MARCHING ORDERS

I WAS SHOCKED. I’ve got to be honest. And many years later I still remember it. My first parish. One of the early home visits. “O Lord no, Vicar! You’d never catch me at the 10.30. I can’t stand all that dreadful hymn-singing and racket.” ERDC – as she always signed her many postcard notes to me – was always, I’d noticed, already in her place in church a good 40 minutes before the Sunday morning “8am”. One noticed her not for the host of ordinary reasons one notices people for, but for exactly the opposite. ERDC always appeared hardly to be breathing, very, very small (though actually at least five feet 10″), very, very still, and utterly, utterly silent. Oh, and deeply at peace, the hint of a smile always about her wide mouth.

But yes, shocked. Never catch me at the 10.30. Dreadful hymn-singing. Racket. Other things occupied my thoughts, of course, during the early months of the new pastorate. But I kept coming back to how I was going to tactfully address ERDC’s awfully churlish aversion to hymns, racket, and – I thought – other people. Until one day the pile of postcards on my desk – each beautifully inscribed Faithfully, ERDC wrought in me a most significant epiphany. For each provided me with an account of some illness, hospitalization perhaps, or a person now rendered housebound, or a broken arm, or ‘flu, or post-natal depression, or exasperated expression. ERDC had taken up every case. Always amongst the first to make the hospital visit, bake a cake, deliver flowers, offer to babysit, invite someone to (deliciously old-fashioned) afternoon tea. Far from my delivering a well-placed pastoral word in her ear I realised with a jolt that I could use a (no doubt silent) word of wisdom from ERDC for me!

So it came about that I asked Diana two questions one day – at afternoon tea. Having wondered about Eleanor Rose Diana, or maybe Esther Rachel Diana, or maybe Edith Ruth Diana, I asked ERDC what the initials ER before DC represented. “Early Riser dear”, she said briskly. Oh! I said. And asked my second question. Why such an early start on Sunday, and why’s the silence so much more important to you than “hymn-singing and racket”? ERDC smiled widely. Hands in her lap, very still, she replied quietly “because that’s where I get my marching orders dear”. I miss her. She almost certainly knows that.

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