The good thing about travelling on an early train is that you start to notice that the mornings are getting lighter. It’s only a very slight change but having frosty weather with crisp air, glowing stars in the dawn, followed by the creeping pale blues, streaks of orange paving the way for a glorious sunrise is a good feeling.
Spring is on the way. We’re halfway out of the dark and heading for those longer days of daylight where everything feels that much better.
It won’t be long before I’ll start to really be able to see a marked difference in where the sunrise appears in my journey. It won’t be long before I’ll be able to see the deer in the fields rather than just dusky silhouettes in the darkness before the dawn. It won’t be long before the fields start to be filled with the first lambs of the season. It won’t be that long before I start to get a thrill of delight watching hares dashing about across the rolling countryside of the Wylye Valley.
This time last year, I was making this journey from Wiltshire to Hampshire for the first time.
That was for an interview with an organisation I admit I’d never really heard of before – the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The rest, as all the best clichés say, is history.
I now know rather a lot more about maritime matters, ship surveys, Dutch cannons, the SS Richard Montgomery and search and rescue.
It makes me shake my head about my previous ignorance, while the secret geek in me has relished a new source of knowledge to gather in a magpie-like way.
But on that day as I headed down to Southampton, I remember looking out of the window of the train and wondering whether I’d ever come to love this commute as much as I loved the commute to London. And then, reminding myself that I’d once wondered whether I’d ever love the commute to London as much as I loved the early morning drive to Swindon, across countryside that included owls in flight returning home after a night’s hunting.
I still felt the hurt of losing my London job on that morning and was very much missing the friends I’d made while working there. Will I make friends like that again, I wondered. The truth is, of course, no. Because the truth is that there’s a whole bunch of different friends to be made.
Tonight, I’m on the train again going home after a night out with the people I didn’t even know this time last year. We were marking the retirement of one of my colleagues – one of the first people, outside of my particular department – who made me feel welcome. It was a night filled with warmth, laughter and fun, a fitting way to say farewell to someone who brought all those qualities and far, far more to life at work.
It’s funny how you can go from a stop position to fifth gear when it comes to friendship. I’ve gone from exchanging a few words over making tea to indepth conversations about life, the universe and everything. I’ve gone from just recognising faces to knowing names, which football team they support, their family life, to knowing who likes my home-baked cake (most of them, frankly) and, for some, celebrating their highlights, whilst for others, it’s been walking alongside them during their low points.
That old proverb about a stranger being a friend we’ve not met yet, is a true one. I constantly marvel out loud to my closest friends at work about how you go from not knowing someone at all, to not knowing what life was like without them.
One of my favourite jokes asks how many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? ‘Change?’ comes the answer, said in mock-horrified tones. We fear change. We like what we know.
My friend who is retiring, faces a massive change. Stopping work after so many years of the nine-to-five is potentially daunting. Preparing for a different kind of life is just as scary as entering an office on the first day of a new job. I’ve no doubt that Andrew may well have a few fears about that. I’ve equally no doubt that he will also step out into this phase of life with the enthusiasm that’s made him such an asset to the place he is now leaving behind.
But the friends I’ve made as a result of that step into a new era of my working life, are a reminder to me that actually change isn’t to be feared. If you don’t take a risk, you won’t know how much different your life could be.
If you don’t pick up a new book, you’ll never know the intensity of feeling words come alive until you experience the story, rather than read the page. If you don’t step out of the plane, you’ll never know how it feels to experience the awesome silence of falling to earth under a parachute. If you don’t risk the pain and rejection of love, you’ll never know how it feels to exchange a smile over a shared secret joke with a friend or lover. If you don’t retire from a job, you’ll never know what other amazing and exciting things you could be doing.
In other words, if you don’t embrace life in all its fullness, you’ll never know what it can be to live a life fully alive.