Saturday, 15 May 2021

On the Shoulders of Giants

Soon after I wrote my last blog - 5 days later - I lost my dear father in law, John. In a way, we'd lost him a year before, as dementia took hold, to the extent that he forgot how to walk, and an operation left him in need of round the clock care. Dementia takes the mind and the body with it - it's a rapacious beast. We had just under a week of decline, a time that we were able to spend with him, holding his hands, cradling him talking to him, being there, present, with him. This past year of not being able to see him has been very hard, particularly for my husband, but small comfort has been taken in the fact that the stretches of time for him would not have had the significance for him as they did for us. His carers regaled me with stories, he was, and they said ‘a character.' Indeed he was, he was a man of great character, and of conviction. As a vicar in South Africa, he had to flee with his family in 1986, as he was on the wanted list of the South-African government. His crime? Praying with his black congregation against apartheid, As he later said, he wasn't trying to 'take a stand' he was just doing what he thought was right, what he felt convicted to do. But in South Africa, doing what was right could go very wrong for you indeed. But he would speak up if something needed to be said, and do something, if something needed doing - which didn't bode well for DIY projects - no one could actually screw up a screw like he could, but if something needed to be put right, he would do it. He also had a wicked sense of humour, and was an hilarious mimic - completely irreligious, and quite the mick taker. I used to call him the Irreverent (as opposed to Reverend for those unfamiliar with Anglican terms!) John Hillman. We had much in common, not least our political and social convictions - mine were also formed in South Africa, standing up to the police on behalf of black children - but our sense of the absurd was the same, and I will miss our robust theological debates.

Losing John has brought back memories of my own grandfather, also born in Liverpool, and similarly, a man of conviction. As a child he took me along to the children's homes where, as a lifelong member of TocH, he would show films. I remember his agonising over the political situation in the former Rhodesia, now #Zimbabwe. He had a strong social conscience and believed in majority rule, at a time when the minority were in power, and like John, and perhaps given their #workingclass upbringing, though Grandpa went to grammar school - the same one as John Lennon, another working class hero of mine - the same goonish sense of humour. I did not have my father in my life, but these 'fathers' of mine have left me an example of how to stand up and face situations, even when the majority are facing the other way. They both showed, in the examples of their own lives, that you didn't just ignore what was going on around you and live a comfortable life while others were suffering. You did something about it. Neither of these men had much cash to spare, but they were extraordinarily generous with what they had, and I think this generosity of spirit - this largesse - in every way, is what made their lives so meaningful, and so impacted the world around them. They left their mark, and I'm richer for them.