I took time to watch swans recently. One was hissing at some ducks; long feathers spread out and purring in the wind like banners. One moved on the backward river tide alongside my ambling, and we watched one another.
A lady ambled from the other way, watching, and soon we met. She looked up and I smiled. “So gracious,” said she, gently and with such feeling that I knew exactly what she meant.
"Perfect,” I replied. She stood by me and we watched in silence as if we already knew each other well enough to do away with pleasantries.
“There’s a place up the coast I go to see them,” she said after a while, “plenty of them there like you’ve never seen. They’re filling it in though; say it’s dangerous, but they’ve been meeting there for years long past. People just want to build there, no doubt.” Her eyes seemed smaller then and she looked at me as if certain I would share her disbelief. “God please that the swans come here,” she said, as if He was right there to hear her suggestion.
“That’d be lovely, wouldn’t it?” I said.
“My husband passed away last year.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was; something in me smarted at the pain in her voice.
She turned peaceful though, and looked further away. “He used to take me to a place when we were young, near where he was from. There were many mother swans there carried cygnets on their backs in spring, all tucked inside the feathers. I’d never seen it,” she went on, frowning as if incredulous at the beauty of that memory. “I took his ashes there, thinking he would wake up every morning and see… silly I know… because he’s… I thought he’d have liked that.”
She told me where the place was, and I said, “I know it; I was born near there. It’s beautiful.” Perhaps it was a patriotic tone in my voice that made my understanding unbearable for her, as her eyes half filled. She put her hand on my arm, smiling, and said, “God bless you,” then walked away.
To receive the open trust of a stranger is a blessing in itself. It was a seemingly insignificant meeting, but symbolised a wider unity. To feel unexpectedly at ease with someone, to feel that inexplicable bond which all of humanity has, filled me with hope.