After spending a couple of days hiding in Horsham I’ve now started the final section of my sabbatical.
During my time at L’abri I was able to finish writing some material on “Mental Health and the Ministry” that Chichester Diocese had asked me to work on. Hopefully this material will be used as part of the training programme for newly ordained curates within the diocese. It was hard work, and rewarding, to focus on this topic and write down some of the darkest times in my life along with some strategies to overcome depression and anxiety. I’ll be forever grateful to the people of L’abri and the friendships I’ve made there.
Now I am in our caravan just 2miles from a village called Crawley!!
What you will read below has been written for over 10 years now and I am excited to be given time and space to work on the story and see where it takes me.
The following may not be suitable for children under the age of 14
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Father James knew the words, but that didn’t make them any easier to say as he stood at the head of the grave; the small white coffin being lowered into the earth. As he looked up he saw Sarah, Daniel’s mother. Her eyes gazed at nothing, her skin pale against the immaculate black suit she wore. She stood defiantly and watched the coffin of her 12 year old son as it disappeared into the hole. Fr. James knew there was nothing to be said to her, nothing that could bring comfort. He knew that over time the pain would lessen, but the scar of Daniel’s death would always be visible.
After the blessing which ended the service James stepped forward, taking a small handful of the dirt from the pot offered him by the undertaker. A silent prayer said as he tossed the earth into the grave; he heard the soil land on the spotless white coffin top and knew that it was about to start. He had always known that today would be one of the days. He excused himself as quickly as he could and made his way back to the vicarage to prepare himself.
“Sarge, he’s on the South side of the village, just come out of a side door, last house down.” The intercom crackled. The squad had taken cover after the attack. Bosnia was suppose to be getting under control but Sergeant Jim Pooley understood that getting under control and being under control were two completely different things. And it was his job to help move from one to the other. Right now his job was to secure this area and wait for evacuation.
It didn’t matter how or why they had been attacked as they travelled on the road at the edge of this nameless hamlet. It only mattered now that the bastards who’d done this didn’t take any more members of the squad with them. Andy had made the mistake of thinking that the machine gunner was alone, now his body lay unmoving with the UN delegates who had been caught in the first attack.
Jim heard a shout, coming from the house the gunman had just left from. He quickly instructed Joss, Mark and Glyn to skirt around to the North, ready to storm the house. He and Simon had the gunman in the field covered between them.
He kept coming towards them, Jim couldn’t work it out – perhaps he’s suicidal, he had to be. Keeping low and working in a straight line towards them, definitely no pro. It was sad that he was going to have to kill this amateur, but this amateur had shot dead a member of the squad. A bullet doesn’t mind if a professional or an amateur pulls the trigger. “In position!” spat the intercom. “On my signal.” He replied. “Next time,” he mumbled to himself; “ next time you stick your head up – just like you’ve done all the way from the house. The next time will be your last time you worthless piece of shit.”
A deep breath in, slowly let it out, the head lifted slowly – and then jerked upwards. The force of the bullet almost lifted the enemy onto his feet and flung him backwards into the grass and mud.
The house was taken with ease. In it they found one man, his weapon thrown across the room. He was sitting on his haunches, rocking backward and forwards, weeping openly.
Once the support team had arrived and the three houses of the hamlet secured Jim walked over to the gunman in the field. Just as he approached he saw the horror of what had happened here. Before him, with only half a face now, lay the body of a child – no more than eleven years old. The truth began to register! His nephew was as tall as this kid here and John played at being soldiers with his mates; just like uncle Jim. Well, this boy laying in the grass had played a dangerous game, and now stared at oblivion. It had been his finger on the trigger that had done this damage. The truth of the situation slammed into Jim, he felt the contents of his stomach rise and turning away from the body he let himself retch, trying to remove from himself all that had happened in this field.
After composing himself again Jim walked back to the Armoured Personnel Carrier, the prisoner sat, still shaking and with tears rolling down his face. “Sir,” he spat; “Sir, what is your name.” “Sergeant Jim Pooley. Why?” “I wanted to know the name of the man who killed my son!”
… the name of the man who killed my son!” Fr. James stood by the kitchen window, his hands clenched around the sink. As these now familiar words receded into his subconscious he heard the kettle whistle on the stove. Slowly he turned, returning to this reality. Although fifteen years separated their deaths he knew that Daniel and the Bosnian boy Stefan would always belong together in his memory, in these flashbacks, in these living nightmares.