An ice cream van passed down the road in the fading light of a chill July evening.
“A hard way to make a living”.
“Being an ice cream man”.
“Maybe it’s something you inherit. Your father did it, so you do it”.
“Maybe. I don’t see many new vans”.
How many handfuls of coins here and handfuls of coins there did you need to earn in order to make the effort worthwhile?
In Glasgow, in the 1980s, there was a ‘turf war’ between ice cream families, a dispute as to who could take their vans into which neighbourhoods. The film Comfort and Joy was inspired by the idea of an ice cream war; sadly, the real war had not the comedy of the film, people ended up dead.
Further down the road, a taxi pulled up and a teenaged boy got out. If selling ice creams was hard work, taxi driving must be even harder. The deregulation of the service meant anyone who wanted to make some spare time cash could get a plate and sit on a rank. One May evening in Drogheda, there were twenty-five taxis queued in the town centre; how long would it have taken the one at the rear to reach the front of the line to get a fare to where? Maybe to a housing estate on the edge of the town? How much would you make for your patient waiting?
“Maybe the ice cream van driver looked at you and thought, ‘There’s a priest: that’s a hard way to make a living.'”
“Maybe he did, but it’s not though, is it?”
Perhaps if it was harder, the church would be closer to people. Perhaps church leaders would not be so remote and academic and unconnected with the daily realities of ordinary people.
There was sense in Jesus being a carpenter and not a rabbi; there was sense in Saint Paul, that hugely intellectual letter writer, earning his living by sewing tents instead of spending his days in academic circles. They would have known about the world of the ice cream man and the taxi driver; Paul’s knowledge was so encyclopaedic, he would probably have picked up along the way how much people would have earned for work.
In our times, people have become invisible, the tinny jingle of the ice cream man going around the streets, the yellow light of a Dublin taxi, are no more than background scenery. When its old authority and standing have been swept away, the church must re-connect with ordinary people, with those it does not see. It won’t be easy, but nor will it be a hard way to make a living.