I met an elderly man at a Christian conference years ago. I don’t often talk about my beliefs because I am only a spasmodic attender to church and also I see so much good in other faiths too – such lovely people. I remember when my faith was strongest looking down on the five year old Muslim children listening intently to me telling a story. Their wide eyes and upturned faces momentarily brought a tear to my eyes and I paused to gaze back at them. (There were a few white faces but most were of Asian descent) How can my God think any less of these wonderful children? I thought, challenging my precious beliefs. Since then I have kept a more open mind.
Fred sat next to me and a mutual friend Rosemary, both of whom have now passed away, but I was blessed to know them. We had listened to a speaker talking about our sins being washed away likened to sewerage boats floating along the Thames and dropping their contents out at sea. (Do they still do that?) Apparently, for a while the ‘stuff’ sits on the surface of the water but then, all of a sudden, it disappears as if swallowed at its centre. (bear with me – there is a reason for this story)
After the talk we collected a mug of drinking chocolate, but Fred’s hands shook so much, due to his condition, that he wanted me to take his cup. There was a chocolate sludge on the froth of his cup. Instead, I placed both my hands around his, gently cupping them in my own. His hands stilled and as they did so the sludge disappeared. We were both so awe of the moment that we became firm friends, despite the age difference of 45 years.
On another occasion we were sitting on a coach. Fred began talking about visiting his natural granddaughter, a young girl called Clare with down syndrome who had been fostered from birth. He said that he was confused when Clare had shown him a video of her birthday party and on the film there was me, celebrating with her.
Unbeknown to either of us, I had begun to support Clare through a programme called Take a Break. Clare came to me for days out and the occasional weekend break. I did not know until that moment the link with Fred. We sat in silence until Fred smiled.
‘I call that a God-incidence.’ he said.
From then on, whenever Clare came to see me we’d arrange to meet Fred too, thus fulfilling his wish to see more of the granddaughter he thought he’d lost.
I have many tales of Fred, which I will share from time to time if you’d like me to.