Down, but not out
I WAS sitting at my desk one morning, in the middle of writing an important and urgent letter to the Archdeacon, and not to be disturbed, when the doorbell rang. Muttering oaths to myself, I went downstairs and opened it.
An elderly man I didn’t know was standing there, clutching a plastic carrier bag, which he thrust at me and promptly burst into tears. I pulled him inside and sat him down. I opened the bag, and inside found a framed blown-up black-and-white photo of a bride smiling broadly.
He put a finger to the tracheostomy tube in his throat, and rasped “This is my wife: today would have been our 60th wedding anniversary.” She had, he told me, developed Alzheimer’s, and for ten years he had visited her twice a day. She had finally died last autumn, and he was still, some six months later, utterly desolate.
He talked about their marriage, its ups and downs, the pain of seeing her gradually slip away so that all he had left was the photo in the bag. On the off-chance, on what would have been their diamond anniversary, he had come over to touch base with the place he was married in, all those years ago.
We went over to the church, and, on the spot where they had exchanged vows, I said some prayers for them both; then we lit candles. After leaving him to be alone for a while, I took him back to the rectory for a cup of tea. He sat back, and let out a long sigh.
“Thank you,” he said “I feel so much better now.”
I needed to leave (for a service at a home for those with dementia), and asked if he would like to use the toilet first. He put a finger to his tube, and pointed at it with his other hand.
“This is the dodgy bit,” he rasped, then pointed to his nether regions. “Down there’s working fine!” He cackled happily.
As I waved him off, I thought: “You’re going to be all right.”
The letter to the Archdeacon missed the post, and did not get to its destination until later; but it really didn’t matter.
“DO YOU know you’ve got a chicken in the garden?” people keep asking me. Well, yes, I do. It is actually quite hard to miss, strutting around as it does in a carefree, proprietorial fashion, and (at the time of writing) has been with me about three weeks.
When it first appeared, I was surprised, to say the least, and quite concerned for its welfare (I have a foxes’ set in the rectory undergrowth). I phoned the chicken lady (as I think of her) at the school, to see if one of theirs had flown the coop. It hadn’t, and it was a few days later that I found some neighbours trying to recapture it — to no avail.
My licensed lay Reader, Levison, said that he used to breed that type in Zimbabwe, and called them “roadrunners”, as once they were out there was no getting them back. And so it has stayed (despite being occasionally chased by my Labrador, Sophie), seeming quite happy, roosting, out of harm’s way, in one of the trees.
It caused much interest among the children during our Messy Easter activities, giving form and focus to the thoughts of eggs and fluffy chicks. I personally harbour hopes of fresh-egg production, but, so far, have drawn a blank.
Roots that go deep
YOU don’t realise how deeply your roots go until you have to pull them up. After getting on for 11 years, I am leaving Brighton to become Rector of Uckfield, a beautiful little market town north of Lewes. It is the longest I have been anywhere since I was a child, and I am going through a real process of grieving.
As I knew I was approaching leaving through Lent, the Stations of the Cross had a real resonance for me this year, especially the tenth station, the stripping of Christ. My role as parish priest here in Moulsecoomb, embedded and revelling in the community, has defined me more than any place I have been before, and divesting myself of this makes me feel raw and vulnerable. Handing on jobs such as being Chaplain to the Mayor to a successor is like handing over your favourite, comfortable clothes for someone else to wear; who I am is dissipating.
I know this is common to all clergy, and is part of the life: you move job and home, role and identity, and leap into the unknown. But it is a harder process the older you get — or, at least, that’s what I am finding. Mind you, I have got four months off on sabbatical in Rome and Venice; so I am sure I’ll cope.
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.