What feelings does this word evoke? What sorts of memories does it recall? Which of your senses start to tingle? How would you represent what this word means to you?
‘Tell me, child,’ says the poet Bunthorne to the milkmaid Patience, ‘do you ever yearn?’
‘I earn my living,’ she replies.
Which makes me think about my earning and my yearning. I work for an organisation with high ideals, an organisation that’s trying to change the world, yearning, if you like, for change. My daily duties, however, are pretty prosaic. I don’t think I ever expected anything else: I’d already got my head around the idea that a servant with this clause/makes drudgery divine, that if a job’s worth doing it doesn’t matter if it’s frontline or backroom. Even when it’s stuffing a thousand envelopes, there’s something at the back of it that’s about yearning.
It is tempting to say that earning is yearning in action, but I know well enough that I’m in a privileged position, to be able to think so.
And then yearning does not have to be about action. A wish is an act in itself, even if one then doesn’t follow it up with an obvious action. We must be the change we want to see; fine, but we begin not by changing, nor by being, but by wanting. I remember last May, when I was burned out with all my causes, feeling corroded and unappreciated, going to a lecture by Leslie Griffiths, Baron Griffiths of Burry Port, a prominent Methodist. He was angry. He was angry about a whole lot of things, most of which I was angry about too, but which I was just too damn tired to do anything useful about.
I cannot remember what exactly he said, but the effect was to give me space, to let me be angry, to let me want change – yes, to let me yearn – to remove the expectation that I would immediately go out and fix it. I could breathe again.
I’ve been trying to let myself just want things. To desire a change, an outcome, a quality, and not to be ashamed of desiring it. Not to be afraid that I might not get it. To yearn.