Friends used to laugh if the issue of me becoming a minister arose in conversation. I was thought by many close to me to be coarse, crude, arrogant, rough, insensitive, prone to anger, sexually ambiguous and worst of all Catholic. I was in fact coarse, crude, arrogant, rough, insensitive, prone to anger and Catholic. If only they knew then what they know now about my rampant sexual proclivities they would have at least had their fears assuaged on one aspect of my person*.
But since those early days in the faith my call has been very much confirmed to me and in part by those around me. I’ve grown, so I’m told. I have become sensitive to the emotions of others, capable of phrasing things so that you don’t cry like a little baby every time I talk to you and most importantly of all, don’t introduce myself to ladies by making honking gestures.
I am still a little bit too Catholic but that’s fashionable these days.
It may well seem to you like I am just being trained in being a doormat but in fact these are “pastoral skills” that are emerging. This is meant to be very good news to the jokers who one day call me as their minister. But with my new found Master Pastor abilities (don’t cut across people in every sentence they pronounce, don’t openly deride their clothing selections and never ever ever call rugby gheyball from the pulpit in middle class Irish Protestant congregations) I have observed something.
Since breaking my arms in a now infamous and utterly inept week of catastrophic clumsiness, I am met with two general responses from people when they meet me and engage in what us caring types like to call “small talk”.
The first group take what we will dub the “old-biddy” approach and lament in cooing tones about the horror of my misfortune. They console my wife by proxy, urging me to pass on their regards to her. They often lay a comforting hand on my shoulder while tilting their head in what I like to call the “Joel Hylton special”, in honour of my friend who actually is a Master Pastor. They are lovely, but dare I say it, in a bout of unreconstructed blast-from-the-past old-man Kevin, insufferably boring. The last thing I want to talk about is my freaking arms and no, I don’t actually consider myself a hero for sitting around and letting the damn things heal themselves under the cover of darkness provided by two big white plaster condoms.
The second group are what I might dub the “Rambo school”. They are obliged in small talk to refer (as fleetingly as possible) to the concerns and happenings in the other person’s life. Thus in the middle of telling me about all the stuff they are doing they might sometimes catch sight of my scars (chicks do not especially dig them, in case you were wondering) or slightly comedic minor swelling and bring up the Christmas-time unpleasantness.
At this point I kick into autopilot and tell my story as amusingly as I can with reference to how my hands spasm half way through taking notes in lectures and that sometimes my out of control hand writes weird things like football scores for matches that haven’t been played yet and they are inevitably correct. Also, the last time it happened, my had wrote their name, a date in the not too distant future and then “MURDER!!!!!”.
When I have unreeled my little spiel they quickly jump in and to a man (for they are always men) say something like “Oh they took your pins out? Then it mustn’t have been as bad as the break I had when…” … insert rambling story of masculine heroism/recklessness here.
The funny thing is that when the old-biddies enquire caringly after my health I am bored. But when the Rambo school unleash their game of injury-oneupmanship I am aggravated. A part of me actually wants to out and break my back so that I can tell them a story that will have them gasping. But most of me just wants to break their back so they can’t move towards me with a cup of coffee so quickly that I can’t evade them. Thankfully for them, my right hand is still as weak as a leperous kitten. So they are safe. For now.
But all this observation has led to an insight, as it so invariably does. One of the most difficult and indeed feared parts of the role of Pastor is that of caring for people who are sick. Not just broken arms sick but really sick. Hair falling out and bowels rebelling and no hope beyond the weekend sick. I am not nearly ready to be the go-to guy on that journey with someone and nor am I in a situation where I would need to be because my boss is ultra capable. But I am sure that I have a surefire way to become a pastoral legend in the PCI.
Its called the inverse Rambo school rule. Tension is high when you visit a family with a member who is sure to die. Allegedly it does no help in such circumstances to quote Heidegger and say that as humans we are defined as creatures born towards death. We are all bound to die, eventually. Life is a terminal disease. Etcetera etcetera. But I think it would help if after they have updated you on their condition, you Rambo-oneup-them with an utterly trivial and preferably imaginary condition.
“Full blown AIDS eh? Got it from a blood transfusion error when you were donating platelets for sick children? Government won’t cover the anti-retro viral drugs because some anonymous bureaucrat ticked the wrong box and for the purposes of the Drugs Payment scheme you are not set to be born until January 30th 2083? And now you have pneumonia? Could be worse. I have stink-elbow”.
You can credit me for your pastoral skills in their eulogy. It would only be fitting.
Also, if you know me, you can guess for yourself which of the two camps I have mercilessly assigned you to.
Your Correspondent, Growing a brain on your dime.
* I am sometimes aware that this blog will probably last my lifetime and jokes I tell on it could be misinterpreted and ruin my future chances of being made Moderator of the church and therefore get to spend a year shaking hands with old ladies and minor political dignitaries so I should clarify this is a joke. My naked lady fetish is as normal as the next man’s. Unless the next man is John Terry, which it rarely is in Maynooth.