Winter 2011 #11
Little One can be a touch slow of a morning. But let’s delve into the thesaurus for a moment and refine that description: She can be obstinate, obdurate, refractory, ponderous, intractable and just plain stubborn! Getting her out the door for school on some mornings requires super-human creativity. Something within her adorable character is acutely sensitive to the tiniest hint of urgency; and once triggered her cooperation is then available in inverse proportion to its necessity! The more dire punctuality becomes, the less likely we are to achieve it. But, I guess parents the world over have played School-Morning Stand-Off.
Little One takes this pastime just a parsec or two further than our other children dared to even dream. Back when we lived in a home with a rather grand front staircase, Little One would sometimes commence a special morning dance on the top step: three steps left, hop, three steps right, hop-hop; stamp both feet, rock side to side, and…….jump! Three steps left, hop, three steps right, hop-hop; stamp both feet … you get the idea. The OCD two-step. Our sole parental defence against this attack was complete absorption: watch, smile, don’t blink. The slightest whiff of frustration, or a stolen glance at a wrist watch, could risk a dramatic escalation to the OCD Salsa, or even the Tango! You may think we are soft, indulgent parents: I assure you, with six children and almost 250 parent-years clocked up between us; that is most certainly not the case!
Little One also had imaginary pets that attended preschool. Impressively, the invisible companion that left in the morning was often the very same friend that came home six hours later, and we could read up on the activities of this exact animal in the teacher’s communication book that evening. My favourite was a crocodile who first visited our home around the time of Steve Irwin’s fatal encounter with a stingray. In order to be put in the car the make-believe croc had first to be violently spear-tackled in the hall by our then four year old, wrestled into submission, roped, and dragged unwillingly with one hand, school satchel in the other. Several years on my Favourite Wife still rises at 5.30am, hoping each day to gain the strategic high ground in the daily battle of wills!
Lately I am also ‘a touch slow of a morning’. So slow, in fact, that three weeks ago I finally called it quits on the all-important Tuesday bus ride to our church office, where I have held a gradually diminishing role these past couple of years. This journey has been the regular highlight of most weeks. The productivity and banter of our staff and team have been a rich delight, and a privilege to share. More recently communication (or rather its absence) has eroded much of the pleasure of this routine; but the death-knell of my career was sounded by something far more mundane: Personal Grooming. I can no longer both dress myself and catch a bus on the same morning. For weeks I have been juggling options, tweaking bus connections, even arranging Home Care to come in the late afternoon – just to squeeze the last little bit out of Tuesdays. But all to no avail.
Like a midnight ebbing of the tide, the last days of my thirty year vocation went unnoticed by friend or colleague. No fanfare, no gold watch. I don’t know why, perhaps the required words are too hard to phrase, but more likely no one noticed. It’s a pathetic little tale, don’t you think? And I am dreadfully aware of the indulgent self pity in my melodramatic retelling!
Nothing has been as hard to surrender as this; perhaps because one’s occupation is something of a metaphor of other strengths. As a carpenter when we were first married there was immense satisfaction in packing up tools after long and productive days, driving home, sitting at the dinner table with our young family, sensing the pleasure of sheer exhaustion, the tingle of small wounds and the buzzing of muscles well stretched. Good days! Later on in ministry my fulfilment sometimes rested on the delivery of a good sermon, or in a valuable counselling discussion, or in the myriad other enjoyable details of a busy church. I dearly miss the purpose and accomplishment that attended several decades of life; but I also question my own attachment to industry. Business, achievement and – above all – popularity, are heady opiates that have shielded me from prolonged exposure to aspects of my own soul; and these new days of long and silent inactivity require a fortitude and peacefulness that I wonder if I possess.
But I am fortunate as well, or blessed. No doubt Little One will entertain us (or terrorise us!) with a new rendition of morning-slowness again tomorrow; and then the house will grow quiet for many hours, until the sun sets and they return home once more. I will have my own unhurried company for much of that time; to spend – I hope – in reflection, gratitude, prayer, correspondence, language and thought. A Golden Watch, perhaps?