The mood of despondency among the students continues. Locked down, isolated, without hope of seeing friends for weeks, without the chance of doing anything other than what they have done for weeks, their answer to what they did at the weekend is “nothing.”
I remember a despondent ten year old on a holiday in Austria some ten years ago.
Riding a gondola, the ten year old friend was feeling fed up.
“I’ll tell you a story from when I was ten,” I said, “that’s forty years ago.”
“When I was ten years old, a girl called Sarah, whom I thought to be the most beautiful in the world, was having a birthday party. This was to be a day of great excitement, for it was to be the best party ever.
On the day on which the invitations were handed out, I was absent from school with asthma. “Never mind,” I thought, “my invitation will be waiting for me,”
As the day drew close, I grew more worried. Our two teacher school had forty pupils. There were twenty in the classroom in which I sat, and everyone else had been invited. It wasn’t talk of the party that worried me, it was the point when all the others went to the party that I was dreading. Sarah lived in a stone cottage directly opposite the gate of our village school. It would be impossible for the others not to notice that I was the only person not going.
At 3.45 on the appointed day, our teacher let us go from the class. I was very sad as I walked out through the door and across the playground to the school gate. Everyone else merrily crossed the road to Sarah’s house; very sad and lonely, I turned right and walked home – the loneliest ten year old in the entire world.
Then do you know what happened? Thirty years later, a new family moved into the house next door to my church in Dublin and they came to church.
“Where are you from?” I asked the man.
“From England,” he said.
“Where in England?”
“Somerset,” he said.
(“Somerset is my home county,” I explained to my ten year old friend).
So I asked him, “where in Somerset?” He named my home village.
“Where did you live in the village?”
“Opposite the school.”
“You’re Sarah’s little brother.” I said. He looked at me in amazement.
The gondola arrived at the lift station, and we stepped out.
“Is that story true?” laughed my friend.
“It is. And in forty years time, when you are fifty and I am dead, I want you to tell another ten year old that story and make them laugh as you did.”
“You won’t be dead in forty years time.”
“I think I will.”
We smiled and walked on.
It is ten years nearer to her being fifty and ten years nearer to me being gone.