Plums Galore!

Plum jam and goodiesPlum jam and goodiesFrom the psalms we sing:
‘He provides food for all living creatures, for his faithful love endures for ever, Give thanks to the God of Heaven, for his faithful love endures for ever’.
'You visit the earth and water it, you load it with riches: This is how you provide it; by drenching its furrows,, by softening it with showers, by blessing the first fruits. You crown the year with bounty, abundance flows wherever you pass, what shouts of joy, what singing!'
It is harvest time in our local London Hackney park. Red plums, black plums, yellow plums, round plums, long oval plums, big plums, little plums, forming carpets of delicious fruit under the trees and inviting all passers-by to gather from their abundance. It is a mystery why so many varieties of wild plums could grow in this one particular spot! This abundance and variety so freely offered to all is an image of our neighbourhood. We come from every continent and culture. We love variety and there is always more to discover and enjoy!

Claire and plumsClaire and plumsClaire who is now 92 and partially sighted, still loves to come to the park. She sits on a bench saying her rosary, while Catharine and Pavla gather plums. She catches the school children’s exited chatter as they go on nature walks. She hears the tennis players hitting the ball to each other and laughing and the footballers scoring their goals. Then there are the young mums with their prams and groups of young men with their mobile phones resigned to the fact of not being able to find work. There is a nature group too who offer a small raised garden to enthusiasts wanting to learn how to grow vegetables. Let us not forget the dog walkers too with whom it is easy to enter into conversation by first addressing the dog! Of course we notice the drug users looking so lost and sad and the alcoholics who know us and are always the first to greet us with a cheery ‘hello sister’.

The park attendants are particularly friendly. Once we were picking plums when suddenly they seemed to be raining down our heads. Looking up at the tree we saw an attendant high up in the branches shaking the tree for us!

But I wanted above all to share with you about our plum picking encounters. Here are a few examples out of many.

Plums Galore !Plums Galore !One day Catharine was in the scooter track playground quietly gathering fruit from the big tree in the middle while the children were at school. She looked up to find another woman picking too and they got talking. She was Turkish and a grandmother. Her name was Sarai. Sarai from the Alevi community explained to Cathy: ‘I want to pick for you, I want to help you, I do not want to pick for myself, I am so happy to work with you.’ We had never met before. We shared about our childhood and our families, each from such a different background and yet here under the plum tree I met my sister.

Another day it was a young man eating a banana who sauntered up and we got talking. He was working on a nearby building site and had a short break. ‘What are you doing? Are they edible?’ A whole conversation ensued about the benefits of growing your own food and although having made a first step in not buying chocolate that morning but rather a banana the young man resolved to look for local fruit not involving air miles in future.

Another day a young woman working in an office stopped and started collecting the fruit. ‘They are so sweet and good’, she said, ‘what could I do with them? Stewed fruit recipes were exchanged as well as the arts of jam making. ‘ Just coming here is so good’, she exclaimed, ‘it makes me remember my grandma and the happy time we lived together in the countryside. I remember her wisdom, and so many things she taught me that I have held on to’.

Meeting in parkMeeting in parkJust yesterday Cathy and Claire went to the park carrying a little stool to make picking easier. They were soon approached by three Muslim men who were caring for their sons and grandchildren. They were from Bangladesh and lived in Whitechapel in a Bangladeshi neighbourhood nearby. ‘ We’ll help you pick, but give me your stool as I have a bad back!’ The conversation soon developed into speaking about how to build world peace, about all the values we hold in common and how rich it is to bring together our different religious traditions. I felt very humbled by their simplicity and sincerity. I felt no barriers as belonging to one family. Where else would I find such an opportunity for meeting and dialogue?

Haggerston ParkHaggerston ParkSometimes Pat, Pavla, Claire and I, all go to the park in the evening to say the rosary together in the cool of the end of day. Sitting on a bench, we bring all the passers-by, as well as the young people playing games or doing gymnastics and families just relaxing, into our prayer. We bring their concerns and ours to the Lord and give thanks for so many hidden blessings.

The roses and lavender bushes give off a wonderful fragrance in the evening warmth and the newly hatched thrushes become particularly bold showing off their new feathers. They hop so close without fear as if to say ‘this is a sacred moment of thanksgiving to the Creator for the discreet and homely beauty of our little park’.
'How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers and sisters all together.’ Ps 133