Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Dying Young

Anne died on Christmas Eve. She had been ill for two years but had the sort of spirit that made you think that she couldn’t die, that she wouldn’t die.

As the illness took hold, everything that could go wrong went wrong for Anne but through it all she was able to find something to laugh about. I’m no Shakespeare or even Dylan Thomas, and I can’t capture in words the essence of Anne. She was special. At her funeral, the crowds in the church were matched only by the crowds outside, unable to get in. It was a privilege to know her.

So where was God in this? We’re supposed to be able to trust God to do the right things. Was it right to let a young mother die when he could have healed her? Nearly every part of me screams ‘No’, but somewhere deep inside is the knowledge, borne out by my own experience , that God can be trusted. More than that, he is the God who chose to let his own dearly loved son be tortured and killed for us, for me, for Anne, because he knew what the end result would be. I can’t begin to understand why tragedies like Anne’s are allowed to happen. I can only hang on to the thin thread if faith that God really does know what he’s doing. Without that, there’s really not much point in anything.

Anne would have been forty this year. Last summer while on holiday, camping under electricity pylons as only Anne could, she bought a rather expensive candle in the shape of the numbers 4 and 0, justifying it by saying, ‘If I make it to forty it will be worth celebrating.’ She didn’t and I miss her.

(Written in the spring of 1995)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Three Young Men - a folk tale

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a land which was ruled over by a great and mighty leader called The Iron Maiden. Now this land was divided into two unequal parts: the Northlands and the Southlands. In the Southlands the sun always shone, the women were beautiful and the men were rich; in the Northlands, it was always cold, the women were ugly and the men were mostly unemployed.

Then one day the people saw on their television screens news of a terrible disaster which had befallen a small mining village in the Northlands — a mine had flooded and twelve miners had been killed. On hearing of this tragedy the noble people of the Southlands immediately did what they thought would best help the distraught families: they sent money by the bucketload and having satisfied their consciences filed away the details and forgot about them.

Now among the beneficiaries of this remarkable generosity were three young men, sons of one of the miners killed. The money they received was more than they could hope to earn in a lifetime (which, admittedly, is not long for a miner) and they decided to leave the life they had always known and head south to the land of milk and honey.

Arriving in due course at the capital city of the Southlands, the first young man decided to buy a flat on the waterfront (they were shocked to discover the price of houses in the capital) and visit the local wine bar. “A pint of your best bitter, landlord,” he cried. A hush fell upon the room. Was this man from the Northlands or what? A journalist in the wine bar immediately began to question him about his roots. On discovering that not only was he from the Northlands, not only from the very village in which the terrible tragedy occurred, but that he was deeply involved with it, the journalist took him under his wing, drew out his most personal and intimate details and sold the story to a national newspaper. This new-found fame bought the young man many friends who danced and dined and drank with him until the money ran out. Then he discovered that the agreement he had signed for the flat was a tenancy agreement and not a purchase. Who would expect to get a flat for that sort of money? Finding that he had no money left to pay the rent, the kindly landlord gave him two hours to move out and the young man found himself on the street.

The second young man, walking through the gold-paved streets of the city, saw the Porsches and, being a well-read young man, realised that the only way to succeed in this life was to speculate. You have to speculate to accumulate. He booked into a smart hotel, read all the financial newspapers and started dealing. He quickly made new friends who offered him the chance to invest in their company, a surefire winner he was assured. The first he knew of the stock market crash was when he read about it in the daily newspaper delivered to his hotel room. His bank refused to honour his debt and he left the hotel in the middle of the night. Shares can go down as well as up.

The third young man took a job in a large department store, met and married a very nice young woman and settled down in a pleasant house on the edge of the city. When in time his two brothers turned up on his doorstep he was happy to give them accommodation because that’s what families are for. Then one day a letter arrived from the local council telling him that his home was to be demolished to make way for a new road. The young man and his wife and his brothers and many friends straightaway barricaded themselves in and refused to move. Hundreds of their supporters signed petitions, marched in protest and generally made nuisances of themselves until in the end, the council knocked the house down anyway. The brothers found new accommodation at Waterloo and filled their time selling The Big Issue to young executives with furrowed brows in fast cars.

And the Iron Maiden lived miserably forever.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Wednesday Writing

I would reduce God to my size
A god of party tricks and pretty thoughts
My god, god-on-demand
Little visions, little dreams
Little god

But God breaks out of the shell in which I would encase him
The deep roars,
Heaven bursts open,
Stars erupt, dazzling and bemusing,
Rainbows adorn the skies
And my eyes are opened
To the hugeness
Of the One
I call
My God.

And dreams that now seem so tiny
Are given permission
To grow and take root and flourish.

And as we stand in Eden, God and I,
I see
God is not there for my purpose;
Rather I am here for his.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

My dearest Mrs B

My dearest Mrs B,
What a delight it was that you were able to
Join us for dinner this evening.
A shame you could not stay for long
But as you say the children must learn
That needs must where the devil drives
And early to rise necessitates early to bed.
Little Tommy is now quite settled and it is my earnest hope
That you will not hold against him his tears
(And screams) at your every appearance.
I assure you he does know who you are —
Every evening I point out to him Mama
In the photograph on the piano in the parlour.
And, may I just suggest that Hannah’s failure
To answer satisfactorily your questions on
Household budgeting could perhaps be put down to her
Lack of years and experience. At five I doubt if even you,
Dearest, were quite the competent you are today.
Our meal this evening was most
Charming — I can taste it even now.
Nothing surpasses good English food
And boiled tripe and onions always slips down so
Well, but, dearest, I wonder whether
The bread pudding was just a little on the heavy side?
Of course, you know your own business best,
And if you say that this is how it should be,
Far be it from me to criticise.
On a different note, I wonder, dearest,
If you might find time to have a word with the under housemaid.
She is most lackadaisical about her duties,
I even caught her sitting in the middle of the day.
I hope we shall meet in the office tomorrow
But, if not, I look forward to seeing you
At the dinner party for the Hatfields.
I remain, your devoted husband, Sam Beeton.
P.S. If you have your diary to hand,
And it’s not too much trouble,
I would be grateful if you could let me know
A time convenient to you
For me to make my monthly night-time visit.
I would hate a recurrence of last month.