As we approach the winter solstice, the pace of life in the natural world begins to slow down and move toward hibernation. The traditional folk calendar of the northern hemisphere recognizes this reality (increasingly the farther north you go!) and allows for social gatherings focusing on reaffirming communal bonds and values, things we need to get us through the hard slog of life. That’s been more true than usual this year, and the dangers of the pandemic preclude us from answering the call to congregate as we usually do to renew our friendships and families, and thus to quench our emotional and spiritual thirsts.
As I was meditating on today’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, and the notion of deserving the right to rest and be thankful after a long, hard slog, what came to my mind was a marker along one of the main roads in the Highlands given the English name “Rest and Be Thankful.” It indicates the high point of the A83 road nearby the village of Arrochar (an t-Arar in Gaelic), one of the headquarters of the leaders of Clann Phàrlain (the MacFarlane clan). As you can see from photographs taken from this location, where travellers are encourage to stop and rest, the views are stunning. (There are multiple ironies in the toponyms and cultural geography of the site that I’ll leave for now …)
I know from my own experience, and see from others, that the pandemic invites us to look back at our personal lives and at our communal experience from the panoramic long view – it begs us to ask, what has happened, why, and how can we make the world a better place? What do things really cost and what do we really need? We need to slow down in order to even ask, let alone answer, such questions. The pandemic is not a random accident but a symptom of the underlying cultural sicknesses of modernity, and we need to find ways to diagnose and heal from these maladies if humans and our ecosystems are going to have a chance to recover and survive into the future in any recognizable form. And that requires questioning the assumptions of modernity and reassessing traditional wisdom and lifeways, including that of the Gaels. (See the online journal LESS from a very forward-thinking group in Scotland.)
And speaking of which … it seems that over 500,000 people have now signed up to learn Scottish Gaelic on DuoLingo. Who would have believed that that was possible? The world still holds many surprises for us.
But, in the meantime, a lot of humans have suffered in many ways, including economically. These conditions have compelled me to put teaching aside for a while, but I’m going to try offering the introductory course again in 2021 at a reduced price to try to accommodate participants who have been hit by the financial effects of the pandemic. You can sign up for Hidden Glen courses on the Shop webpage.
Also, if you’re interested in the legacy of Scottish Highland immigrants and immigrant communities in North America, you might want to join the AskHistorians Reddit AskMeAnything session I’ll be offering on Sunday December 13th 9AM-11AM EST and 1PM-3PM EST. This is my first time on Reddit, so I’m learning too, but I believe you can ask questions and watch the conversation on/from this webpage.
So, for now, as any wise elder will tell you, Leig t’ anail is gabh beachd air do bheannachdan! “Take a breath and meditate on your blessings!”