Ten years ago, on a Tuesday evening, I became Rector of Clonenagh Group of Parishes in Co Laois. It was the fifth and final parish in which I would serve. Looking back ten years, I found that I had written that day about my inability to find words to say “goodbye.” Instead, I had drawn on the final words from A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie the Pooh.
Amongst the boxes of books that will fill the shelves of the Rectory in Mountrath, there are two copies of The House at Pooh Corner. It is too important a book to be left among the novels and two copies are necessary: except I could find neither when I was searching. The inability to say ‘goodbye’ in a satisfactory way is captured in the words of Pooh and Christopher Robin.
The anguish of Christopher Robin as he tries to explain his going away and the incomprehension of poor Pooh are beautifully human and would have been read to a (probably mystified) congregation on Sunday:
‘Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“When I’m – when – Pooh!”
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite” he stopped and tried again – “. Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.
* * * * *
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
Ten years later, and there is still nothing with a comparable power to evoke.