(Note: It’s nice to be writing again after almost a week of no wireless and/or a broken keyboard. So much to say.)
The year was 1979. I had just graduated from college and moved to London for an adventure, armed with a BUNAC work permit. We were allowed to land “any job a British citizen couldn’t or wouldn’t do” which sounded a bit ridiculous and impossible.
And yet I was hired to be a social worker in Richmond with a desk overlooking the Thames. Nice.
I was vastly underqualified and – besides – why didn’t some British 20-something want this job? Maybe because the job seemed ridiculous and impossible.
Margaret Thatcher had just become Prime Minister and suddenly there were jobs created for people like me to take social services away from people like Henry Burville. Mrs. Thatcher was what we would call today “A Job Creator.” More about Henry Burville later.
What I was supposed to do:
- Visit elderly pensioners who received free telephones and televisions, courtesy of the sovereign state of the UK, and discern whether or not they really needed those benefits.
- Decide that they didn’t need those benefits.
- Take away those benefits.
What I really did:
- Visit elderly pensioners who received free telephones and televisions, courtesy of the sovereign state of the UK, and hear their stories.
- Occasionally pray with them around cluttered kitchen tables.
Henry Burville had been a landscaper at Kew Gardens, but in his 90s he had become very confused to the point that he consistently forgot that his wife was dead. I found myself reminding him that she was not in fact in the next room, and he would cry as if hearing it for the first time.
Mr. Burville thought I was a WWII nurse and once he wandered to Hammersmith to visit me and The American Girls at our flat. I came home from work to find him sitting in our living room being entertained by my housemates.
There was no way I was taking away that man’s phone and TV.
Actually in the months I worked at that job, I never took away anybody’s phone or TV. I got yelled at a lot by my supervisor.
I remember telling one of my housemates that the issues I encountered with those folks were not about their televisions or telephones. Their issues were spiritual. I talked with all my clients about hope and community and peace. About betrayal and abandonment and isolation. “You should definitely go to seminary,” my roommate said. And so I did. In fact, hers was the first wedding I officiated.
I’d been thinking about seminary for a while and – pre-London – I had talked about it with professors and pastors. But it was Margaret Thatcher who nudged me over the edge to the place of no return.
And so for that, I’m thankful.
Image source here.