A mostly storm-bound week spent working, writing and sea-watching at my home on Rathlin Island concluded yesterday, and with it came tears as I packed up my computer and made for the city. Standing on the pier, my heart wonderfully weighted with contentment, I prepared to mourn the emptiness I would soon feel as its goodness thinned. Like the moisture gathering in the corner of my eyelids I knew it would gradually disappear into the atmosphere, leaving harvested fields in its space.
However, instead of walking into a cloud, I crossed paths with joy. An overwhelming sense of joy that will stay with me.
A new baby, safely born on the mainland, was making his way across the sea, sailing towards his tiny, unexplored life, in his mother’s island home. His home.
As the boat that carried him and his mother ploughed across deep waters, its light and darkness formed finger like waves that handed him carefully toward his destination. On the harbour, the island community waited, forming a defensive shield that will protect him from anything untoward that dares to filter into the landscape of his life. With his mother at the helm, this shield will bend and buckle, moving with him and never against him, for as long as he needs it.
It really was a beautiful moment. As we kicked our heels on the pier, waiting impatiently for the baby and his mother, the heavens opened, but try as it might to manifest darkness it failed. Nothing would dampen the highest of spirits. As the ferry pushed closer to the slipway, one by one, family after family, old and young, and even dogs, the population arrived, the island on its axis, tipping its rich resources front and centre. The harbour swelled, its community clutching gifts, balloons and welcome banners. The scene was a rich kaleidoscope of colour and as the boat berthed even the sky relented and dragged itself into the goodness of the moment, the clouds retreating to reveal a beautiful silver-grey dome. The sun, when it appeared from behind the silkiness, was watery white and hung static in the sky.
As the bow of the boat creaked slowly onto the concrete slip the waiting crowd sang with it, lifting the tone, the applause pushing its grumpy note high into the gradient as the hull ground tightly to the island. As the baby’s mother ignited the car engine and slid down the boat’s tongue its vast open mouth spoke for all when it cried out welcome home.
After some gentle manoeuvring of people and vehicles, mother lifted her son from the baby seat in the back of the car and we swooned as one, our collective joy weighted in the direction of them both, the island’s shield moulding to his shape, carefully measuring his frame. The baby was asleep but not oblivious to this, his defining moment, as salty Rathlin air pressed into his tiny lungs. His first island breath will never leave him.
For a split second, this beautiful moment was all there was in the whole world.
And then the squeals, and the laughs, and the warm hugs and tearstained kisses.
The tears, weren’t just mine, this was a collective weeping at the wailing wall where the island says both hello and goodbye to its most important motivation. Its population.
It was very, very beautiful.
This is a tradition that is celebrated every time a new baby arrives on the island and with the population thriving it is fortunately a fairly regular sight. It’s not easy being a parent, or a baby, and knowing that a whole community is there, if you need them, is incredible and is a lesson to us all. This is a reminder of a time when simply being there for one another was the norm.
This particular mother and baby have a remarkable story, their coming together making the moment of arrival on the island that little bit more magical. It is, however, their story to share, if they choose to do so. Know this though, this is a powerful narrative that teaches us an important lesson. Strong communities, where people respect one another and their differences, will raise their shield for one of their own, even if their journey isn’t a typical one.
A short time after baby and mummy swept into their new island life together I boarded the ferry to begin my return to Glasgow. As the express pushed out into the winter sea I wiped the saltiness from my cheeks and pushed a smile into the empty space. I turned and looked towards the island home where mother and child will bond. There, among the lashing weather and soft soil, new life will grow and love will support that journey in abundance.
On my own journey, I come home to my family, and to my incredible children and grandchildren. As I arrive I carefully slip my shoulders into the straps, my shield slung nonchalantly over my back, ready for the enormity of life.