We’re climbing the Malvern Hills, and I’m wheezing like a catfish. I briefly consider whether dropping dead on a narrow path between trees in sight of the summit, is a good way to go. An action exit, so to speak, in pursuit of something beautiful. But decide against it. There are few walkers up here and we might be left for days. Or eaten by foxes.
The views are incredible. The Malvern Hills rise, sheer and spine-like, from the Severn Valley in the counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Eight miles long, from the highest summit you can see parts of thirteen counties, the Bristol Channel and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford. The hills are known for their spring water, made famous by the area’s holy wells and later through the spa town of Great Malvern which clings, crab-like, to the side of the hills. Aldwyn, the monk who originally founded the Benedictine community and priory in 1085 because of its remoteness, would rend his cassock if he could see the old town grown up around it now. Though he might be pleased that the holy wells originally thought to bring health and healing as early as the twelfth century, developed into a spa town in Victorian times later becoming the first bottled water plant in the world. Today the town is beautiful, even in the rain.
It occurs to me that I could do with those healing properties now as I lurch, with bursting lungs up the steep incline towards the summit (not THE summit, I hasten to add, but the nearest one). My husband is positively bounding compared to me. The problem, when you have asthma, is you never know quite what’s going to trigger it. And, unwisely, I’d left my inhaler in the car. I briefly consider the problems the Air Ambulance Service might have landing on the scrubby slopes ahead of us, to say nothing of the headline in the Malvern Gazette- Asthmatic Londoner Loses Lung Function on Lower Levels #ourglorioushills
My husband stops and watches me critically. “Do you want to go back? Perhaps we should…”
I consider his question. I would like very much to go back, to correct those earlier years where I smoked for a while, drank too much and lived in beautiful but freezing, damp old places which did my lungs in. I would like to have lived wisely and well and looked after those vital body parts you need more than ever when you’re older – eyes, skin, lungs. Well, all of it is quite useful really, especially at work or ordering an Indian Takeaway, (JENKINS! cough, cough, J-E-N-K…No, I can’t say it louder! Cough, cough!). But it’s too late for all that. The eagle has landed, so to speak. What to make of what’s left?
I look longingly at the view which is becoming more impressive by the step. As we rise, the Severn Valley unrolls and the town begins to hunch its shoulders beyond the trees. Having got this far, it would such a shame to miss the big view from the top. My breathing’s not too bad, I decide. And I never know these days whether I’m being a tiny bit neurotic. I once told my doctor after a particularly bad winter that I was worried I’d forgotten how to breathe. A capable type with a distractingly large bosom, the sort you can’t take your eyes off even when reliably heterosexual, she gave me a long, measured look.
“You may have forgotten, Mrs Jenkins,” she said, “But your lungs won’t have. I would advise you to live your life and let them get on with it.”
Well this is my life, so I figure as long as I rest often, I should be alright. After all it’s not much further. After some persuasion, we continue. And after several breaks, no coughing fits and a near collision with a cyclist (A CYCLIST!! I want his lungs), we arrive at the top of the hill. And it’s breathtaking.
We sit for a while enjoying our victory. On the way down I reflect that in my younger days it never occurred to me I’d get something like asthma. But then there are lots of good things I never thought I’d get to do either – live abroad, rebuild a house, raise socially acceptable children (this is a miracle in itself – God is good). And so many people live with far, far worse.
So tonight, on All Hallows Eve, I’m celebrating goodness. I don’t celebrate Halloween though I’m happy to give out sweets to the neighbouring kids who do. I didn’t encourage my own kids to dress up etc. (there were sometimes alternative parties at church) though when teenagers, I didn’t stop them if they wanted to. In Turkey, we gave out sweets to children celebrating the Muslim festivals to be friendly and culturally relevant, and I don’t see this as too different. In my opinion it’s just not worth offending and upsetting people over. It doesn’t help with the negative press believers sometimes experience. But this is just my personal view.
Tomorrow is All Saints Day when they pray for the dead in Orthodox churches. Protestants generally regard all Christians as saints and if they keep All Saints Day they use it to remember all Christians past and present. So I’m remembering Aldwyn and the Benedictines for starting a monastery in a beautiful place, my grandparents who started our family long ago in India, my parents. I’m giving thanks for my husband and my children and my cat (who sleeps with his paws crossed so is definitely a believer). And for all my family and friends, who mean so much to me, whatever they believe about life, God and Halloween.
I’m also thankful for hilltop views and autumn leaves and Ventolin. For holidays and small children and good doctors (whatever the size of their bosoms). For quiet water and sunsets and tiny little cakes with cream in.
And that God, wiser and more far seeing than we can ever imagine, somehow uses the random yuck that life flings at us, to make the small things sweeter. Like breathing.
Who and what are you grateful for, this All Hallows Eve?
9 thoughts on “Hills and giving thanks on All Hallows Eve”
This Halloween I’m grateful for a miracle I share with you, my wife and I also have amazing children, to whom we can now add three grandchildren. God is certainly good. And happy memories of the Malvern hills away back when. I truly enjoy your site and your humourous, common-sense Christianity. Thanks.
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Honestly delightful and delightfully honest! Thank you for this, I enjoy your posts and their mix of humility, sensitive Christianity and fun.
Thanks a lot tonyinuk! Appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to comment too.
We stopped off at Great Malvern for coffee and cake a few years ago – didn’t have time to actually climb the hill, though! It’s on the to-do list… Well written thought provoking, Deborah. As usual.
Thanks Paul. Yes if you do get the opportunity, it’s well worth the effort if you’re feeling strong. They are very steep. My friend, who doesn’t have asthma, says it’s a challenge for her. If you get a chance to visit the little History of Malvern Museum in the old monastery gatehouse, that is also fabulous. A surprising number of famous people came from Malvern. Thanks for your comment 🙂
Oh .. and so proud my name’s in your blog post title.
I origin ;)ally put “Mountains” then remembered they are called the Malvern HILLS so changed it. You just got lucky I guess Mrs Hill
Hm. You made me rethink Halloween. I’m a bit of a grump, sitting behind my curtains and hoping they don’t throw egg at my window. Beautifully written post. And the cat with his paws crossed? The big-breasted doctor? LOL. LOL.
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Haha! Glad you liked it. I suspect many will think I’m a heretic but I think living overseas and realising that relationships are actually very important in all of this, made me rethink it too. I’m much more relaxed about it than I used to be. While explaining to visiting kids that we don’t celebrate it but we do celebrate All Saints Day so have some sweets…Thanks for nice comment 🙂
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