News came of a colleague who had departed with his family for the Canaries, intending to return in the new year. What his bishop made of the news can only be imagined. His reasoning is that he wants to celebrate just one Christmas with his young family.
Rectory children seem to take a second place, sometimes get forgotten completely. Once when we lived in Dublin, our son, who would have been around fourteen at the time, was lying on his bed reading. The front door was no more than 15-20 feet from his bedroom door and he heard me key in the intruder alarm code and slam the front door behind me. Only then did he realize that if he left his room he would break the beam in the hallway and trigger the alarm.
There was a rebuke that evening – this was not the first time I had forgotten him!
Once, when he was three years old, he attended a play group for three mornings each week from 9.30 until 12.30. One Wednesday came and I was preparing to drive to Downpatrick just after midday; the telephone rang. I took the call, chatting amiably with the caller who was phoning from Co Wexford. It was not often to get a long distance call in the days before competition in the telephone market.
After around ten minutes, the call ended, and I returned to what I was doing. At 1.30 pm, an hour after poor Michael should have been collected, I suddenly sensed that something vital had been forgotten. Flying down the road, the four miles to the town were covered in record time. He had been taken into the day nursery adjoining the play group and was sat on the knee of one of the staff. His duffel coat was buttoned, his hood up, his eyes were red and tears poured down his cheeks.
It was pointless to tell lies. I apologised that I had forgotten and was handed a sobbing bundle with stern words from the carer.
It’s not just the days when I have actually forgotten them; it’s all the days when other things have taken priority. When things have been planned, or things have been accepted without thought of what other hopes there might have been for the day.
Bizarrely, the one thing that saved me over the years was Harry Chapin’s song Cat’s in the Cradle. When the preoccupation with my own concerns was such that the most important people were forgotten, Chapin’s lyrics cut through. Christmas and Easter might be lost, but no-one was allowed to take away our month together in the summer.
‘A month is a long time off’, said a person one Sunday before we left for holidays. ‘Aye”, I said, ‘it is. I’ll trade you two weeks of it for 104 days of weekends’. It’s hard to imagine what he would have said if we had left for Christmas.