The nurse needed to tend to the person I was visiting so I excused myself and said I would wait in the hallway for a few minutes. I took a seat in an alcove with three chairs and a small table littered with old National Geographic and Time magazines. An elderly man, unshaven, a patient by the look of the loose light-blue hospital garb, sat across the table studying me through a haze of bad vision and incongruent thought.
He began to mumble words I couldn’t quite make out. Something about his brother and being a Baptist. So my clergy collar had triggered a thought, but I wasn’t able to follow. The young orderly taking a break in the staff room across the hall looked up briefly from his Blackberry and sniggered.
Sometimes luck is with you. Or the Holy Spirit; it’s hard to tell. “You have a nice voice,” I said, “you should be on the radio.” It was the only compliment I could think of.
The old man was silent. A far-away look slowly gave way to tears. He got up gingerly, came near and sat on the coffee table, his face close to mine, the tears caught in the stubble of his chin. “You are very kind”, he replied, his voice a mesmerizing baritone whisper; “my father owned a radio station in Moose Jaw; I guess it runs in the family. I miss him.”
There are a million things I need to do tonight. My transition to Canada so often feels like two steps forward and one back. In fact I planned to get out and finally-clean-up-that-patio-and-basement-window, something I’ve been meaning to do ever since I moved in. It will wait, again.
Ten years ago tonight I could be found with family and friends in a restaurant terrace in Brussel’s Rue Jourdan on a balmy summer’s evening, enjoying a dinner of delicious Belgian cuisine. The next day, June 24, I would be ordained a deacon in the Church of England, an exuberant ceremony at the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity.
L’Eglise d’Angleterre croit que le Saint Esprit ‘a institué divers ordres dans l’Eglise…. I didn’t realize until just now that there is a full-page explanation in French on the inside cover of the order of service.
We sang Be Thou My Vision and Take My Life. I was presented with a white stole, a gift from my wife, with the fabric pattern called St. Aidan. By mistake I was wearing Homer Simpson socks, hoping nobody would notice. The Bishop gave me a New Testament, and prayed “Send down the Holy Spirit upon your servant Howie…give your servant grace and power to fulfill this ministry…”.
And so this evening I finally opened the letter I wrote to myself ten years ago. As I stared at the envelope – “To send/open in Summer 2011. Howie” – I could not remember a single word I had penned just a decade earlier.
“….Much has happened in the last 10 years of course – sadness, frustrations, honours, tragedies…” I couldn’t stop the tears, each of these simple words bringing up floods of memories, the hurts and triumphs of a decade, personal and shared.
“…My hope is that you have stayed close to the Lord through all of it. This is what I really hope and pray for you…that your wife and children are all healthy, happy, and serving / loving their God….that you will be more humble, more given to righteous living, and more in love with God, wife, and children than ever before…that you’ve had two or three real accomplishments to look back on…”.
Do the tears come because I know I have failed so often, or because I still long to hear my Father’s voice?