Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Today, on my 72nd birthday I went back to the church.
Not back as in, rejoining The Church and a faith I'd lost, in the manner of those great English writers who suddenly embrace Roman Catholicism.
I mean back as in, just going literally back to the church where more than 60 years previous I had sung in the choir at my primary school teacher Mr Slaney's wedding.
I would guess unless he has excellent genes he is gone by now, his younger wife too no doubt. Maybe even some or all of whatever children they might have had.
I didn't go back to St Andrew's Church in Epsom for any great religious reason, but a few months ago Megan and I went for a long walk around that area I knew so well as a kid and we ended up walking through the cemetery outside.
I've said previously that, when traveling, a cemetery is actually a nice place to visit: the grave inscriptions are often interesting and perhaps slightly exotic, and the place is always quiet.
Maybe there was some other reason why I went back, intimations of mortality perhaps.
Some weeks ago I'd had a dream about my dad in which we held each other in an almost palpably loving embrace. It was a rare dream about him and an even rarer one where everything was fine between us.
There was never any great schism in life but his death – way back in 1986 – was so sudden that there always seemed to me to be some unfinished business. Business which, of course, could never be finished.
And thinking that I was coming up on being 72 and he died about five months after his 73rdbirthday there was just something in the back of my mind.
So I went to church, to do little more than enjoy the singing of the choir and to take a little time to think, give thanks and – despite not being religious – offer prayers, thoughts a better word, for those I love and especially those currently suffering.
And out of intellectual curiosity more than anything, to hear what the sermon might be about.
I've noticed that some people who write and have an outlet are talking about getting old, and they tend to write in a somewhat affected fuddy-duddy manner as if that is what age has conferred on them.
And these people are often considerably younger than me, by that I mean by seven or eight years . . . which, when you are 72, is quite considerable.
They aren't old and – aside from the odd ache and certainly some laboured breathing as a result of whooping cough as a child and a recent debilitating bout of RSV – I don't feel old either.
I don't come over all fuddy-duddy. I hope.
I listen with genuine pleasure to music made by people half and sometimes a third my age, although I'll concede there are large swathes of music I'm not interested in. But then never was really.
I'll also admit that I read stuff which anyone under 25 – if they read at all – would consider fuddy-duddy or just plain stupid interests. Currently I'm reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin having just finished books on the occult in New Zealand, one about a Danish explorer of the early 20th century and a huge book about Paul McCartney in the years when the Beatles broke up and he launched a solo career.
I listen to jazz which isn't that common – despite my best efforts for decades to get people at least a little curious – and I still love power-pop and guitar-driven music.
I know I should be listening to more EDM, hip-hop and whatever. But I don't.
At 72 – and I thought this at 22 – I'm allowed to listen to whatever I like.
And I surprise myself by what I do like, most of what has appealed in the past few months has been made by adventurous women under 30.
I watch old black'n'white movies from time to time because they were classics of their genre but had gone past me.
Someday soon I'll settle in for Dr Zhivago I think. I've never seen it.
But I won't be going to church regularly, at my age that looks a bit desperate, like cramming for your finals.
However I enjoyed being back in St Andrews.
By happy coincidence it was Music Sunday, a celebration of music, psalms and songs of praise . . . and of giving thanks for God who has given Man the gift of music, and the music-makers the gift to realise it for us.
The choir was lovely although there and in the congregation you couldn't help note that everyone is pretty old. Like me.
The youth choir was just two girls who were about 12, but they sang together with passion.
There were hymns, prayers, a sermon and a reading from Revelations.
It reminded me again that when I attended Sunday School here – very briefly, we weren't a religious family and going to Sunday School was a bit like playing cricket, just something you got your kids into – that I learned a lot of Bible stories.
And I could recite all the books of the Bible. Let's see: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Chronicles, Kings, Chronicles . . . Jeremiah, Ezra . . . ?
I'll check later to see how I did.
By further coincidence there were two people there I knew from my Herald days and we chatted afterwards: Rod's daughter is a composer and violinist performing and writing in Europe, and Liz showed me around the stained glass.
It was a very lovely morning with the light streaming in but aside from the atmosphere of the old church I didn't remember many details of it from when I was young: the font, a couple of the stained glass pieces, the general layout . . .
And so I went back to the church.
On my birthday.
When you get to be my age you invariably get socks.
Megan -- who is clearly a keeper -- bought me a pair (among other things) and I wore them to church.
They have Jimi Hendrix on them.
No fool like an old fool!
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