One of the best Hogmanay’s I have ever had was not at a big party but in a cottage in Orkney with my family and two of my oldest and dearest friends. We shared a lovely dinner which we’d all contributed to and then saw in “the bells” outside, watching the Stromness fireworks over the bay from Orphir where we were staying, toasting another turn of the clock into the new year with a very nice drop of Orkney’s own Highland Park whisky. It was a mild very clear night, and we stayed out looking at the stars for a long time.
It was an evening which combined the profound pleasure of breaking bread with people I love deeply, the kind of relationships in which we find our significance and the feeling of being reminded in the stars of the insignificance of our world in the vastness of the universe. In the shared silence of the early hours, I felt a precious sense of stillness and contentment.
Later that News Year’s Day, we went to one of my favourite places; the Ring of Brodgar, a 5000-year-old standing stones circle - the only one in Britain - which is an almost perfect circle but whose meaning and purpose remains largely hidden. Excavations have found a gathering place, a kind of community hall of a similar 5000-year-old vintage. The midden (it’s always our rubbish which gives away our secrets!) shows people gathered from all parts of Orkney at the same times each year to break bread together and perhaps, through whatever rituals the Ring of Brodgar was for, be reminded of their significant insignificance in the universe as they knew it. When I stand amongst those stones, I feel connected to 5000 years of humanity thriving through their relationships with each other and in being aware of a world way beyond their knowledge.
When people ask me what Cyrenians does, my answer is “homeless prevention”. When they ask what we do, my answer is always “we build trusted relationships”. Whatever the service, whatever the apparent task, underneath it all, we know it is in trusted relationships that good things will happen, healing is possible, and change can begin. We do this because it is how humanity has always been best able to flourish. Combine it with community and food and whole new worlds are possible. We reach for the stars, one conversation at a time. When those we journey with stumble or walk away for a while, we never give up. We persist because we know we’d want others to do the same for us if we were struggling. It’s why the friends I shared that new year with are so precious to me, for they never gave up on me even in my darkest and most self-destructive of times.
I heard recently of feedback from one of the people we supported who said of my colleague “she was the first person to listen to me, not tell me what was wrong or how to fix me, and she never gave up on me”. The feedback came because the person was in a much better place than when we first began to share their journey, a “better place” they had defined for themselves, it was their own definition of “reaching for the stars”.
At New Year we talk of new resolutions but mine for Cyrenians, this year as for every year, is to keep doing that most ancient of things; build trusted, persistent relationships.