Last week we had the pleasure of a visit from my daughter Joanna and her husband and children.

We girls went on an outing to Uckfield, a small Sussex village near us. At one point, a few shops are recessed back from the street and up about 6 steps, and as we approached them a motley assortment of persons were setting up what turned out to be a Good Friday service, using the pavement in front of the shops as the platform, while the ‘congregration’ stood in the space between the ‘platform’ and the road. There were no barriers, nothing was cordoned off… they were creating rather a hazard to navigation, but it’s a free country after all and one has to respect the views and beliefs of others.

We went in to the shop behind all this curfuffle (the shop was not connected to the service) and got on with our business.

Some considerable time afterwards, we approached the exit of the shop to leave, but the clergy had backed in to the doorway, which was now blocked. I’m not sure of the fashion rules of cassocks and clerical garb – people were sporting different colours but I don’t know whether this has any significance – or if the service was multi-denominational. Anyway, we stood politely waiting for an exit moment while a man who couldn’t play guitar accompanied a woman who couldn’t sing on some modern happy clappy hymn I’d never heard of.

It became apparent to me that we could stand there to kingdom come for all the clergy cared. Eventually we sent out the children, who were allowed, grudgingly, to pass, but were treated with great disdain.

I’m still standing with my trolley that assists me to walk, when the caterwauling stops and one of the ‘be-cassocked’ launches into a very long prayer. I have been well brought up, so I remain standing silently, though I do get to the How long, O Lord, how long stage before he mercifully draws to a conclusion. I tap (very gently and when he himself is not speaking ) on the shoulder of the officiant nearest me, who turns and glares at me with undisguised venom. I am slightly taken aback by the unchristian ferocity of his look, but I smile, standing there with my trolley, and I mime silently that I’d like safe passage through their midst. He is about to issue some clerical reprimand, when something in me stirs slightly, and I think, firstly, that if he says a single word, I’ll point out that this is a public highway and he’s causing an obstruction. But then hard on the heels of that, the killer remark offers itself. Whatever he says, I think, I’ll just smile and say, And may the peace that passeth all understanding encompass your heart also on this Good Friday, dear brother.

But it’s not just the peace that passeth all understanding; so does the ability some of us possess – including him – to hear that which has not been actually spoken, and he thinks better of saying anything and, grudgingly and ungraciously, stands aside.

Then I do wish him peace from my heart, unloving brother though he may appear to be, let me not be an unloving sister, and I think (Dune fashion) that I can thank him for giving me the opportunity to practice forbearance. Perhaps he stood there in physical pain; perhaps he had suffered a loss of faith and wondered what the point in his labours was; perhaps he was distressed at the loss of influence and lack of interest and respect what he believes in now receives; perhaps someone he loved had passed away and he was in despair. Perhaps he was just an unhappy, grumpy, ill-tempered, bad mannered, ungentlemanly man who leads a miserable life.

We have all found ourselves at some point wandering in distress, and some unknown person appears from nowhere, and merely by recognising us in our unhappiness, and perhaps saying a kind word, carrying our bag a little way, giving us a cup of coffee, tying our shoelace, has lifted our spirits and sent us on our way recovered out of all proportion to the small gift they appeared to give us; occasionally I have wondered (not very seriously, you understand) whether these people, who appear out of the mist when we need them, give us aid, and disappear again forever, are perhaps what was meant by the phrase ‘entertaining angels unawares’. Is it not possible, I wonder, as I wander down the streets of Uckfield towards a coffee shop, which my daughter who I am sure is fortunately thinking along much more sensible and practical lines than I am has sourced so that I do not have to walk too far – is it not possible that Fate as well as sending us ‘Angels of Mercy’ also sends us these little trials – trials of our faith, of our fortitude, of our loving kindness? I must in my lifetime have failed such trials far too often. The deadly javelin of hurtful words has always leapt unbidden to my hand. I have, with my capacity to aim for the jugular, mea culpa, flung it many many times, stepped over the fallen opponent, and walked on with barely a backwards glance. Perhaps thirty years ago I first recognised that though there was no amulet in life which would protect you from falling a little in love with some man who laid siege to you, never-thre-less, you were in no way obliged to do anything about it.    You just walked on by.   So it has taken me 60 years to understand that it is not necessary to destroy everyone who crosses you.   You have your lethal weapons, should it prove essential to deploy them, but in most cases, you can just walk on by.

I say a little prayer for my poor brother, the priest. May he find comfort. I say a little prayer of gratitude for my loving daughter, who has had thought and consideration for my comfort. I say a little prayer for the village of Uckfield: may it grow and prosper.

As we walk away, on the street behind us, the caterwauling begins once more. But if I listen very carefully, I can just hear, very faint and far away, from the farthest outpost of my imagination, the angel choir behind it.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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