If you have ever driven the road right through the district of Uig to this farthest south-western corner of the Isle of Lewis, you’ll know Mangurstadh Beach. It sits almost out of sight, well below the road, just as you reach the top of that rise, three miles or so before the road finally abandons its attempt to go south, a little beyond Breanish. You’ll recall that rise where the road you have been confidently riding falls away from you like a breaking wave – I’d bet you’ll never forget it – the place where you suddenly fall forward into the open jaw of the Atlantic, where the sea and the sky rise up to ambush you. Just there, when you think that you are going to pitch headlong into so much space and distance, Mangurstadh Beach is waiting to catch you. If you allow yourself to be ensnared by it, you’ll forever be a haunter-of-edges. If you don’t watch yourself you’ll turn to stone down on that beach, a sea-smoothed rock-creature with eyes that are holes where the sky shines through.

Mangurstadh 2

Sometimes you do not sever yourself from a land you have loved by holding yourself back from it. Sometimes you sever yourself by giving it everything you have left, more than you are sure you can bear to risk. In the early days of this year, as our departure becomes real, I circle around the loved places, the places to which I have already given more of myself than was safe to risk. And I love all the more, and so risk all the more. Isn’t the loving and the risking, after all, the essence of what it is to be alive? And that act of loving is both an act of giving and an act of committing – not least, of committing to memory. It is also an act of worship, and so it is that we have fashioned a Sunday morning ritual: we walk out to the places we haven’t been to yet, the places we pass each day on the road, where so often we have said ‘Oh, we must go down there sometime …’ but of course we did not, because there has always been another pig-shed to muck out, another seed tray of fledgling vegetables to cherish. We stand in these familiarly unfamiliar places knowing that we will never know them fully now, nor they us. But we bow our heads to a rock and turn into the face of a wave; we let the wind carry us and we do not in this way ease the pain of our leaving, but rather participate in it. We choose not to simply fade from this place like ghosts; even in our passing we continue to try to bear witness to it.

This morning’s church was Mangurstadh beach, and as I stood back above the rocks and watched David and the dogs down by the shoreline, I was reminded of a poem by our friend John Glenday:


I send you the hush and founder
of the waves at Manghurstadh

in case there is too much
darkness in you now

and you need to remember
why it is we love

(John Glenday, from Grain, 2009)

8 comments on “Severance

  1. Your words evoke so powerfully how a particular place can enter our being. There’s a sense of loss at leaving it even though it will never leave you. John’s poem adds the wisdom of the way that the light of loving attention can counter the darkness of missing what has been imprinted so deeply. A truly memorable and moving offering to your time on the Isle of Lewis. All best wishes for your work in Donegal and the new Riverwitch.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you, Meg, and we’d both like to think we’ve worked pretty hard at staying over the past few years. Not just in terms of completely renovating a derelict croft and making it function again, but for work out in the community too. Unfortunately life is more complicated than can be expressed in a public blog, and not all of its twists and turns can either be foreseen by us or understood by others. Thanks for reading, and all the best to you & the family for 2014.

  2. Wow, such a strong link to the place, to the land. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be ‘in transit,’ your soul pulling away from that landscape, Sharon. You are making this move with thoughtful eloquence, and a reverence for the place that you have come to love. John’s poem is so fitting. x

    • Thanks, Fiona. Yes, a strong link for sure. The sadness in leaving masks the delight at the idea of arriving at the new place, which will unfold … and the sense of belonging to Ireland in spite of a strong link to a piece of land here is a part of it that I’m still working through …

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