“At 18 we are so sophisticated that leaving school doesn’t move us. The subconscious fear is not of adulthood, of success or failure, but that nothing else will move me either.”
– school-leaver Emma Forrest, Sunday Times, 1995
The UK generation that these two sentences describe are now well into their thirties. These dead-eyed professionals are all around London. If we were allowed, we’d look into each others’ lifeless faces across the tube carriage and try to offer an awkward replica of sympathy. But eye contact, humanity – anything that distracts from work – is some kind of sin. Our economic woes are only background radiation to the bigger problems weighing on Londoners: loneliness, purposelessness, anxiety.
Welcome to our city, where Matryoshka Haus have decided to build.
The community’s Thanksgiving celebration this year took place in a former cow-shed in East London. As Christmas approaches, it’s touching to remember Who was about to be born somewhere like this. Once the stinky preserve of the working-class, this particular shed was tucked out of sight behind a grand Georgian square whose gentry it served.
Since those days, it’s been transformed into an unusual live-work space, and most class distinctions are less obvious. Last Friday, the slow beginnings of a community party did a good job of distracting this web agency’s professionals from their work. The smiles began to spread. Thus began 18 hours of extraordinary hospitality and grace:
…by our chefs, who had flown all the way from the US to cook for us all.
…by those who organised enough resources to feed 36 people (and all the others – the new parents, the sick girl, the unemployed actress – who benefited from the leftovers)
…by everybody who listened to anybody else’s story
…by a fashion photographer who volunteered her time to record the delighted faces
…by the many hands who took part in preparing the enormous feast, and similar sized clean-up
…by Milicent, our 28-pound turkey (perhaps somewhat grudgingly).
Among us were many leaders and influencers in this world-changing city. But also, among us there was great brokenness… those struggling with cracked relationships, work stress, abusive marriages, unemployment, long-term depression and identity issues. All of us are broken in some way, but all of us decided to take off our plaster-cast masks on Friday. I think that is what is special about this community. Most of the strong ones who bear London on their backs, suffering from the strain, have left our churches in disgust. But they still flutter toward the tiny light of Matryoshka Haus like moths, seeing something they can’t understand… yet.
This weekend, we realised something that had lain unnoticed inside the Russian dolls of the MH logo. To see what’s inside, you have to break each doll, one by one. This is the kind of brokenness that reveals treasure. I think that is what I am giving my gift of thanks for; the treasure of Hope that I have found in these wonderful people.