I’ve just had an email from a friend, asking me a completely impenetrable question; “On which platform are you video contactable?” Not unreasonably (but quite untruthfully), I replied “Platform 7, Swindon.” To which he instantly barked back “You nit wit. Are you on Skype FFS? If so, what’s yer handle, and no silly jokes.”
I do like being called a nit wit. There’s a jollity and a familiarity to it. I feel at home. But ‘no silly jokes’ is impossible. Have you ever heard of a joke that isn’t, at heart, ‘silly’? If a joke isn’t silly, is it a joke?
A couple of days ago I had another email from another friend (also a geezer) who signed off “Now stop being horrible 😂. Love, XX “
If I stop being horrible, how will he know it’s me? If I stop being horrible, who will I be instead? Will I be able to choose? I don’t want to end up being Theresa of Avila who was definitely not horrible, but whose perfect face was frozen in an attitude of constant prayer – a sort of pious early botox. And I don’t want to end up being so far from horrible that I make other mere mortals feel inadequate. There’s not much I can be proud of but I’m proud to say that my example has never made anyone feel, by comparison, inadequate. In fact, most people feel vastly superior.
I’m mostly a horrible silly nitwit and I say stick with what you’re good at.
Mind you, I have some friends I can’t be horrible with because they’re just too… I dunno… too…. you know…. oh, how can I put it into words? I love them but they wear jeans, which fact may reek of informality, but then they go and iron a crease in them. They drink wine which suggests long lingering evenings and deep happily nonsensical conversations, and yet they stay stubbornly sober and trot off to bed at 10.00 come what may. I love ’em but they never say anything mean about anyone (ridiculous!) and they wouldn’t shout “Bollocks!” even if they tripped over the cat. They don’t smoke, swear, let their hair down, get the giggles inappropriately, forget to clean the car, buy a huge bag of horrible Haribo and steadily work through it or binge-watch crap telly. They don’t shout the answers to TV quizzes and pretend to the empty room that they got the answer right when they so loudly got it wrong. Never, any of those things. They don’t sing daft ditties to the dogs or Tina Turner songs to God. They have it together.
I am very blessed that these paragons of virtue put up with me, and I with them. I properly love them. It’s not easy for any of us and however long or short our time together, they’re only ever a few seconds away from a glance at their watches. When the allowed time is over, with a grinding of cogs and the screech of shiny newly cleaned metal, their draw-bridge goes up again and there I stand, on the other side of the moat, knee deep in empty wine bottles, kicked cats and baggy trousers, next to my filthy car, wishing I’d gone to bed at a decent time last night, and wondering how the hell they do it.
I mean, seriously, how do they do it? How do they get through life being neither a nitwit, or silly or horrible?
I am all three. And I can’t see me changing much any day soon.
As Christians we all want to transform. We are all being transformed. But, you know, there’s some parts of human fallibility and foolishness that I just don’t want to lose. That may be very wrong of me, but hard cheddar! I’m seventy rotten one and I don’t want to iron jeans and wash the car and look serene and eat lettuce. Or even worse eat sawdust. I mean, brown bread. And God doesn’t demand it of me. Maybe one day I’ll stop shouting ‘Bollocks!’ Maybe I’ll live long enough. Maybe I won’t. We’ll see.
We’re all so different and I think that the God who created us likes us that way. In this Covid time we’re keeping an eye on elderly people (that’s anyone older than me) and yesterday I called on an 80 year old. She walks with sticks, drives extremely badly, is very frail and I found her up a ladder painting the ceiling! I was there to get her laptop set up for youtube so that she can be part of the Sunday worship, and as she passed me the laptop through her bedroom window I said “You are being very careful up that ladder, aren’t you?” She gave me a look to wither the stoutest heart and said “Well, I can’t sit around doing nothing for months!” We are all very different. I can sit around doing nothing for years, quite happily. Very early on in my writing career I gave an interview to the Guardian in which I described myself as ‘cow-like’ and I am. My pals were indignant – how could I say that? But I don’t feel bad about it. I like cows.
God must love our differences, mustn’t He? He is love, He created us…. He must love the busy buzzing bees and the placid plodding cow equally. Our creator knew who we were before we were a twinkle in our Daddy’s eye. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah 1:5
Hey.. once we were a twinkle in God’s eye. Haha! Irreverent? Oh, get over yourself.
Here’s the thing – I’ve been thinking a whole lot about fathers today. I was going to say that there’s no particular reason but it’s probably because we’ve been studying the Lord’s Prayer. This morning, under a fabulous crystal sky, I asked God to really enlighten me about fathers. The one he gave me here on earth was nothing to write home about. So, what is He telling us when He calls Himself our Father? I can see Him as God, I see Him as Jesus, I see Him as the Holy Spirit filling us with His love and His desires. But as my Father? What does that really mean when fathers come in all shapes and sizes?
I was never good enough for my father. As a child I was ‘that bloody eedjit’, as a teenager he would ask my stepmother repeatedly, ‘is she deficient?’ He would never have called me a nitwit because there’s affection in that, and he would never have signed off with a kiss. So I love my friends, insults and all.
Dad died ten years ago but he’s still in the shadows. It’s still hard to go into someone else’s house, and maybe that’s because at home I had to knock on the sitting-room door and wait to be invited in. Maybe I notice when visitors glance at their watch because I was allowed into the sitting room only at 8pm, and then only for a few minutes. Maybe it’s because he loved his wife and despised his children and so we were always in the way. Maybe I struggle to stay under another’s roof because we were kicked out of my father’s house as soon as the law said we were old enough. Whenever I walked in the room the atmosphere changed, his eyes would meet Norah’s, unspoken distaste. Not good for any teenager, that.
He was a clever, clever man, quick and witty. More than that, he was funny. He was one of those rare people gifted in every way; great with figures, wonderful with words, a student of Latin, a passable knowledge of Greek, deeply into the Classics, with a great grasp of British History, bilingual Welsh/English although He was Anglo-Irish, seminary educated and knowing more dry theology than any of our parish priests. I was always a bitter disappointment to him until, when I was nearly 40, I started writing with some success and, overnight, he became proud as punch, wheeling me out as his creation.
He was a bully.
There. I’ve said it. I love him still but I see that he was a bully. And he was right – I was the eedjit indeed. I spent the last 15 years of his life paying for private nursing for him and my stepmother, visiting every month, and with every visit there was work to do, errands to run, tempers to appease, expectations to fulfil. I down-sized three times in those years to keep him as his wife wanted him (and her) to be kept. I was convinced that this was my job as a daughter. Isn’t that what daughters are for? I got it wrong. Like so many other things in my long and bumpy life, I got that wrong.
So, why did I love him all through that? Why do I love him now? And how do I learn to love a God who presents Himself as Father?
It’s a long old journey, folks. Sometimes I think I’ve left Gerard Gannon behind but then I say “Our Father, who art….” and I’m a bit lost again, not so sure. But I’m beginning to see that my God is not that sort of father. My God accepts me as I am, and under His guidance all transformation is so gentle and full of joy. It’s true that this Father also has some chunky old lessons to teach me on the way, and some of them are painful, but they are always taught in love and out of love. There’s room in that love for this eedjit child, and I’m so glad. So glad I don’t have to be perfect, that I can be happily ‘horrible’ and undeniably a silly nitwit as I walk into His presence, so glad that He never sighs when I rock up, that He never looks at the time and motions me away.
So glad that He calls me His child, and is not ashamed of me.
PS: Actually, I really like lettuce. Lettuce sandwiches with a little sprinkling of salt… delish.