The decorations are down, the bare Christmas trees have been sent to the tip, and there are no more flashing fairy lights outside houses to brighten up my early morning walks. It’s mid-January, it’s already the third week back at work, and it’s not always easy in these dark days to find motivation and meaning. And it’s no wonder that many people take now to booking their summer holidays, with the lure of long sunny days ‘away from it all’.
I couldn’t even get motivated this January to make any new year’s resolutions! I wasn’t sure what I wanted from the year, or, for that matter, what I wanted to give. A few days ago I decided to get my act together (quite literally!) and organize a couple of gatherings at my house for musicians in Canterbury. I’ve had a good and creative two years at the Irish Chaplaincy but there wasn’t much time or energy left over for music so I plan to redress that a bit now. Oh, and Yim Soon and I found cheap flights to Portugal for the end of April (couldn’t wait for the summer)!
And my little bit of light in the darkness today came in the form of a 92 year old woman called Ellen who’s originally from County Cork. I’d been visiting Ellen regularly for about a year and a half and we had a bit of a routine going. We’d have a chat over a cup of tea, then a little communion service (she was housebound so couldn’t get out to church) including a song (usually ‘Be Thou my Vision’) and some prayers. Ellen had been going downhill health-wise and her daughter Lorraine informed me in December that she’d gone into hospital. I went over just before Christmas and she didn’t recognize me at first then her face lit up and she said “oh, we pray together”! We did our usual communion service and sang ‘Be thou my vision’, and then she began to recite from memory a long litany of prayers to various saints, which must have been something recalled from her childhood. It was very moving.
We receive a wide variety of calls at the Irish Chaplaincy from people who are Irish or of Irish heritage. Last week I spoke to a woman who wanted help with preparing the funeral service for her Irish mother. I gave some suggestions, including having the hymn ‘Be Thou my Vision’ and I wished her a wonderful celebration of the life of her mother and she was so grateful.
Ellen was barely conscious when I saw her today in the hospital (and Lorraine had already warned me that she wouldn’t be going home and that this could be the final leg of the journey). I did what I’ve always done on my visits to Ellen: I sang ‘Be Thou my Vision’, and followed that with a mix of other Irish songs. I don’t know what effect it had on Ellen, who slept throughout, but after a day (and indeed a month) in which I’d felt a little out of sorts, I suddenly found myself at peace through this intimate contact with this special woman.
Lorraine arrived whilst I was there, with her husband Paddy. We had a pleasant chat and then as I made my leave Lorraine looked me in the eyes and said “Eddie, thank you”. “It’s my pleasure”, I replied, and it really is.