On Christmas day my father was fiddling with his blackberry.
“What are you doing, Dad?” I asked.
“Oh, just emailing Ivan.” He replied.
“He’s a former student of mine. He’s asking me to give him something to do.”
“On Christmas day?” I asked, incredulous.
“He is dying. He’s been given a few weeks to live. He’s in hospital in Russia and he wants something to do.”
“Oh.” I said. I admit I was floored by this response. After a few more questions I discovered that Ivan is a young man who became ill during my father’s course and had to have a graduation ceremony after everyone else, with just him and his parents. He held my father in high esteem and stayed in touch. Now that he was in hospital, and unlikely to leave, he was in need of distraction.
My father sent several emails through the rest of the day. At one point he asked me, “What do I say to someone who is dying? How do I ask him to do something, but not put pressure on?”
I thought for a few moments, wishing I had more experience and insight. I said, “Gently. Just gently.”
Thoughts of Ivan stayed with me for the rest of the day. I concluded that prayer was about the only thing I could ‘offer’, so that is what I did. I felt so useless.
In the evening, once the children had gone to bed, my dear sister held a skype conversation with several friends all at once. One friend was in a manor house in Surrey, another in a French chalet, another had a terribly nice RP accent and was speaking from her Chelsea flat. Conversation included phrases such as “How’s the pool today?” and “Have you been in the spa yet?” and “Such a shame I can’t make it to Whistler this year.”
I looked around at our teeny tiny quirky house, bursting at the seams with the five adults and three children here for Christmas… and felt slightly intimidated. I could not relate to what they were saying. At all. I wondered what they’d make of our last holiday – in a field near Skegness. After a while, I found myself irritated. Being an inverted snob is judgemental, and wrong, and so I concentrated on reading my book, and then my father took me for a late night walk, which was lovely. And free.
But these two things, polarised experiences, stayed with me. I have been pondering them ever since, humbled by my father’s former student, with his wish for ‘something to do’ in his last days, and the fact he values my father so much. Here, I saw Christ. It’s funny where you find Him.