My main Covid symptom, apart from general weakness, is a complete loss of appetite. I love cheese, but haven’t been able to face any for a couple of weeks. Today I’m lying in bed, feeling a little better, daydreaming about cheese, cheddar cheese. My mind went back some years when a small piece of cheese brought me back to life. I’ve never told this tale before; if you read on you’ll understand why.
It began with me driving up from the coast on a wet winter’s morning to give evidence at Bow Street Magistrates Court. I’d discovered that the treasurer of a charity I was working with had worked out some interesting ways of removing large sums of money from the charity into his own pocket; a story in itself. Nothing unusual in my journey; a trip I did regularly. I always stop off at Clacket Lane on the M25, a nice mid point. Except this time I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t, but as I came off the A13 into Ilford it was clear I was cutting things fine. I was OK if the traffic held. It didn’t and we ground to a halt.
I ran out of time. In desperation I searched the car for a receptacle. I found a plastic box, emptied it, and quickly, with immense relief, filled it. Passengers on a bus inches away from me watched with some interest, a mixture of pity and amusement. We began to move forward as the traffic sorted itself out. I slowly became aware that the receptacle wedged on my knees was not as full as it was. The stops and starts didn’t help, but it became clear that the receptacle wasn’t as watertight as I’d judged it to be. I was increasingly becoming very damp. By the time I got to Bow, the container was empty and I was soaked.
I arrived at court, in a shaky state, having had to park some distance away. With no clear idea what to do, I found my barrister in the coffee room, wedged against a radiator, moodily eating a custard cream, Apparently the judge had got caught in the same traffic jam and had called it a day. I was relieved even though I’d come all that way for nothing. I didn’t take off my raincoat and I kept quiet about my little accident. Well wouldn’t you?
The day got no better; my next appointment was in Dagenham, where I got lost in the wind and rain before finding my destination. There was something nasty in the woodshed there, with the manager of another of my charity clients wanting me to wave a wand and clear up a pile of mess and muddle he’d created by his own foolishness. I pointed him towards a local accountant I knew who might be persuaded to take it on, and carried on desperately looking for sanctuary. After getting lost a couple more times, I found the address in Basildon where I was due to meet a dear friend who was to take me off to an Education conference in Wolverhampton the next day. I pressed the bell and waited.
What confronted him at his door was a dishevelled, wet, and wild eyed, scrap of humanity, possibly fresh from seeing Hamlet’s ghost. He quickly summed up the situation, took me by the hand and sat me down on his best settee. ‘Wait there’, he commanded. My friend, is known for the abundance of his generosity, also though for his empty larder. He ate out all the time. I heard him rummaging in the kitchen for a minute or two. He returned with a plate, in the centre of which was a small piece of cheese, its diminutive size possibly due to it having been ‘tidied up’ before reaching me. ‘Eat this, you’ll feel much better’. I obeyed, mutely, and slowly recovered my wits. He may have brought out wine at this stage; he usually did, I slowly came back to life and the next day found me ready for my next adventure.
One day I shall arrive at another home, and knock on another door. By then I shall probably be wet, muddied by many falls and quite tattered. But a welcome will await; fire lit, bath filled; towels and clean clothes warming in the airing cupboard. And fresh bread and wine on the table. Always remember where you’re headed.
So day dreaming about food brought back a precious memory of my dear friend Alan, who tenderly cared for me when I was at my wits end; giving me cheese, and being Christ to me in a time of need. Cheese has always been special to me since then.
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.- Henri Nouwen