My diary this morning looked really innocuous...Morning Prayer, Home Communion, a bit of desking, another nativity then hospital visiting before an evening of undiluted mummying, in honour of the Dufflepud's school prize giving.
It looked innocuous, but appearances, as you'll be aware, are all too often deceptive.
All went fine initially, with the joy of driving my very own car for the first time in almost a fortnight...but all through the day there were little hints of heartbreak.
The first came as I picked up an elderly parishioner, who was joining me as I took Communion to a friend of hers who is now completely housebound. One of the drawbacks of having a two parishes placed so beautifully up hill and down dale is that the hills are always there to be negotiated, and too often they become an impossible obstacle for the elderly. However that first hint of heartbreak had nothing at all to do with hills. When my passenger was settled, we exchanged a few pleasantries and she then began to cough. Concerned, I asked if she was fighting a winter lurgy
"Oh no, K, I'm fine..." she said, cheerfully, "It's just that I haven't spoken to anyone since Sunday so my throat is a bit surprised now we are chatting"
Not a hint of complaint.
She has been widowed for almost 3 years and this is quite simply how life is.
One of my core Sunday congregation, whose voice is going rusty from disuse...
The visit for Communion was good, though as always when I visit H, I was concious of the weight of the past pressing in on him, the multitude of good memories that seem, for him, to rob the present of any value at all...Nothing will ever match up to what has gone, and here and now is a rather chilly, empty place. Still, today he told me some wonderful stories about his childhood on the edge of the Forest of Dean, and we laughed at least as much as we struggled not to cry.
A very muddy dog walk (featuring a vicar spreadeagled inelegantly in the mire), the Infant's nativity and then hospital visiting. When I got to the ward, the door bore this notice
"Please close the door. We have a wanderer on the ward"
Going through, I saw that screens had been pulled across the corridor, and from behind them came the most terrifying sound, barely human in its raw intensity, intended to communicate nothing beyond total pain and desolation.
An elderly lady, her mind completely destroyed by the ravages of dementia, shrieking and howling her pain to any and all that could not help but listen.
She braced herself in the corner, eyes shut, her only focus the need to give voice once more to the agony...and beside her, speaking gently, soothingly, throughout the whole length of my visit, was a young nurse, who really couldn't have been more than 21. Her words met with no response, but that didn't deter her from trying, with infinite love, to break into the fearful darkness.
There in one corner of a busy ward, all the pain of humanity in microcosm, and beside it, in shining hope, the constant reminder of redemptive grace.
In the tender compassion of our God
The dayspring from on high SHALL break upon us
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.