Pastoral Letter - 25th June
My dear Friends,
Murders have kept me going this past year. Perhaps I should clarify.... I have derived delight, and distraction from the difficulties of this past year, through reading murder mysteries. One such, "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe," a Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie, concludes with the perpetrator of the murders saying, "Don’t you realise Poirot, that the safety and happiness of the whole nation depends on me?" To which Poirot replies, "I am not concerned with nations Monsieur, I am concerned with the lives of private individuals."
Many of us have mentioned over this past year, when we have been presented with daily doses of statistics: numbers of those who have tested positive for Covid, hospitalised with Covid, died due to Covid, that it is difficult to grasp the full human impact of what is reported. Each life, each "private individual" is precious. Each person affected across our nation and beyond, is linked to the lives of others and is part of other’s stories in the vast network of human interaction.
You and I, as people who try to pray, have struggled in our intercession, floundering as we have sometimes been in the flurry of numbers. It would seem that we need individual stories, enabling us to focus on a specific human life, to help us feel true empathy and to respond and reach out with compassion. Canon Eric James, a religious broadcaster I was fortunate enough to know and meet up with from time to time to chat over lunch, used to speak of some being those who loved the many in the one, whilst others loved the one in the many. I have found myself over this past year praying for the many through the one. Only on concentrating my prayerful attention on a private individual is my humanity fully engaged, can I encounter them in my imagination and offer them to God in my intercession, rather than in swathes of statistics. So here, as an example, is my sense of someone I can see in my mind’s eye, feel some of the pain of, know compassion for and offer to God in my prayerful intercession. You will all be praying in your own way, as suits the way you think, feel compassion, relate to others and feel responsible for others in the human family. But here, for what it’s worth, is an evocation of one whom I think of as Elsie.... Elsie died, eventually, but it had been a struggle letting go. She didn’t feel that she had known all that life should have given her and left it feeling unresolved. Hers had been a conventional enough life, the life lived by so many. An unremarkable, uncomplicated childhood, with no more than her share of grazes to her knees and to her spirit. Meeting Ezekiel at a dance in the Town Hall and then marrying him the following year. Two children, a boy and a girl. Part time jobs as she was bringing them up then. When they left home for university she realised she didn’t have enough energy left for anything else. Ezekiel leaving her as soon as the children had left, another woman, inevitably, someone he had met at work, "a real live wire, the life and soul," as a neighbour had confided in her, unnecessarily she thought, in the circumstances, re-enforcing her sense of failure. Failure to keep her husband, failure to maintain her marriage, failure to notice his unfaithfulness and ultimately failure to create a meaningful life for herself beyond her divorce.
It had been just Elsie for years, a cat and also a canary named Joey. She had never named the cat, it had just been "the cat," who came and went when it pleased, indifferent to her, eating what she had left out for him, as though granting her a favour. Then, SNAP the cat flap would shut and he would be gone, goodness knew for how long.
Elsie felt that she had even failed with her children. She loved them, she knew that from the hurt she felt that they didn’t keep in touch, the fact that it was two days after her daughter, Sandra, had given birth before she had ‘phoned to tell her mother that she was now a grandmother. And John, her beloved son, whom she had loved so much, was, well, too busy with a wife and family and a responsible job, something to do with computers, to get in touch. She didn’t even dare think about John, the pain started in her heart, then moved down to her stomach and then she found she had difficulty swallowing. A sense of deep, dark, loss, like a heavy weight dragging her down, came into her soul every time she whispered his name in the echoing silence of her mind.
She thought that it would be the cancer which would take her; it had only recently been diagnosed. The doctor at the hospital, a soft-spoken woman with kind eyes from somewhere in India, when giving her the results of the tests, looked at Elsie pityingly when she imparted the news, "Have you anyone you can talk to, spend time with, this evening?" she had enquired. "Yes," Elsie lied, "My sister is at home waiting for me." But there was no sister, not even the cat was there that evening. She had just sat, watching the telly, one programme after another, until she realised that it was after midnight and the cup of tea she had poured herself when she had got home from the hospital mid-afternoon, was still sitting beside her on the table, the milk congealing in swirls of rainbow colours in the heat of her sitting room. Shock. She was in shock. Cancer. The thing she had most dreaded. She had known it would come, as sure as bills. But it wasn’t the cancer which had taken her; it was Covid.
The end had been bad. A cold, as she had thought, had turned into something like ‘flu, then a cough, a cough that never ceased, weakening her each time it possessed her body, convulsing her. She would sit, fighting for breath, afterwards. Her GP had ‘phoned to talk about the hospital results, to check up on her then, hearing her voice and then an attack of coughing had asked, "How long has this been going on for Elsie?" "Oh, it’s just a cough Doctor." But it hadn’t been. It had been Covid. She had been tested, then admitted to hospital, everyone surrounding her had been in gowns, facemasks, she never saw another smile, not even in the eyes of those who cared for her, though they could not have been more kind. "Kind as kind," as her mother used to say, but it was no good. The light had gone out of her, her body weakened by the virus, her breathing weakened by the coughing, her spirit weakened by the life she had endured. What life? Was that it? Was that all there was to it? Surely it should have been more, much more. Surely it could have been more?
She remembered sitting on her grandfather’s lap as a small child. He had always been smiling, a twinkle in his eyes every time he looked at her, always smelling of tobacco and carbolic soap. Sitting on his lap had been the happiest place, the happiest time. The way he had looked at her, "You know Elsie, you can do anything, Girl, anything you want to, sky’s the limit." And with him she really felt that that was true, with him she could dream, imagine, living a full and happy, love-filled life. But he had died when she was just five, bronchitis. After that she was essentially alone. After that there was no one to believe in her, delight in her, no one to encourage her to dream. He was the only one who had ever really loved her she realised, and the remembered sense of his love warmed her despite the cold chill of missing him.
She had lots of thoughts about her grandad in those last days, hours, moments, as she lay there in the clinical cell of her room. Everything white, sterile, empty. How long she had lain there she had no idea. Occasionally she would hear sounds from the corridor outside, muted, deadened by the walls: shouts, cries, trolleys, thumps, alarms, sobbing, never laughter. And in the night, the sounds seemed even stranger. There was nothing now to live for, if she was honest. The children couldn’t visit, even if they had wanted to, though whether they would have done, she would never know. In spite of this she hung on, as long as possible, just in case, in case they came to see her, in case she somehow began to feel stronger, in case her estranged husband reappeared and smiled at her again.
In the end she didn’t realise that she had died, not for some moments, not until she saw herself as if from above, with doctors and nurses attending to her body, a body from which she was now detached. They were checking this, checking that, then in the end a nurse drew the white sheet over her grey face and they all left the room, the same nurse looking back for an instant, switching off the light, then closing the door quietly, slowly, leaving her alone. Alone in her death as surely as she had been alone for most of her life.
She saw all this, as if it were happening to someone else, someone she had no emotional attachment to, and yet she knew that it was her. But it wasn’t her was it? Not any more. That part of things was over and she was moving on. Realising this, it was as if she was suddenly lifted by a strong current of air: through light, through sound, through space, perhaps even through time and suddenly she was in a wood. Bright sunshine shone from between the trees, there was a wonderful silence only broken by the singing of birds. To her left there was the gurgling of a rippling stream. The air was clean, pure, beautiful to breathe. Everything surrounding her was of such vivid hues, it was like seeing for the first time the vividness and reality of it all. Then, not daring to turn her face and look to her right, Elsie smelt the distinct scent of tobacco and carbolic.
May Elsie and all those for whom we have prayed over these anguished months, find peace and blessing in the presence of Christ.
Thank you for reading the letters I have sent since 23rd March last year! With blessings and best wishes
ZOOM AND MORE
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom service at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm, by booking on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join us for the opportunity for Private Prayer in the church 10am-11am on Wednesdays. The readings for this Sunday are: 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 verses 7-15 and Mark Chapter 5 verses 21-43. The Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, Without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy, That with you as our ruler and guide We may so pass through things temporal That we lose not our hold on things eternal; This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord Who lives and reigns with you, In the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
POST GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT ANNOUNCEMENT!
Following the Prime Minister`s decision to extend lockdown for a further month, we shall be continuing to worship on Zoom at 9.30am each Sunday until such time as unrestricted numbers are allowed back into church for the Parish Eucharist. This means that we expect Zoom to conclude on Sunday 18th July and, as many of us who are able to, to congregate in church at 9.30am from July 25th.
As this means that we will not be back by 4th July, when we have arranged for 20 of our young people to receive Communion for the first time, there will be a special service for them and for their families at 11.30am on 4th July.
The 6pm Eucharists continue until 18th July, after which they will be suspended. All this is of course subject to further announcements by the Government and indeed the directives from the Diocese!
With blessings and best wishes. Jeff