Wednesday, 1 December 1999

Familiar shaped emptiness

November is a month for remembering.  It has been all the more so for me this year after the death of my father on the first of the month, All Saints Day.  He died suddenly while out for his early morning run, near Battle in East Sussex, where he and my mum had been living for just eight weeks. 

Whilst walking from Worsbrough to Wortley yesterday, I crossed the corner of a field where the cows had been sleeping.  Amidst the other evidence of their occupation were the large oval patches of flattened grass, perhaps still justwarm to the touch.  It seemed a strange sight: more natural for the animals to be still there, chewing the cud as you would expect.  But now just a familiar shaped emptiness remained.  A rather odd analogy for bereavement perhaps, and it would be were it not that one strong memory associated with my Dad is the smallholding in deepest Suffolk where, as a teenager, my dream of ‘living the Good Life’ for five years came true.  There are many other places that will always remind me of him.  The Ecrehous islands, 7 miles from Jersey and halfway to France, at low tide an expanse of sand and rock, at high tide just a few cottages perched above the waves, where he took my sister and I, one fine summer day, by motorised canoe.  The Hardangger Vida, a windswept Norwegian Plateau where all the family went trekking – he was sure that one morning we would wake to find our tents surrounded by vast herds of Elk, but sadly our boots were burnt whilst drying by the fire after the third day and we had to bail out.  Then there’s Scotland: Shark bay where our wild campsite was only accessible by boat; Cape Wrath on the far north west, round which we walked on a 22-mile-day, eating wild mushrooms and watching gannets plunge like arrows into the deep blue sea.  He certainly made life an adventure for us!  He believed, too, that the life of faith should be an adventure: the adventure of stepping out in faith and walking with Christ; the adventure in which we discover together the great things God wants to do through us, and the greatness of his love for us.

There is no doubt that Christmas will have a double edge for my family this year, as it must have for many people.  However, the mystery and wonder of a birth, especially that birth in which the fullness of God began His fragile adventure into this life, can give us courage and hope to face the future, uncertain as it always is, with a sense of excitement and promise.