My dad has book from the war called ‘Hitler Passed This Way’. It is a collection of photographs of various parts of London after the devastation caused by the Blitz. There is one photograph that always caught my imagination, a postbox protrudes from a pile of rubble that was once a street and there is a postman opening the box to collect the mail. Ensuring that ordinary life continued was at the heart of maintaining morale.
In the extreme moments, we often turn to the most ordinary and the most mundane things for reassurance and hope. If we have been bereaved, if we have faced serious illness, if we have been worried about someone we love, it is the ordinary everyday things we look to for comfort. We want someone at home with us, not for the special or unusual moments, but for the ordinary times, the everyday experiences.
In the extreme times, even the most ordinary things can remain special.
The Salesian priest, Fr Eddie Fitzgerald wrote very movingly about his battle with cancer. He spoke on one occasion of being in a hospital ward where the man in the bed opposite was very ill.
The man’s wife kept vigil at the bedside and at one point the man raised his hand as if to reach out for someone. His wife immediately clasped his hand in her two hands. It was a moment of great beauty, a moment with a sacramental quality. In something as ordinary as a handclasp, there was the presence and reassurance of God.
Eddie Fitzgerald in his years of ministry would have seen countless handclasps. Yet it is from the perspective of his hospital bed that he is suddenly met with the significance of this ordinary act. In the outward action there is transmitted a love and a commitment that the man’s wife could probably never have articulated in words.
The story of the handclasp was recounted by Eddie Fitzgerald in an article called, “Letting illness make the best of me“. If we knew that we faced illness, we would treasure every moment, we would delight in all the ordinary things. Like the postman in the Blitz we would be determined life was going to go on.
So why do we wait for the extreme moments to enjoy God’s presence in the ordinary things sent to us every day?