2nd February, forty days since Christmas, the recalling of Mary and Joseph in the Temple with the baby Jesus and their encounter with the ageing Simeon. A few years ago, I wrote a set of twenty monologues for use in our church – they traced the story of Jesus from his birth to his resurrection. Recorded for radio by amateur actors, they were broadcast Sunday by Sunday in Northern Ireland, until Holy Week was reached when a monologue for each day went out during the breakfast show each morning.
Encouraged by a friend, the scripts were sent to various publishers and were turned down in turn by Columba Press and Veritas in Dublin and by Lion Hudson in England. One rejection letter said ‘there is no demand for this sort of thing’. They were right in their assessment, the monologues have been posted here for some years attracting hardly any readers.
But because it is the day on which the church remembers old Simeon, and because no-one will read it unless it is posted on the front page, here is the part of Simeon from the series:
An elderly bachelor cleric meets the Holy Family
It has been a long time. Yes, a long, long time.
Waiting is not popular. I can see why. You wait so long that you begin to doubt yourself. Was I right? Perhaps I misheard. I tell you, when you get to my age, it’s easy to mishear things.
People come and people go. You wait so long that even your friends begin to die. That’s hard. Hard to see them go; men who were like brothers, men whom you knew from the younger days and suddenly they are gone, as though they never existed. Five minutes ago, you were all fourteen, and now? And now, indeed.
I never married, you know. Perhaps I was too serious. Don’t think I would have been much company. “You spend too much time at the studies”, my mother would say, “You’ll never find a nice young lady sitting there every night”.
She was right, of course. I spent a lot of time studying. But I enjoyed it. It was never a burden, never something I wanted to avoid. Perhaps that’s what’s made me the way I am. What would they call it, introspective? I like that. I like the word “introspective”, makes me sound serious, someone who is a deep thinker.
Of course, I think a lot, you haven’t much choice when you’re by yourself. But a deep thinker, I’m not sure. No, I wouldn’t be sure about that at all. Thinking worries me sometimes, I go through each day and sometimes I have to just put the head down and get on with things. Thinking can cause you problems. “Less thinking and more doing,” my mother would laugh. Aye.
Anyway, you have plenty to be doing without listening to the ramblings of an old man. It is not me that you’re wanting to hear about.
It was a long, long wait, longer than you can begin to imagine. Things were different, the only news you would get would be what people would tell you, and you know what people are like – half of what they tell you could mean something else and the other half mean nothing at all. People were always wanting to hear good news and sometimes the wanting to hear something good would take over their telling of a story. No matter.
What kept me going was the belief that whatever stories came and went, whatever hopes were raised, only to be dashed again, I would live long enough to see the day that we had been promised. Many’s a time I was called an old fool and many’s a time I believed I was, but when you’re promised something and you believe that person, well, you trust they’ll keep their word.
Do you know, when the day came, I could hardly believe it? You wait so long for something that when it arrives you wonder if you’re dreaming.
It wasn’t a grand occasion, nothing grand at all, just a couple with a wee child and I took that baby in my arms and knew the day had come.
I’m an old man who’s here far too long. It’s high time that I was with my friends again, and if I can read in heaven, I’ll be a happy man. But no moment could be happier than the moment that I saw that wee baby.