On the pigrim way: Confronting family history
Our eldest, Peter, is 50 this December and our present to him is a little book of photos from his boyhood. Our annual Christmas letters provide a contemporary comment on Peter’s development to accompany the photos. My research for the booklet (Kees deals with the production side) has taken me on quite an intensive visit to that country called “the past” and I have learnt a few things from that visit.
However, to start with the present: Peter is a team leader and nurse in a children’s hospice. He is happily married with a little daughter. He also has teenagers from his second marriage and a 27-year-old from his first, and is in close touch with all of them. He is a committed Pagan and plays at festivals in a Pagan band called Touch the Earth. He is a very responsible, compassionate person of whom we are very proud, and I have gradually over the years come to recognise how much of a shared religious approach to life we have.
But memory is very unreliable. For years I have, rather defensively, said that Peter stopped going to church at 14. I find, in my research, that he was still enthusiastically attending Sunday worship at 17, taking the collection and giving the congregation a good view of his denim jacket with the bands Genesis and Pink Floyd embroidered across the back. My fingers now recall how painful it was to hand-sew on denim.
I had also forgotten just how precocious he was – listening to whole chapters of Alice in Wonderland at four, reading The Hobbit at seven, and sailing through school at every level (with very little work) and coming out with four good A Levels in sciences and maths. He went from school to a gap year in a commune from which he did not return. No university degree, although – much later – a diploma in nursing. He did not fulfil my hopes and expectations and I struggled with disappointment for years. That disappointment was fed by some family and friends who asked, with sympathetic voices: “What news of Peter?”
And I beat myself up about it too – I know how bad it is for children to feel they have disappointed their parents and I did my very best not to let him know how I felt; but I knew – and I suspect he knew. However, a rather marvellous thing happened during this recent visit to that country called “the past” – I forgave myself. I found myself looking at my younger self, with my proud worldly hopes in my clever son dashed, with understanding and compassion. God must have looked on me like that back then (and now!) and I did not know it.
Today, I recognise that Peter has a ministry: In his work with the dying and the bereaved, through his Pagan community and music, and in the ever-open door of his home.
“The love of God comes close where stands an open door.” – John Bell
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the December 2013/January 2014 edition of Reform.
Read more articles by Sheila Maxey