FRAGMENTS. Fragments of the prophecy of Isaiah come, unbidden, into my mind over and over again. I alluded briefly this morning to a text, framed and engraved in copper, and given to me as a gift, just before I began training for the priesthood, more than thirty years ago, by one of the dearest, saintliest (and perhaps loneliest) old gentlemen I ever met:

In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30.15

Jos had been buried before ever the news had come to me that he had died. And I howled my eyes out when I heard the news. For I truly came to love this man – who once – as I learned later – saved from his pension for months on end so that he could buy a new suit and pay the fares to travel further than he’d ever been before to visit me where I was studying in Salisbury. A man who came to be loved and admired, in just a few short and glorious days of residence there in The Close, by my fellow ordinands and our tutors alike. Loved for his stillness, quietness, gentle humility and grace.

Jos had loved Music Hall at the seaside long years before. And an absolutely adored fiancée who died, tragically, just before their Wedding.

I cannot now describe the bond between us as we sat beneath the soaring spire of Salisbury’s Cathedral and Jos told the story of his life, for the first time, he said. Of how the light had gone out in his life on that tragic day. Of how he’d wandered through nearly fifty years afterwards just longing for the day when he, and she, might revel again in Music Hall at the seaside in “that place where quietness and confidence will be our strength.” He hadn’t been able to enter a theatre in all those years. But he maintained vigil at the seaside place they’d loved. And one day bumped into me at our local parish church. And so, eventually, to The Close at Salisbury. Jos was thrilled to see his framed text on the wall of my study there. We laughed and cried and reminisced. He spoke of regret about wasted years in the same breath as he offered thanksgiving for “quietness and strength”.

“What shall we do for your last night in Salisbury?” some of us asked him. “Let’s go to the Theatre”, he said. “And have steak and chips afterwards.” We did – albeit that the theatre was now a Cinema. And next day twelve of us saw him onto the bus which would carry him home North – and soon afterwards to his eternal home.

And at the end, not knowing that he had died, I couldn’t even be there at his Funeral. How I have thanked God for that fragment he gave me from Isaiah,  and for the memory of Jos coming back to me, again and again across the years, in quietness, in confidence, in seaside and in church. And I’m grateful for this post (don’t miss it) that reminded me of the seashell Jos carried in his pocket – given to him, he said, donkey’s years before by his beloved fiancée.

Fragments of all the things you’ve said
smile tenderly in my head …

… I walked the full length of the beach until
I found the most beautiful seashell, for me.

(Excerpt from Seashell – Scala & Kolacny Brothers)

Thanks Jos: because all these years on I still hear you say “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” And I have found that your words, and Isaiah’s, are true.