Tuesday, 27 August 2013

More Tea Vicar? - Short Story

“May I come in?”

“Good grief, is it time for my Last Rites already? I haven’t finished my cuppa. Or my morphine for that matter”

“I’m an Anglican vicar not a Roman Catholic priest”

“Good, because I’m not one for confessing, death bed or no death bed. Besides, De Quincey has already said it all for me. So, you’re a representative from the church of compromise and sequestration set up by Henry Tudor are you?” 

“Yes, I understand you were a former professor of History”

“Hey less of the ‘former’ if you don’t mind!” 

“My apologies. Do you give lectures from your bed?”

“Tell me vicar why are you here exactly? I mean we’ve never even met one another before. So why now? What’s the occasion I wonder? What could it possibly be about my current plight that draws you here? Could this be a getting to know you session, the first and last of its kind? So you can gather some notes for the eulogy, just to infuse it with enough singular detail to make it sound like we were personally acquainted. Thus further voiding an already empty ritual”

“My my, you have a very dim view of religion”

“Since my cataracts and glaucoma I have a dim view of everything vicar. It’s not enough that your putative god built in such obsolescence into our body’s cell machinery. He had to  supplement our enervation with all these other afflictions. Built in his image? I pity him... if he actually existed”

“The human condition is indubitably a puzzling one. We’ve spent millennia trying to solve these conundrums and yet here we still are. Here I still am, a minister and adumbrator of a religious faith. It must hold some validity, or at least people believe it does”

“Oh yes, very scientific. We historians laboured under similar illusions. Crediting our academic discipline proceeded upon scientific standards of proof, of supporting evidence. But you know what? I lost my faith in it. Turns out history is merely the value judgements of mankind on past events. Kings and Prime Ministers may legislate and act and mass movements may make their moves, but it is only us academics and chroniclers who rule on them. What should be accorded weight and what should be dismissed. I thought I could change the world by reflecting great insights into human behaviour, so that we could learn from the past. But here’s something I comprehended from the scientists across the High Table at dinner. The past may keep repeating itself, but you never know which bit of the past will repeat and when. As with the Butterfly Effect, the starting conditions of each epoch under comparison are different, so the outcomes will be too. Therefore I grasped I couldn’t save mankind and by the end of my career, I knew I couldn’t even save my students either. And now with my failing body I discover I can’t even save my family? There, will you put that crisis of faith into your sermon at my funeral? Might prove instructive to others...”

“No, while we don’t paint paragons of people, we do try and keep the last and lasting impression of them positive”

“Like I say, a meaningless ritual. I suppose I have left it too late to change my will and organise something different to mark my passing. Like a New Orleans Jazz Funeral, though I can’t stand jazz. Or a viking boat pyre, though I suppose smoke alarms and health and safety will put the kyybosh on that. I quite fancy the idea of a sky funeral, but we lack for indigenous vultures in our perishing climate...”

“The Christian funeral ritual is as much for the bereaved left behind as the send off for the corpse wherever it is aheaded. it plays an important function in the mourners coming to terms with the reality of death”

“I admire your self-surety I really do. But then I’m the one with the greater question mark hanging over him over the near future. Tell me, when you confront the realities of the world armed only with your good book of homilies and vague imperatives from which you elicit your answers to the human condition, does it fill you joy or despair? After all even Christ had misgivings while up on the Cross, Thomas was so sceptical they fashioned it into a soubriquet for him. Moses beat the rock with his staff because he had a moment of vacillation in his conviction. See, I may not have the detailed answers, but at least I am released from the bondage of blind faith, of doubt and despair. Because I accord the cruel, cosmic joke of existence. Of coming into life, of making attachments and then having them snatched away from you by death. All because of biochemistry’s drive towards entropy. Mind you there are those proponents who argue that even those precious attachments are only an outcome of biochemistry too, the blind imperative to pass on our DNA”

“You live on in the hearts of those who love you”

“Until they too pass on and no one remains to light the candle for me. All our mouldering hearts full of unrequited love, because there’s no one left to meet it”

“See that sounds like a very bleak worldview that can only lead to despair”

“The despair actually only comes at this particular juncture. I’m sorely testing the love of my wife and children because I am checking out of this world before them and abandoning them”

“You cannot be held responsible for the failings of the mortal body”

“Who then? Only your god could be an alternative candidate. But I can’t descry him, seeing as I don’t believe in his existence. But it’s a particularly cruel twist of fate that means any last days I eke out under my condition, can only be secured by these infusions of morphine to dull the pain from numbing my mind. And I know there will come a point where I slip into a state where I cannot medicate myself, so my poor benighted wife will have to do it. She and she alone will hold the power of my life in her hands. She could determine at any time to supply me the terminal dose so that it’s morphine that shuts me off rather than the disease. What terrible power that is to wreak on a loved one? That’s why perhaps I say my imminent passing is a dereliction of love. To place such an unreasonable burden upon them”

“But the corollary of that is to wish your wife dead before you. That could be misconstrued as selfish thinking”

“Any two historians would give you divergent views on that one. Do you still credit that’s how your god set things up? Or is it more likely to be the result of blind forces?”

“You have your beliefs and I have mine”

“Bad faiths both... I’m sorry where are my manners? More tea vicar? Or would you prefer a touch of the harder stuff?”

“Well I wouldn’t say no”

“Here you go”

“What is it? Scotch? Wow that’s bitter. Hold on a moment, that isn’t... Have you given me your flask of morphine by any chance?”

“I’m sorry vicar, my ailing sight you see. Can’t tell the difference”

“Should you be quaffing alcohol at the same time as morphine?”

“Don’t think either vice is going to make too much difference in the long run do you?” 


Postscript: The Funeral

It was a virtual stranger who officiated at the service. Whether this was a deliberate decision undertaken by the ecclesiastical body or not couldn’t be established. But suicide is still regarded as a sin and more so in a man of the cloth who has pledged himself to avoid such mortal sins. He was found dangling from the church rafters, hung by the length of his liturgical stole. The recipient of his last pastoral visit was unable to attend the funeral as he was bedbound. he was insensible of the whole matter, despite the gossip spreading beyond the parochial congregation through making the local news rag.

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