So, Thursday evening I’m in the church vestry, doing unpaid parish secretary work for the chaplain, folding order of service booklets and stuffing envelopes, WDR Kultur radio station on in the background, a bit of “music while you work.”
Meanwhile back at the
ranch church hall, our chaplain, counselling Simon (not his real name: German – Deckname), an extremely troubled soul. After over two hours of admin work on top of a hectic day in the day job, I walk into the church hall to see Simon alone on the couch. His urge to talk is irrepressible. My desire to go home is also irrepressible.
Simon tells me of the excruciating physical pains he is going through. He then tells me he is contemplating suicide to end the pain and that he feels God wants him to be with Him. I tell Simon of my own experience of severe trapped nerve pain combined with joblessness and poverty in recent years. I then tell him I know a doctor very well who is not a specialist in Simon’s area of need, but will ask my doctor contact to recommend someone. I cannot help wonder if Simon’s problems are more than his physical pains caused by recent surgery.
- What can I do to help him?
- What can I do to move him onwards and upwards?
- What can I do to get myself home?
So, we talk several more minutes. I think I give him a pep talk. He seems cheerier and more positive. While I go to get my mountain bike to head home, Simon heads off down along the embankment of the river Rhine.
“Please, God, don’t let him jump into the river,” I pray.
Guiltily and with a heavy heart, I cycle off from the church, pass Simon on the other side of the road, choose not to call out to him or acknowledge his presence, and I disappear into the night, back to my nice, warm flat on the other side of the city.
“Have I done the right thing?” I ask all the way home.
I’m not Catholic. I’m Anglican, Protestant and proud. I hold the Lutheran view that works are not to be viewed, in any way, shape, or form, as the means to justification and grace. I won’t get to heaven, just by helping old ladies cross the road, giving money to Third World charities, etc, but only by faith in God and by His grace.
But on Saturday I felt so, so, so bad, so sad. I felt the same this evening. On both occasions, it was a cocktail of factors.
SAD: seasonal affective disorder. Now the days are getting shorter, I can feel those winter blues creeping in.
Money worries: why does paying the bills have to be such an uphill struggle? Why, oh why, didn’t I save more money when i was younger? If only, if only…
Simon: My (ginger) head tells me, he’ll be fine. You did your best. Both you and the “padre” gave him quality time listening to him, praying with him. No more can you do. The heart thinks, was I being heartless and selfish in wanting to leave Simon, wanting to get home? Was I the last person to see him alive?
Diabetes type 2: Was I feeling down due to being a bit low on blood sugar?
Today, while pushing my trolley round the supermarket, I remember the talk by the British Army Intelligence Corps major who told of his experience after serving in Bosnia, where his orders were to observe war crimes taking place, but under no circumstances intervene. Witnesses, or spectators?
Son: “Hey, Dad, you did really well today. You only cried once while you were doing the shopping today.”
Today, I didn’t blub. I just allowed my British stiff upper lip to wobble a bit. On Saturday, I had my doctor with me to console me as it all got “that little bit too much,” and the doctor gave me a great shoulder to cry on as I opened up the floodgates and told her what was on my mind.
And for that, Schatz, ich habe dich, sehr, sehr lieb.