It is 18 months since Making Light was registered as a charity and at the end of September, we came together with friends for an evening at Lambeth Palace.
Idrimi jetted in early from Madrid, and waited as patiently as he is wont, overlooking the palace gardens in front of the large fireplace, perhaps hopeful of a fire being lit there. A lovely gaggle of friends and family streamed in, bringing flowers to make the state drawing room homely with roses – Damascene and otherwise – and a basket of quinces (سفرجل), picked from our gardens; the exquisite food was laid out, Simon arrived with his camera, Rihab with her Oud, the booklets were put on tables, volunteers were cheerfully marshalled by Bella and soon both guests and hosts began to arrive.
I found myself talking to some truly extraordinary people that evening, at times almost overwhelmed with the sense of support and at others frustrated by not being able to catch all the great conversations going on around me. My low point came early on, when I found myself welcoming our patron, the Archbishop and Caroline Welby into their own home, and then mumbled rather pathetically. When everyone had had time to gather, I explained as best I could how, as well as why, Making Light exists.
As I write this, some ten days later, Dunya, our oral historian, has begun arranging her train tickets to go record the first oral histories with the Cara Fellows whose voices will soon be heard, bringing precious stories of their own traditions, memories and homes in Syria before 2011.
A while ago, I was mulling over the scale of suffering in Syria, trying perhaps to find perspective, rather than lurching endlessly from macro to micro. I considered the multitude of armies and empires which have conquered and ruled there, the unimagineable numbers of people whose lives have always been taken for power and glory, now as then. Looking at sites such as Palmyra, or the great winged bulls of Nimrud, or the Crac des Chevaliers, or a hundred other historic sites in the region, it is clear that part of the lingering power of these places is as grand memento mori, testament that the ‘wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command’ of Ozymandias and those many like him, always fail. The ‘ordinary’ conquer by carrying on, through shared learning and understanding, through stories and traditions, cultures and families, across time and continents. We survive because we hear each other and we see each other and we (sometimes) choose to learn from each other. Yes we are enriched beyond measure through the deeds and breakthroughs of the brightest and bravest, but equally by those who remain unknown and unexceptional. That is a good thought to hold on to, I find. And a central tenet of Making Light.
Many contributed to making the evening very precious by their presence.
Thanks to Honey & Co for the truly wonderful food, via Sheila Dillon and Peter Koenig; to Manchester’s Rethink Rebuild for introducing me to Rihab Azar, whose music and manner mesmerized all who met her, particularly perhaps the Syrian children; to Simon Williams for his wonderful photographs and presence, to Adam Lowe and Factum Foundation who worked tirelessly to get Idrimi ready in time and to Prof Dawn Chatty for introducing me to Dunya Habash, who has become entirely invaluable in the last few weeks, to Shireen of the Atassi Foundation, who couldn’t be with us, working flat out to support ‘Jusoor’.
My biggest thanks are to our patrons – Lyse Doucet, who is busier than the proverbial Dervish, but still never stops seeing the good and making time for new friends and whose speech was remarkable, and to the Most Revd and Rt Hon. Justin and Mrs Caroline Welby for welcoming us to Lambeth and for providing steady sanctuary and support and light to me and my family, and for keeping prayers and help for John and so many others in real need in the heart of what they do at Lambeth.
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