The man was quite different from what I had expected; different from the public persona. Perhaps there was some inner pain that caused the outbursts; who knew? To me he had become a different person.
When I was a curate – there was a woman who terrified me (in fact there were a number who terrified me, but this one was especially terrifying). She would attack me without warning about all sorts of things, she had an explosive temper. She lived with an old friend she had known for years in a flat on the edge of the town. The friend was in poor health and the address was on the parish list for regular visits. I dreaded visiting and being harangued about everything. If I saw the lady in the shopping centre I would go to the flat and put a card in the door!
One day I arrived at the flat and the front door was wide open and there was shouting coming from within. The lady was walking backwards and forwards shouting wildly and her friend sat in a chair looking bewildered and distressed. Taking a deep breath, I knocked at the door and asked if all was well.
There had been an incident. The lady had gone to the sub-post office and had a disagreement with the man in charge. They had argued across the counter, then he had tried to lock her into the shop while he called the police. She had gone out to her car and he had run after her; whereupon she had driven the car at him and he had finished lying across her bonnet. (I told you she was terrifying). She was sure that the police had by now been called as the man had then run back into the sub post office.
I was 27 years of age at the time and I had received no training in the handling of cross and murderous ladies. ‘I think’, I said,’ we should go to the barracks – now’. We drove into the town and presented ourselves at the police barracks. There seemed to be a series of interviews with various officers. Finally, there was a quietly spoken inspector who said that if I would write to him and outline the circumstances, particularly her distress at her friend’s illness and the lady’s bad tempers, it would help the situation.
No charges were pressed and she became very different in her attitude. A few months later her lifelong friend died; one of my abiding memories was the Holy Communion service we had at the bedside. The lady returned to her county. Some time later, after I had moved on to another parish, she wrote to me, changed completely from the person who had frightened me so much.
I think of her sometimes, a reminder to look beyond appearances, to see beyond the pain.