I am now 43 years old. When I was 14, I was in need of help. I didn’t really know it, but life changing and horrible events were happening all around me. I was in hospital and alone. One day a man came into the room where I was sitting in bed alone, probably reading, I’m not sure. He was brief and business like. I was a child.
He simply said (and I can remember his words exactly) “Hello James, my name’s Ally, I’m a social worker. Your parents have decided that they don’t want you to live at home with them any more, so I’m going to be arranging somewhere for you to live. I’ll be back again tomorrow”.
And he left the room.
My already fragile and disjointed world began to cave in on me. I had no idea where to turn to for help. Days later and I was being hurried out of my home into a car by another social worker who was tutting and frustrated at the amount of ‘stuff’ that I was wanting to take with me. He was in a hurry. I was driven about ten miles to a children’s home and dumped on the doorstep, together with all my things. They were not expecting me. I was clearly a nuisance and an inconvenience to them as well.
It transpired that I would have to stay there until I was eighteen.
At the time, I was heavily involved with a local church and the local cathedral. I was an altar boy, sung in the cathedral choir, did a lot of work in the vestry, and looked after all sorts of things, even helped with the cathedral organ. But I kept the two parts of my life very separate.
Then one day somebody said a remarkable thing. One of the Canons of the cathedral, who was a lovely man, but who I always thought was very severe, told me about his summer students. The cathedral housed him in a big house, in which he used to rattle about on his own. So he used the spare rooms to offer accommodation to overseas students attending the local technical college. Students who were finding it difficult to find somewhere and even harder to find something that they could afford.
He said quite simply, that he had spoken to the people who ran the home. I had no idea that he even knew I was in one. If I wanted to, I could come and live in his house, under his care, until I was old enough to find somewhere of my own. Now these days of course there would have been a mountain of red tape to go through and all sorts of questions asked about a single priest offering to put up a young boy. But there was nothing improper about his offer. He simply saw it as his Christian duty and cared enough to do something about it.
The house was big. I was 14. I had no idea how to cook for myself or do my washing. He (and I suspect his house-keeper) both helped and I learnt. I also gained the most wonderful friendship of his massive dog, called appropriately, Fish. Fish and I became inseparable and looking after Fish was my way of saying ‘thank you’.
Well eventually I moved away, got jobs, had careers, but I never forgot the kindness of that man. I must write and thank him I kept saying. But I am deeply ashamed to say, that I never did. This is so painful to write, and I can’t believe the tears that this is causing as I try and type.
A couple of days ago, I was wondering about that particular cathedral, which is in Derby. So I looked on the internet and of course there it was, a web-site all of its own. There was a page dedicated to the Cathedral staff, and so I looked. His name wasn’t there. Quite right I thought, he must have retired a while ago. I’ll email the Cathedral office to enquire about him. From there, I’ll drop him a little note to thank him for his kindness and to wish him well. I won’t mention Fish. Fish will have died years ago and the memory might be painful for him. I’ll simply give him the thanks, which is so overdue.
The office replied very quickly. They regretted to inform me, that he had died, not so very long ago, and that yes, he was a special man who was loved and now missed by many.
I had left it and left it and finally left it too late. I never said ‘thank you’ to the man who rescued me and gave me some hope and some joy. I never even said ‘thank you’ and I feel so terribly horrible about it.
All I can do is say to anyone reading is this, if there’s a call you’ve been putting off, a letter you need to write, or a ‘thank you’ that’s overdue, then do it today.