The clergyman’s wife died when they might have enjoyed retirement years together. By which time, he had spent four decades in parish ministry with her as his constant companion. Widowed, parish life became his life and he continued until forced to retire by ecclesiastical regulation. In retirement, he moved to another parish and offered his services to the rector there. It was agreed that two days a week would be reasonable for a man in his late-seventies. The man himself did not think two days a week reasonable, he would spend five or six days of each and every week working among his adopted flock. His ministry came to an end when he was well past 80, not through any church decision but due to the fact that he died.
There was a time when such behaviour would have seemed odd, such behaviour, that is replicated many times in many places, would have seemed the stuff of Nineteenth Century novels or an Ireland of bygone times. Perhaps one reaches a moment when things look different, when a future that would seem mundane, even barren, looks like the best option on offer.
With my wife away for a week, and the house empty except for the pair of old dogs, a parish in rural Ireland does not offer much by way of diversion; there is the work and there is . . . the work. Not that the work is something about which to complain. Having spent eleven years among the predictability of suburban Dublin, there is a variety and an edge about life in the country. There is a sense of having sat and done little for a decade while men years older hammered long suffering cars along bog roads and up and down boreens.
Having spent another day on the road, there is the realisation that, were I alone, every day would be spent thus. Apart from going to Dublin for the odd rugby match, what else is there for a country cleric? Perhaps it’s not so much a case of ‘I am what I do’ as ‘I do what I am’. Perhaps it like being a farmer, it’s not what they do, it’s what they are.
Is it such a bad thing, one’s work being one’s life? Certainly, there could be hours spent doing other things, but to what end? Would the day have been better spent sitting watching rugby on television instead of drinking tea in country farmhouses? The pension regulations state I must retire on 31st December 2035 – sometimes I think I could reach that date, if the good lady let me.