I went to my eldest daughter’s Easter Service this morning. I was late, of course. I was meant to have been accompanying the children from school to church adorned in yellow fluourescent top (me, not the church). I arrived five minutes late, the school was eerily empty, silence hanging heavily where normally cacophony rules. The school secretary visibly sighed as I buzzed the door to find out where the church was – I fear my reputation already runs before me (after only two terms) as The One Who Offers Help Then Is Always Late (aka Useless To Us). Ho hum. Leopards, spots and all that. So I run to the church, unaccompanied and minus the workman’s jacket. I am greeted at the door by Teacher in smart black robe and crying daughter. ‘Oh good, you’re here, she was SO upset’. Rucksack of guilt just got heavier. I accompany daughter back to her pew and sit uncomfortably nearby feeling flushed and rather tearful myself. As a non-working mother you feel your choices have been around being there for the kids. Then if you can’t even manage that with the rather feeble excuse that you were ‘held up at home’ (aka blogging – don’t tell Teacher!), then God Save You. Well, I suppose I was in the right place for that, at least.
So, after a bizarre five minute speech by the vicar explaining how we should all exit the church in an emergency, I sat listening to my daughter sing her heart out with all her classmates, giving her encouraging smiles (when I’d moved from behind the pillar), and felt choked every time her little tear-stained face lit up in response. While attempting to pay full attention to the Easter Story as told by an assortment of eager 9 year olds, I couldn’t help my mind wandering off into a discussion with itself on this whole business of ‘disappointment’ and ‘let down’. It was the fact that I’d told my daughter I was accompanying her from school and then that I didn’t show which was so agonising for me. I remember how years of similar promises not kept had worn me down and contributed hugely to the hurt and anger I had internalised. But to do that to a child is perhaps the greatest sin and I felt completely wretched. I think, too, it brought back memories of the earlier years of my daughters’ lives when I was not doing my ‘job’ properly. I was suffering from severe depression and, at its worst, even the idea of making breakfast for them was this enormous mountain I had to climb. In a sane mind this seems, frankly, unbelievable, but that’s how it was. I still feel sad at how I was ‘there but not there’ in those precious early years.
But now it was the vicar’s turn to utter words of wisdom. He chose three children and gave them each a large chocolate egg to unwrap. The first had broken biscuits inside it, the second nothing, the third a spring lamb (not real, I hasten to add – that would, indeed, add a whole new dimension to Kinder Surprise!). I couldn’t help noticing how the first boy kept wiping his hands on his blazer to get rid of the rapidly melting chocolate and I felt for his mother, imagining her later, hunched, cursing, over the wash-board and mangle. At first I wasn’t sure where the vicar was going with all this but I was impressed with his ingenuity. Then all became clear: when Jesus was betrayed and killed, his friends felt crushed and broken; when they saw his tomb empty, they felt empty too; but when they walked with him once more they understood the joy and permanence of renewed life. When we lose someone or something dear we may go to pieces, we may feel empty and alone but we must always remember that we are not alone, and that there is always the promise of renewal ahead, even if we can’t quite see it yet.
Pulling on my coat, lost in thought, my fingers found a small piece of paper in my pocket. I pulled it out and read my shopping list: red wine, bread. I couldn’t help smiling at its aptness. I gave daughter a hug and made sure I stuck by her side as we walked back to school and the waiting car. The Easter holidays had begun and with them the promise of Spring.