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Reform Magazine | December 7, 2023

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On the pilgrim way: ‘I picture myself on the sidelines’

Sheila Maxey focuses on the edge of things

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When I am feeling old and tired, I find myself wanting to opt out. Perhaps it is alright now to leave the main action – future of the church, the needs of the world, the state of our country, and even all the ups and downs of family and friends – to others. I have a sort of picture of standing (or preferably sitting) on the sidelines watching the main action with some detachment.

But, of course, I am falling into worldly ways of thinking, where the ‘main action’ is what journalists and photographers focus on for a while and then move on. Jesus, on the other hand, worked on the edge, not at the centre – with lepers and poor widows and foreigners and prostitutes. As far as he was concerned, each one of them was the ‘main action’. I am struggling with how one can be the ‘main action’ without having to solve the world’s or anyone else’s problems. Is it something about ‘receiving’ rather than ‘giving’?

When my mother was in her late 90s, confused and disabled, she was still a real hub of the family. A niece found respite in just sitting with her, being welcomed by her smile. Concerned family phone calls about her linked us all together. Now and again she told me fascinating stories from her childhood. She was still the ‘main action’.

A dear friend, recently widowed, was very moved when, for her 60th wedding anniversary, all her family from all over the world gathered on Zoom to greet her. She was certainly the ‘main action’.

Kees and I are planning two weeks away in Mallaig, in northwest Scotland, and the family seem to think we need help. We are going by train, with the disability scooter. A daughter has organised the tickets and the train assistance. A great niece will meet us in Edinburgh, have a brief catch up over a cup of tea, and put us on the train for Glasgow. A great-nephew will meet us in Glasgow, see that we have a quick supper, and put us on the train to Mallaig, arriving there at 11.35pm. We are the ‘main action’ – and I don’t want to opt out!

Some time ago when a niece visited me, she offered to do things in the garden. I felt quite resentful and made it clear – I hope politely – that it was my garden, and I would manage it my own way. A day or two ago, another niece (I am blessed with seven!) who was planning to visit asked if she could help with anything in the garden. Feeling old and tired, I leapt at the offer and she said she would come in garden clothes and with her garden gloves at the ready.

Perhaps that is the way forward – not exactly opting out, but welcoming all offers. And I am sure there is also still a sideline role cheering on the others.

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex


This article was published in the June 2021 edition of Reform

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