“Where did you go to school?”
The place had come up by chance in a conversation the week before – a tiny townland off the main road. When I recognized the name, she seemed surprised. Not only did I know where it was, I knew which road to take in order to get there; some of us have more sad qualities than others.
“How many of you were there?”
“There were nine”.
“So you had one teacher trying to teach everyone?”
“We had. I didn’t like her”.
“Had you her as teacher the whole time?”
“No. She left; I liked the new teacher”.
“Had you to bring turf to put on the fire?”
“No. We had a stove that burned coal. It was a warm place”.
“Did you stay there till you were fourteen?”
“I stayed till I was fifteen?”
I smiled. I didn’t know what to say next.
It was hard to find the next topic of conversation. I leaned on the rails of the bed and stared out of the window.
It had been some years since any cleric had called with the lady; she was on no parish list. The parish in which she now resided had no record of her. She had disappeared from view.
Given our culpable neglect, she had been more than gracious in her welcome, lifting her hand from under the covers to shake hands when I had arrived.
For a few seconds, there had been what David Chillingworth, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church would call a moment of ‘grace’, a moment of indefinable quality, a moment when the world suddenly looked different; it was a moment when the tiny frame in the bed assumed a stature thoroughly other than her physical appearance.
“I shall call again”, I said.
“Yes, do”, she smiled.
We shook hands and I walked back down the long corridor. The day had been made worthwhile by a single moment.
Turning out onto the road, life seemed altogether brighter.