminiscing and anticipating.

In the morning, we waved “Hej då” and set off for a walk around a local nature reserve. It was about -3 or - 4 out (or 26f for those that prefer fahrenheit), a grey yet bright day beneath the clouds. We walked along the canals and explored the path towards the lakes. We came to what could be called a beach with a large stone building with a glass front and topped by a puffing chimney. Inside were several long tables and rugged benches with a woodburner at the centre, logs piled high to the side of it. It was not fancy but it was striking, with its large views across the lake and the warmth of its fire tended by passing strangers adding yet another log to keep it going.

Outside there were a handful of seating areas set up around firepits, not presently burning, and at intervals there were small shelters of free firewood. This was a marked difference from how things might be in an English nature reserve where you’d be more likely to have signs saying “No BBQs allowed”.

I stood outside by myself for a while, appreciating the scene and became mindful of a sense of potential.

The words came into my mind almost unbidden and I captured them on my phone.

Open water.
Free firewood.
A breeze with
A teasing chill.
Another day,
Another year,
Another decade
Stretches out across
The lake.

I’d no idea what 2020 would bring us, and today I wondered briefly if I’d been unduly optimistic in that moment, in this poem. This has been a year which has affected all of us. And the customs we would normally keep have been suspended - we shall see in the new year here in England for the first time since we have been together.

the decade is still young
and filled with potential.

I look back on this year and amidst the restrictions, the fears, and the frustrations I see that I have grown. There have been opportunities to teach people new skills, to enable them to engage in new ways. There have been opportunities to learn; about health, about technology, about the systems in which I inhabit - and to probe more seriously their limitations and strengths. There have been moments of conscience, such as celebrating my first Eucharist of the Resurrection for Easter, and moments of patience and restraint. As you know, I’ve also been blessed in having the opportunity to publish my first book - Glimpses. This has been an invaluable learning experience and created an opportunity to open up to my family about some of the difficulties I’ve had in the past. Possibly the most precious moments of the year have been the pride and surprise of my Grandparents upon giving them a copy of my book when they had no knowledge of it. Those are memories I’ll treasure the rest of my life.

This is not to say that I have excelled at everything or that it’s been easy. I have had my own share of difficulties and my physique has not improved as much as I had hoped and intended - though it has remained steady. We have been unable to go to Sweden and see family, including meeting a new born niece who is, I suppose, no longer ‘newborn’. There have also been heart-wrenching moments such as breaking the news to anxious brides that their weddings in the summer would not be happening (of the slate of weddings I had planned to do only one was able to go ahead). In the midst of the national and global concerns, I’ve had the difficult privilege to walk alongside those who are grieving and to conduct the funerals of those whose ailments have been forgotten by a world focused on pandemic (of the seventy or so funerals our team have done this year, only one was Covid-related). When families have been unable to visit dying relatives, or are grieving the loss of a teenager to cancer there are no words which will make things better. All you can offer is a prayerful presence of love and support as we prepare to honour their loved one and commend them into God’s care.

As the threat of Covid dawned upon the world I found myself preaching a sermon series for Lent (which in the event I would never complete) where I was encouraging our congregations to focus on prayer. In particular, I offered a prayer which I wrote while at university some years ago and personally find very helpful.

Open my eyes to more than me,
Open my eyes to the things that be.

As we step from one year into the next, let us not be fooled into thinking that crossing a mere boundary in a calendar will magically resolve our problems and change the state of the world. But equally, let us have a sense of perspective that’s able to step out of the climate of fear and oppression - even as here in the UK it looks like restrictions are only going to become more severe - and to ask God to let us see clearly how things truly are. That we may open our eyes to see beyond ourselves and our self-limiting fears to see our God given potential for creativity, for relationships, and to receive his forgiveness and hope of salvation.

Looking back at looking out across that lake to the potential of the future I am reminded that just as I could never have foreseen all that twenty twenty would bring, neither can I predict the rest of this decade.

Yet, by the grace of God,
as I remember that teasing chill on the breeze

I still have hope.

May I wish each of you a Happy New Year.

With every blessing,
Samuel S. Thorp

Husband Priest |Wanderer