All you need is less
THE dreadful day of judgement has arrived sooner than I’d hoped. There is nothing quite like moving out of what has been the family home for more than 20 years to bring you face to face with sins of omission, as well as commission.
The City of London is an unusually difficult place to dispose of anything: no charity shops, no rubbish dumps, no bonfires, and no chance of depositing anything on the pavement in the hope that a passing commuter will tuck an old sewing machine or a redundant exercise bike under his overcoat; a more likely scenario is that the responsible (or, rather, irresponsible) householder will be charged with obstructing the public highway.
But I have taken refuge behind these truths for too long: when we happily cohabited with ecclesiastical lawyers, their occupation of the basement kept my hoarding instincts under control. Once they moved out, it was too easy to store our surplus in (some of) the space that they had vacated, and now all my chickens have come home to roost.
It has taken longer than I could possibly have imagined to dispose of the accumulated detritus of 20 years: I have filled clothes banks to overflowing; onsite shredders and charity collectors have removed load after load after load; and a man-with-a-van is my new best friend.
But still I am left with the evidence of a life: a collection of documents that one day might conceivably be of interest to any eventual grandchildren, but will require substantial storage space in the mean time; and a depressing number of old Church Times Diary columns, full of resolutions about abandoning good intentions in favour of actually doing something.
Spreading the Word
SO, OF all the kind messages that we have received, I was especially touched by a card that read, “Still thinking of you for starting our Sunday school more than 20 years ago.”
Needless to say, that was a team effort; but, confronted with the evidence of so many unfulfilled intentions, it was suddenly comforting to remember three Sunday schools that have found fertile ground and continue to flourish. This despite the fact that, in one of them, our dramatic attempts to illustrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the tongues of fire ended with a box of spent matches and a heap of charred paper: we were using — who knew? — the wrong sort of amaretti wrappers.
TRAFFIC from the chicken coop has been two-way: I thought I had done my empty-nesting several years ago (Number Two daughter was living in China for a year, and Number Two son in a tent all through the 24-hour darkness of a High Arctic winter).
Not the least of the advantages of living in Central London with its prohibitive rents, however, was that all my chicks came back again: a plus for mother, but an advantage also for them, as one ran up a second set of student loans doing graduate medicine, and another embarked on Teach First.
So we have had the huge bonus of an extra chapter, able to enjoy the company of our children as adults; that does, however, mean that their father’s retirement has drawn an abrupt line under this stage of family life. Between the six of us, there have been ten different moves, which has resulted in my feeling like a fraught air-traffic controller, desperately attempting to ensure that the innumerable boxes are at least signposted in the right direction.
It reminds me of a story told by a friend, who found himself in an airline check-in queue behind an exceptionally obstreperous traveller, who was particularly rude to the desk clerk. When my friend reached the front of the queue, he congratulated the clerk on her forbearance.
She smiled as she took his passport. “Well, sir, that gentleman is on his way to Amsterdam — but his luggage is on its way to Ankara.”
Loaves and fishes
AMID all the astonishingly generous farewells marking The Beloved’s retirement (was there an underlying anxiety to make sure we actually went?), it has been the domestic moments that have underlined the change. I walked out of the dining room with an armful of tablecloths for the laundry, and the door swung to behind me for what, I suddenly realised, would be the last time.
It’s peculiar to try to think yourself into a new life: I do not foresee regular catering for substantial numbers in the future, nor do I expect never again to need any large serving dishes. As I was pondering what to keep, someone rang to invite us to visit over Easter, and it suddenly dawned on me: Yes, we can.
Pause for thought
OF COURSE, none of us knows what the future holds, but I realise that the next step is unmarked by any of the things I have taken for granted in clerical life.
The house comes with no expectations, but is also our responsibility — not least in terms of maintenance. Our week can be whatever shape we choose to make it, with the heady possibility of free weekends (ditto evenings/Christmas/Easter).
I am not retiring; so part of the structure is still in place, but I am most uncertain about my relationship with London, which has been my home for all my adult life. How will it feel to be a visitor to this great city? Will I be glad to come back every week, or will I feel that the focus of our lives is now elsewhere?
After what he describes as “43 years on Transmit”, The Beloved plans to turn the dial to silence for a while; and certainly, after the pace of the past 25 years, there is some catching up to do. I know that, in the context of eternity, a quarter of a century is but the blink of an eye, and certainly the years have flown, but one of the consequences of the Great Clear-Out has been to remind me how much has happened in the interim.
Not only have our children (infants when their father was consecrated, and one not even born) grown to adulthood, but, as the Bishop of Willesden pointed out, at the time The Beloved became Bishop of London, Amazon sold its first book, Windows 95 was the operating system, and Facebook was still nine years away.
We have travelled a long way; now, perhaps, what we need is to adopt the wisdom of the Bedouin and pause for a while to give our souls time to catch up.