THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 136
[For archived material please go to tonycrossorg.co.uk]
The good book tells us that there is a time to live and there is a time to die. So, he thought, there is not much use fighting it. Though, of course, the will to live was a basic survival human mechanism, impossible to eradicate. He shifted in the bed. Hospital beds were uncomfortable but this hospital had bought mattresses that moulded themselves to the body - to avoid bed sores he supposed. While there was life there was hope. He awaited the visit of the specialist.
At that moment two people entered the ward and he smiled to see them. His wife and his son. Both loved him, that he knew. He loved both of them. But somehow their visits seemed to be rather solemn occasions and though it was great to see them, he felt no great lift in his spirit. Bernard, his son, leant over and gave him a hug and said ‘Hello, Dad’ while his wife gave him a kiss . But their faces were long - or rather they had that cheerful expression that said ‘We intend to cheer him up at all costs’.
What he didn’t know was that on their way in they had seen the specialist who had told them that the prognosis was very bad - the patient only had a few weeks to live. Shortly the specialist would come to his bedside and impart the bad news to the patient himself that his time had come. There was no hope - no cure - not even any possible delaying tactics. All they could do is reduce the pain to a low level so that he would not suffer. Of that they were certain.
When the visit was over - they would be coming back in the evening - and the specialist had come and imparted his bad news and gone again, the patient lay quietly in the bed. Somehow the ward seemed different. He realised it was because he knew that very shortly he was not going to be there any more - not going to be anywhere. How did he view death? He had thought about it a lot recently.
He was not afraid. He had lived his life in the light of faith. He wouldn’t change now. He had made a hell of a lot of mistakes - and hurt some people with them too. He knew the reality of God’s forgiveness. Of course he faced the unknown with a degree of uncertainty - that was natural. But they had told him that he would have very little pain and that was a huge help. He looked at the single rose in the vase on his bedside table and it’s beauty spoke to him of all that was good and valuable in life, and all he was soon to leave behind. His job now was to help his family to face and adjust to the change that was coming.
The man in the next bed, back in bed after an earlier operation, had come round. He smiled at the now conscious man and said ‘Welcome back to the land of the living. How do you feel?’
They met on a particular bench in the park behind the High Street. It was not a big park - quite small really. But all its paths curved around and there were park benches at regular intervals. There was also lots of shrubbery so that each bench was screened from the prying eyes of other people.
They used to meet on Tuesdays at half past two. He worked nearby and told his secretary he needed a walk at that time to clear his mind. They had first met quite by accident. She had been sitting there one week and he had come and by chance sat at the other end of the bench. The following week she was there again and he was sitting in the same place - and they laughed at the coincidence. Then they began to look forward to their Tuesdays and found that they had much in common. Of course it could not go any further. Both were married. Both had children. Both loved their spouses. Yet both found in the other someone of rare sensitivity and understanding. Their half hour every week had become very precious to them.
Their meetings had been going on for over a year and they both knew that their innocent ‘affair’ had to either blossom or die. They could not go on like this - it was too frustrating and each parting was a small death. They both knew the time had come when they had to decide their future. They both knew that they could not - should not - would not leave their spouse - it would hurt too many people and they had too much of their lives invested in their families. Yet this precious oasis of love and caring in their week had become a pivot of their lives. They had found in each other something rare and precious.
On this Tuesday the man was the first to broach the subject. They had talked around it often before. Now he said in a quite matter of fact voice that they would have to stop meeting, or… He left the rest of the sentence unsaid. The woman began to sob quietly to herself. How would she manage without this wonderful man in her life anymore? Both knew that one of the things that had attracted them to each other was their inherent honesty. If they tried to hold onto what they had enjoyed by going further, then neither of them would remain the person they had been until now because they would have to lie and cheat. Eventually they both agreed that this must be their last time. They were silent for a few minutes, then they gave each other a long and lingering hug and they kissed - for the first and last time. He turned and walked back the way he had come. She began to move off slowly in the opposite direction.
In after years both had the priceless store of memories of those meetings. Each had given unstintingly to the other. Both came to see that however painful it had been, their decision had been the right one. And they had their treasury of memories for the rest of their lives.
There comes a time when a young person needs to move out! No doubt about it. One can stay in one’s family home too long! This time was fast approaching for Tom. But he was still in two minds about it because so many of his needs were met by being at home. For one thing he only paid a nominal amount to his mother and knew that once he got his own flat he would be paying a whole lot more for just food and drink and light and water!
But there was a deeper umbilical cord holding him at home than just money. It was a kind of emotional dependence. He was old enough to go and fight in Iraq if that had been necessary - but he was still happily lodged in situ with his parents and his younger brother at home. It was the kind of hesitation one has before jumping off the high board at the swimming pool. He knew that he would be all right once he left, but he just felt unable to make the decision to actually go.
Tom’s father was an easygoing sort of man. He provided for his family and no one went without anything that mattered. They no longer all holidayed together - Tom needed to get away and he went off to youthful holidays abroad. But for the normal pleasantries of life - all were provided. Except for alcohol. This was the one blind spot of Tom’s Dad. He somehow resented providing drink for his sons. Why can’t they buy their own beer or whatever it is they like, he would grumble to his wife. I thought I had a full bottle of Bells and its only got a couple of inches left at the bottom!
Tom’s mother on the other hand did all his washing and ironing without complaining. It seemed she thought it was a woman’s job was to run around after her sons. Except when Tom left his dirty clothes lying on the bathroom floor - then she would say with a steely glance in his direction that next time it would stay where he put it.
This situation went on for quite some time until one day the family had an almighty row. It all started quite calmly. Something to do with the garage being left unlocked overnight. Before long accusations were flying around and these developed into recriminations and, eventually, insults. It got so bad that Tom’s father was on the edge of pushing his son off to his bedroom - except that of course you cannot do that with someone who is Tom’s age! Tom held himself back from actually throwing something at his father - that would have been the end of everything!
Later that night his mother came up to his bedroom and suggested gently that perhaps the time had come for him to think about finding a flat for himself. Tom knew immediately that she was right. He was now a grown man and it was asking too much of them both to stay in the same house together - the time had come to go!
Even the decision to go made a difference. His father helped him with the estate agents, his mother prepared his clothes. They all had a bitter-sweet feeling about the impending departure. Within two months he was gone - and was exulting in his new freedom. As he said to his younger brother ‘When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go’
It was a pleasant church - all Victorian brick and tall windows. The vicar was a pleasant enough man. Tried his best to be a spiritual guide to his flock and to have time for all who wanted his help. The congregation was the usual mix these days - largely Christian from decades ago, largely in their sixties or older, although there were some younger ones. Andrew had been attending there for several years. He liked the mixture of formality and informality in the services.
Andrew went to church most Sundays - he would sit around half way in an aisle seat and he would watch everything that went on with interest. Old Mr Hanson walking in with difficulty and a stick. Mrs Hetherington, always with a huge hat - who wore hats anymore anyway! And he would nod to the Browns - the young family with two kids that sat across the aisle from him. After the service he would usually stay for a coffee and have a chat with whoever was there.
That’s really what started the problem. He was chatting to Miss Smallden - the representative on some Diocesan Committee or other - when the subject of how they should vote on gay blessings arose. Andrew of course was a gay man and was out at work and to his friends - though there were few if any at church who had recognised that he was gay. The subject just had never come up. Miss Smallden was saying that she would vote to exclude gay blessings and added that they certainly did not want that sort of person in church. This so surprised Andrew that, without thinking, he took issue with her and started to explain why he thought Christ would want to accept gay people into church and encourage and help them just as he would anyone else.
The views expressed by Andrew were like a red rag to a bull as far as Miss Smallden was concerned, and before long they were having quite a heated discussion in the course of which Andrew told her that he was gay. It was now her turn to be shocked! He realised that he had started something that might have consequences.
In the next few weeks, as the subject was aired in the various meetings, it became abundantly clear that many of the parishioners at this quiet local church had never really addressed the issue of homosexuality, and thought that they had never met a gay person. Anyway, they would prefer to sweep the whole matter under the nearest carpet. Andrew’s presence there - now that it was known that he was gay - forced them to take a view on the matter. The time for innocence was over.
Three months later Andrew transferred to another church. It was not that anyone had told him to go - it was just that the attitude towards him had seemed to harden. The Browns had become real friends - they saw no difficulty at all, but the older members of the congregation seemed set in their opinions. He felt less welcome. He decided it was time to go. It was easier to change church than try to change minds. He looked for - and found - another church not far away that was open and warm towards everybody, white or black, young or old, male or female, heterosexual or gay. He settled down there and is now very happy.