There is a chapel at the edge of a cliff, at the end of a narrow country lane. On New Year’s Eve we went for a drive and ended up there – beneath the chapel, on the edge of the cliff.The sky was grey, the rain fell and the north-west wind, the one that in some countries they call the mistral, blew fierce and strong. We were in one of the remoter places on the island – just a lonely hamlet huddled under the shoulder of the cliff, a few scattered farms and the squat chapel with its bright red dome.
As we sat in the car and watched the rain fall, a squall of wind tore the clouds asunder and the struggling rays of the sun turned to burnished silver a patch of slate-grey sea. I left the warmth of the car and wrapped my scarf tightly around my face. I walked, alone, around the perimeter of the chapel, taking in the weathered stones, the water-spouts shaped like cannons, and a simple wreath hanging on the main door – the only concession to Christmas. Finally, I came to a stop at the boundary wall and looked out at the expanse of sea and sky. The simplicity of the scene before me was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
I knew that far away in the towns, the annual, chaotic ritual of people gathering together to welcome the new year would soon be played out. But here, it felt to me like time had stood still; or if it moved at all, it did so in infinitesimally small paces. The scene before me was the same today as it was yesterday and it would be the same again tomorrow. The chapel behind me had seen a thousand sunsets and it will probably still be here to witness at least a thousand more. It had about it a hint of the infinite while I … I was just a transient being – a grain of sand in the hour-glass of time. In that briefest of moments I had glimpsed eternity but, before I knew it, the moment was gone. A deafening silence reigned.
In the heavens, the clouds obscured the last sunset of the year while, behind me, a solitary wreath flapped madly in the wind.
Location: The Chapel of the Nativity of Our Lady (aka Our Lady of Victories), Mtahleb.