Sitting in my grandfather’s kitchen, there was a momentary desire to establish some tangible link with the past. Leaning back against a heater that had been there since the early-70s and drinking tea from cups and saucers, for one moment the years slipped away and he was back in his usual seat at the kitchen table staring out into the evening light.
My grandfather would sit on after his evening meal; perhaps he was dog tired after a day on the farm, perhaps he just liked to sit and ponder the world over the top of the china teacup in which my grandmother would always serve tea. He would stare fixedly out through the window to the garden and the orchard beyond. Passing the window would barely stir him from his reveries; his contemplations seemed deep and detached.
Such moments seemed odd in those years, why would you want to sit and stare out the window? Why would you not want to go outside, or even drive somewhere else to talk with people?
There have been many moments since when it seemed possible to understand how much he valued his quietness; perhaps it was a retreat from other people, perhaps it was a retreat from the ugly things of the world? Perhaps it was a sense of timelessness.
Staring, later, across a Somerset landscape at the brilliant colours of a frosty January sunset, a desire for timelessness seemed not such a bad thing.
A friend in Ulster once told of a conversation with a friend who was a pastor, ‘What’s heaven like?’ he had asked the pastor
‘Heaven?’ said the pastor, ‘Heaven for for me will be standing with my dog on a bridge in one of the glens of Antrim; just standing there looking down the glen. And someone will come up and say, ‘What are you doing?’
And I’ll say, ‘I’m just standing here enjoying the view’.
And they’ll say, ‘Are you standing here long?’
And I’ll say, ‘Ach, no, not more than ten thousand years’.
Of course, it was not a story to be repeated in the wrong company. A stern minister set me right on the subject.
‘Do you know’, he said, ‘some people imagine heaven as a great big family reunion?’
‘Aye.’ I said. His doctorate was from Princeton and he was a good Scripture scholar. I wasn’t about to challenge his line of thought.
‘I have to try to point people to a right understanding’.
‘Aye’. I said.
My grandad would have understood someone just standing with his dog and enjoying the view down the glens, he could have sat long with that evening cup of tea; and he would have not had much time for those who were certain in their answers.
If Einstein was right in his understanding of time happening all at once, then my grandfather was enjoying his tea as we sat there on a January afternoon. It was good to have tea together.