The historic city of York. The pace of Leeds and the passionate Elland Road fans. The beauty of the Dales. The east with its beautiful coast. The pint at the Robin Hood after football! But also, the M62. The traffic jam at Junction 32 at 5pm. The modern beauty of Ferrybridge Power Station, which reminds me of Springfield nuclear power station with its long pipes (I wonder if in Ferrybridge there is a guy called Homer?!)
It wouldn’t be fair to say “This is Yorkshire” as I think there is much more that can be added to this corner of the world, which seems so far from the rest of the world and yet so central for its people. This is why I am going to say “this has been my Yorkshire” (read back with a very strong emphasis on the “my”). Close to the end of my time here in the 'North’, there are a few things I’ve learned that I will take with me wherever I go next.
If you think about Italian people, or if I had to ask you to make an impression of Italians, the first thing you do is to put all of your fingers together, move the hands up and down and begin to say things like “Mamma Mia!” Being Italian is all about expressing feelings, to bring out all the inner emotions; positive or not. And that means also to gesticulate while exposing your gigantic theories, or even just to say how you feel. Although I’ve learned to answer “Not too bad” at the “How are you?”, I can say that it doesn’t work for an Italian, it is not satisfactory, it’s not enough.
Just like it’s not satisfactory to greet someone you care for with a simple handshake! And yet, I’ve learned that Yorkshire Men when they shake your hands (and you’re not their partner, son, dad and any of the closest relationships that a man can have), it means that you’ve already made steps toward them. They’ve already allowed you to step into their personal space and you can consider yourself a “close enough friend.” Close enough to have an unnecessary physical contact to show you respect, care, maybe closeness and, why not, a little bit of love!
Disclaimer: The verses “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2Cor 13:12; 1Thess 5:26) do not apply for churches in my Yorkshire. A pat on the shoulder is already a huge step and it’s more than enough.
In truth I’ve learned that, although there is this cultural difference in expressing closeness to someone, Yorkshire people are very friendly and faithful to friendships. It’s hard for you to step into the two metres private area just to shake hands, but once you’re there, it’s very difficult to get out of it. Even more if you receive a pat on the shoulder! History can count only a few men who received a pat on the shoulder from a Yorkshire man.
The truth is that Yorkshire people are not emotionless. I think being a Yorkshire person means also to have a strong sense of identity and belonging. Among other things, this also explains why Elland Road Stadium is always fully packed despite the non-excellent results of Leeds United. Identity is not to be confused with a narrow mindset, nor with an unwelcoming attitude. It’s more the idea that if something works in a certain way, why would you change it? It’s more the idea of not stepping out of the comfort zone because of habits. Why try the new special limited edition of a sandwich, when I can get the safe ham and cheese panini? Yes, this comes from a personal working experience in both the church community café and the coffee shop in Garforth.
This is not to be taken too seriously, talking in a generic way; it’s not helpful and often doesn’t reflect the reality of things. However, the root of Yorkshire identity goes as deep as the coal mining tunnels; it’s strong; it’s where the heart is. A heart that too often has been forgotten by those who cannot hear its beat. Identity is a concept very close and dear to me. Coming from the south of Italy, a small region as Basilicata is, infused in me the same strong feeling to say “My home is here”. Home. There is no better word to describe the identity of Yorkshire. Its people know that it isn’t perfect; that the sun often doesn’t work. But even with its flaws, home is home. Yorkshire is Yorkshire, and its people, while desiring for the best of it, they love it for what it is.
The last point will be a little bit more personal. I have titled this article “Are you alright love?” because it’s a saying that struck me the most. I still remember how weird it felt the first time a lady asked me “are you alright love?” with a thick Yorkshire accent. Up to that point, the word “love” for me was reserved for just one person. I wouldn’t use it out of a romantic relationship. It could have been my southern Italian identity; an identity of a culture that easily shows love, but that rarely mentions it.
Various things have happened since then. Good stuff, sad moments, challenges and achievements; however, the question about the future is still there. The simple question “What’s next?” is able to put me off the road eve more than the first “Love” said by the lady. The uncertainty of what’s going to happen, the thought of arriving at the finishing line of a race that you’ve learned to run and starting a new one can be scary. It can make you feel unprepared. There is a verse in Ephesians 2:10 that helped me to not consider myself unprepared for the new race; it doesn’t make me feel anxious about the new track that I will go through.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.
When I firstly heard “Are you alright love?” from the lips of a Yorkshire lady, I had a lot to learn. The time in Castleford, away from my roots, away from people who don’t mind hugs and the two kisses on the cheek’s greetings (yes, this is how we greet people in Italy), put me in front of a race track I’ve never been into. Yet, after spending a total of a year in Yorkshire, I don’t consider it the place where my roots are, but one of the streams of water that feed me and helped me grow spiritually and humanly. That verse of Ephesians reminds me that it doesn’t matter what race track I will run on. What’s important is to run at the best of your capacity; not considering the unknown track in front of you, but knowing that God will help you going through that race.
More than a year has passed since I first heard “Are you alright love?” What at first was something that left me with my eyebrows up, I’ve learned that encloses in itself the identity and the care that should be found in churches more often. Knowing that churches and its people can’t always be perfect, but praying for its best which means sincere hearts, good teachings, love for God and for one another.
Am I alright love? Yes I look ahead for what’s next, but I will miss my Yorkshire.