Wednesday, December 19, 2012

twenty five years on

A few days ago the small world that is facebook has reconnected me with Nick who I haven't seen in about 23yrs. Today was the twenty fifth anniversary of his older sister's unexpected death when aged 20 she collapsed in the street in York from an undiagnosed brain anomaly that I used to know the name of but have long since forgotten.

I had known Heidi from Yorkshire Friends Summer School, she had been there as a Stu(dent) Hel(per) the one year I went as an attender rather than as a Stu Hel myself. I was 16 and still fairly new to the world of Quaker youth events, whilst I'd been to JYM earlier that year (over the Easter weekend for 16-18yr olds) and a couple of Link Group weekends, Holiday School was a whole new world. It was a whole week for a start off. At these events I had discovered it was possible to get to know people in a way that just didn't seem to happen at school, people I'd known for a weekend seemed to know and understand me better than those who had known me since playgroup, we had deep and meaningful political and spiritual conversations I'd never dreamed I'd get to have with people my own age. So a whole week together with people like this was a pretty mind blowing experience.

The Stu Hels as far as I was concerned were all amazing, but Heidi stood out for me. She reached out to those of us who were new whether we were 13yr old E groupers or 17yr old A groupers and made us feel part of the 'family'. She sang and played her guitar and led the music activity group I was in - so many songs will always remind me of that week at Ampleforth and of Heidi. Holiday School and music are intertwined so deeply; whether the songs were from sitting around with a guitar and singing in free time, in activity sessions, the old time and country dances from the socials each evening or out of the silence of the epilogues - especially the last night one (which had some classic play lists the years I was there). My cd collection has so many albums that are there because of Holiday School, which when it boils down to it only equated to 3 weeks of my life between 1986-1990 yet has influenced my entire life since.

I can remember sitting there one day watching Heidi and thinking 'I wish I could be like her', when I went back as a Stu Hel and following that switched allegiance to Northern Friends Summer School and went there as staff for several years over two eras (one in the 90s and again in the 00s) it was Heidi who shaped the way I worked, and even the songs I sang and shared. Not only did I help at these week long summer events but at countless weekend events across the north of England and Scotland with various groups. There is much less for Quaker children and young people here in Aotearoa NZ but still I have kept involved, even if some years it is only helping out with them at Summer Gathering. I remember how important it was to me, and I want to enable others to have something akin to that experience, and to have someone there who fills the Heidi shaped hole for them.

I missed Holiday School in '87 as I was on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage so that one week was all the time I ever spent with Heidi. I was living on the farm with the Brockleys when she died, after Helen told us Ruth and I sat in our room in tears not wanting to believe it was true. Luckily we were able to make it to the memorial service for her; all through it as I listened to the ministry and remembered who Heidi had been to me I found going around and around in my head the song I had first learned at JYM and that we had sung at Holiday School that same year. It seemed to capture her so perfectly, yet I couldn't quite manage to get myself to my feet and start to sing. Afterwards it turned out several others had been having the same thought and we all wished we had...

So, twenty five years later... this is for Heidi, for Nick and Kate and everyone else who misses her too.

Building bridges, between our divisions
I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices, and all of our visions
Friends we can make such a sweet harmony

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