Some days stagger to their conclusion. We’re far from home, in someone else’s land, holding out for a kindly reception for our heart’s labours. The morning’s day off has been spent not touring the haunts of my Harvard days, but in a hotel foyer, waiting on the repair of the rental van’s flat tire, each band member after their fashion nursing the beginnings of what turns out to be food poisoning. You can guess this is not going to go well.

By mid afternoon we’re by the highway side, and the roar, door flung open, some of us doing what you can imagine, the rest of us wondering when our turn might be, whether we should even get the driving underway. We do, imperiling the van’s interior. We find the motel, and counsel each other as to how this establishes road credibility. Within an hour we’re delirious, and by nightfall the afflicted hours are melting together into an ooze of affliction. We each pitch forward into another anonymous bedchamber who’s in-wall air con rivals a jet engine, rattling the fixtures. We slip beneath the sick waves, all except Charlie our sound guy, who’s the youngest among us by some margin and who, bless him, doesn’t eat vegetables. Vegetable casserole – it’s wild mushrooms in particular – has been fingered as the likely culprit. I make a solemn, personal vow never to eat vegetarian casserole again, under any circumstances.

Next morning, I’m miasmic and bolt upright at 9 a.m. to do a print interview which I didn’t know was coming. We’ve bad cell connection, and the reporter doesn’t sound that keen on the subject at hand. “I’ll be honest”, he begins, “I don’t understand your grief/mystery thing, not at all.” Not an open door, really, but I walk through it anyway, manufacturing descriptions of the Nights on the spot.

Oh God, man. I understand what you mean. I’m unsure myself. Especially today.

A handful of hours later, with nothing in the way of extra give-a-shit about much of anything, we find the venue. The wind out front is blowing through us, reduced as we are. On fumes we do Sheffield’s Night of Grief/Mystery, to a full house. I have to sit down periodically. There’s a red pail off stage, just in case. Things are iffy. Charlie makes us sound more substantial than on this night we are. On these nights you have to draw from some other well. You have to remember the people, and why they’re there, and how unlikely this whole thing is, and the privilege of it all. Then you set about earning that privilege.

There was an old man – bless him – who was second in line to speak with me at the book table. His wife went tearfully first, holding my hand, blessing me for being alive. Then he steps forward, haltingly anoints the proceedings. He’s in awe, he’s in love with this night, and everything in it. He’s spinning with bewilderment, like a dervish, palms up, in revery.  “I don’t know what that was”, he says, looking around the already empty hall. “It’s a marvel. There’s nothing like it. It’s a masterwork. It’s a prayer, thank God. I don’t understand it at all.”
And I think: I’ve not often been prayed over. Not like that.

So, thank God for those two men, and those two uncertainties, and for the difference between them.

Stephen Jenkinson
Founder of Orphan Wisdom