or, The Curate's Egg
Back to work
calm of the hills. The night fore I left, the sky was clear and the stars were impossible to count and so close you felt if you climbed the beacon you might brush them with your outstretched hand. I thought of Abraham and the promise made him by God that his descendants would be as many as the stars of heaven.
As I contemplated, not without regret, another holiday ending, another year of routine beginning, I suddenly realised that God does not budget our happiness. It is not that he metes out happiness in days like holiday entitlement. If I could but live his will more fully, trust him more deeply, then joy would be unbounded. There is no end to what he wants to give us. His desire for our happiness is on a vast and profligate scale, like the stars.
Always you arrive back in the parish to a mountain of post, most of it completely uninteresting. On the answering machine there was a phone message from the son of a man whom I had visited in hospital about this time last year. He was the old soldier who seeing a priest in a pastoral stole with a pyx round his neck had somehow been reminded of a chaplain giving general absolution on the Normandy Beaches years before and he asked me to hear his confession. Then he had talked and talked about his part in the war, his life, how he had just quietly drifted from the Church. The son was calling to tell me that his father had died and asking me if I could celebrate his funeral. The message was two weeks old. I called the son nevertheless, who was very understanding and said that someone had told him I was away. His father had been buried without a Requiem Mass. He asked me if I would celebrate a Mass for him.
"He spoke very highly of you," the son said We had conesponded a couple of times after he left the hospital for his home in a distrait parish; he would write and ask me to say Mass for his dead wife. I remembered there was something very graced about our meeting —I wrote about it at the time. I hope that stayed with him in his last days. 1 have remembered him at Mass each day since.
On Monday morning i put my best foot forward and walking down the main road to the school I passed the house where Bridget used to live. She was one of my Wednesday morning ladies, I used to take her Holy Communion until her death aged 93 a couple of months ago.1 saw the front door open and down the passage the door to her small studio flat beyond. It used to take her a full five minutes to struggle to open the door to me.
Now there was a builder pushing a barrow load of rubble out of the doorway of her flat. He looked quiLlically at me. I couldn't really explain that 1 was thinking of Bridget with a mixture of sadness and happiness. It seemed sad to think that only now she was gone was the place being smartened up, presumably to be let at three times the rent. Wood floors and chromium fittings and minimalist decor would replace
the colourful carpet and cosy clutter and express eloquently the different lifestyles and attitudes of the new and old owners. I felt strongly that Bridget, at peace in heaven, was beyond it all and wouldn't mind. But there was still something poignant about the transformation that was taking place.
/was rescued from my reverie by Bridget's neighbour retiringng from the shops. l had met Miriam at the funeral. I liked her very much. She was also a spinster, an ex-ballet dancer. She had the grace of movement that dancers embody. There was also something slightly fragile about her, a porcelain doll sort of beauty, but this was a demeanour. rather than something physical. She had .the smile of someone who is used to being brave and positive in the face of adversity. She offered me a cup of coffee in her little flat, a minor image of Bridget's and we chatted.
She reminisced about dance tours in Italy, told me about her Anglican parish and her work as a volunteer for the Red Cross. She spoke warmly of Bridget and her kindness, how Bridget had welcomed her when she first moved can Ivca in,imagine they got on well and that Miriam at least might still say a prayer for Bridget when the chromium and stripped pine bring their surgical reign to the little flat with the mulberry tree outside the window.
It is a shame that we see less easily how people are changed by one another, how the life and death of each one of us has an impact on everyone.