It was a perfect evening; a beautiful country church filled with people for a harvest thanksgiving service. Afterwards, a gathering in a house to drink tea from china cups and eat sandwiches and cake.
Picking up the hostess’s surname, I inquired if she had known a woman who had borne the same name and had been treasurer in a parish 200 miles north. “My husband’s cousin.” We conversed about memories of the lady.
There was a sense of at once inclusion and exclusion. Knowledge of the names, the connections, the histories was a passport to conversation; but that knowledge seemed also to be something that set one apart; the sort of knowledge accessible only to a particular group.
The feeling of being the eternal outsider again arose; that sense of being in the community but not of it; being aware that the people who are your people at one moment might be someone else’s people in six months time and that you have no abiding place. A feeling perhaps reinforced by meeting friends at a rugby match last night whom I would have met in church this morning, had I not, four months ago, moved from Dublin suburbia to deeply rural Ireland.
Approaching 50, it is hard to begin again, to try to adjust to yet another new community, and this one radically different from the last. Spending much of my time on my own, there has been an enforced adjustment to solitariness and a again an awareness that my total number of friends does not run much beyond single figures.
Enduring friendships are with those who have been no part of our community; our closest friends, those with whom we talk every week, those with whom we sit in a ski resort bar after a day on the piste, are those who live nowhere near us.
I am in my 25th year of this strange life, sometimes I think I shall call it a day at 60; other times I think that if I make it to 60, I’ll work through to the maximum age of 75. Being always on the edge, being there to lead in times of grief, carrying on when the tank has run dry, being expected to be wise, because there is now more grey hair than brown, it becomes harder as the years pass.
Driving from Dublin last night, eating alone in a restaurant; there was a sense of loneliness. Approaching twice the age I was when I began, and never having advanced beyond the level I reached when I was 28, there was a feeling that maybe I did something wrong somewhere; maybe there was a point where I should have turned and I didn’t notice it. Maybe it could have been different.
The theologian Karl Rahner once wrote “At the end of the day our task is to recognize that God is in the silence, the frustration, the loneliness, the emptiness. Our job is to become aware of this”. Rahner’s words should be put into the ordination service.