A gentle breeze rustles through the maples as they cast their shadow over the small square in front of the Catholic church in Schatzenbrunn. It is the afternoon of May 16th and storm clouds are just about to blot out the last blue from what has been a perfect summer sky. The alps tower majestically on the horizon and the train from Aying screeches past as Magda turns her BMW at the top end of the village and heads towards the woods on the other side of the tracks. She passes the cornfield and the farmhouse on the left and then slows into a narrow lane which skirts the dense woodland. Having past three large detached houses on the right, she turns into a spacious driveway and parks in front of the double garage.
She feels strange not being greeted by that familiar male voice on her return.
“Shaun,” she shouts up the winding stairway, but her voice comes back at her.
She continues into the living room somewhere between annoyance and concern. The room is neat and tidy, but the arm chair which Shaun normally occupies is vacant. The eerie silence is only barely penetrated by an intermittent birdcall from the wood on the far side of the lane.
The dining chairs have been reordered since she left early that morning and the cushions on the sofas have been re-positioned with a precision which betrays Shaun’s mania for imposing order on the narrow world into which her husband had all but retreated.
Magda’s attention is drawn to a red plastic folder which bulges with about two hundred printed pages. It had been left on the glass coffee table with a folded sheet of A4 paper on top. The hand-written note had been scribbled in blue ink and signed at the bottom.
“Dear Magda, dear children,
You can finally satisfy your curiosity about my manuscript,” Magda reads. “I have wanted to share my story, which of course includes our story for so long with the children, but every time I felt ready the tension between what I wanted to say and my feeble attempts just seemed too great. Today, on my birthday, it is perhaps fitting to let it go. A beautiful day calls from outside and I want to embrace it before the courage fails me or other thoughts fill my head. You know how I’m held captive by dark and melancholy spirits at times, but today feels different. The bike tyres have been pumped, and I imagine the sun’s rays beckon as they penetrate the forest covering, transforming the shadows into a world of radiance and wonder. This is a birthday present to myself. There is a stiffness in my arms and legs which I need to shade off. Old age is waging war against my body and my mind, but the curtain has lifted a little and I want to take advantage of the moment.
Please children, don’t be confused when I jump between the first and the third person in my account. There are times when I feel so close to the person I was that I relive the moments very intensely and others when the Shaun I once was is just a stranger. My aim is to explain what and where I came from so you can better understand where you are starting from. You grew up surrounded by a culture which you could never accept as your own. When you read my story you will realise that we have more in common than you thought. Please indulge me for quoting the prophet Jesus at times. I know it’s the ultimate turn off for young people, but my many mistakes put his wisdom in context. If this is the only way I can get you to listen to him then it will have been worthwhile” – Shaunee.
“Damn, why couldn’t he ever carry a mobile with him?” Magda moans aloud.
She thinks about putting the last touches to the evening meal, but decides on jam and toast and a strong black coffee with a half spoon of sugar instead. The manuscript sits compellingly on the table when she returns to the living room with the mug of coffee in her hand. She resists her impulse at first, but curiosity gets the better of her and she reads while waiting for Shaun or the children to return:
“Dear children,” the page begins and Magda is already a little put off by the formal tone and Shaun’s decision not to include her, but to address the story exclusively to their children.
“I’m bound to play a major role in his story,” she convinces herself, but she still finds herself resenting the focus.
“It’s time to stop worrying about me and to get on with your own lives,” it continues.
She sits down in Shaun’s place on the sofa in front of the closed laptop on the coffee table and imagines the many hours he must have spent typing and editing until he felt ready to hand over the manuscript which she now held in her hand............
The last few months have been easier. The dark clouds have all but disappeared and it has been a joy to live again. Dr. Hans discharged me recently, telling me he would be there if I needed him. That concerned look had left his face and the hearty handshake together with the confident smile told me he was satisfied with the progress achieved. As I walked down the corridor and waited for the lift, I was reminded of the first time we had met on my return from Dublin over two years ago. The look in his eyes told me the depression had become chronic.
“Why didn’t you come to me earlier?” he had asked.
“I have always just about managed to hang on,” I had answered truthfully.
However, by the end of December I knew that this time it would be different. I couldn’t have taken another minute in that Dublin classroom and the Christmas break had saved me from a complete breakdown. My experiences had been even worse than the nightmare I had fled from when the children were still toddlers. Then, after ten years in Germany I had been forced to return to the same rundown school. It was a daily hell trying to force Irish grammar down the throats of Nigerians and Poles, not to mention the usual mix of apathetic Dublin school-kids.
The religion classes, I was compelled to teach, were potentially soul-destroying: Moslems, Hindus and the children of disenchanted Catholics filled the back rows, chatting constantly even during Sister Maria’s regular visits:
“I’ve just popped in to see how you’re getting on Mr. Mosely. I have the list of hymns for the prayer service on Friday evening and I thought you might appreciate this art book. It’s full of ideas for church posters.”
“Where have you left space for them to discover the God within?” I had screamed silently, behind an all too willing smile.
I couldn’t remember being bothered about it as much in the past, but the ten years abroad had changed me. My escape from the oppressive atmosphere of Irish education had freed me to search for something better, something deeper and more compassionate.
At first I thought I had found a home among the Baptists, but the emptiness returned when Paul’s words or their interpretations left a bitter taste in my mouth. Muslims told me that Christians had been manipulated and misled. The message of Jesus had been blotted out and he had never died on the cross. The 114 Surahs of the Koran made it clear, there was only one God and it was about his needs not ours. Still, it was only when I read and re-read the 114 logia of Thomas’ Gospel that I began to appreciate the treasure that had been taken from an ancient jar in 1946, having been hidden away for the best part of two thousand years. Why did so few people know about it? Was it a general lack of interest in Jesus or was there a powerful lobby keeping the truth from us? The real Jesus believed in us, but the Christians want to force us to believe in him.
It is only when I grasped Thomas that I knew I had first met Jesus in my father’s eyes. His trust was the burning force which carried me until I found a soul-mate and then Thomas helped me make sense of it all.
Forced back to Ireland at the end of my career, that cold marble Jesus, hanging from a cross was getting in the way again. A gentle breeze had whispered to me in the Alps high above Spitzing See, but it was silent in a miserable rainy Dublin. Nothing is more soul-destroying than the fake piety of twelve year olds in a hollow granite church on a gloomy Friday evening. The Jesus of Thomas reached out, but his voice only left a distant impotent echo in this cold unwelcoming house of prayer.
I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty.
The need to feel something other than that absolute emptiness was vital, but everything that surrounded me just dragged me down and filled me with loathing. Had I ever felt anything in Ireland? Had anything or anybody ever moved me here? I was ashamed to admit
it, but the cold Jesus of Irish church art had never touched me. The message for me was never about rising from the dead, but in being willing to die rather than live a lie. He cleared the temple because he wasn’t prepared to live with a mockery. Later, I would find him in the pages of history, burning at the stake with a Protestant Bible in his hands. He would find the courage to face down a tank in Tiananmen Square, knowing his sacrifice would be lost on the vast majority.
The loneliness and isolation of Dublin without those I loved was so much worse than I had imagined.
“Nice to meet you,” the neighbours greeted, shaking my hand during that first week.
“You’ll love it here after living with those cold, Germans. We’re very busy at the moment, but we’ll have to have you over some time.”
“Thanks,” I said automatically, “I’ll look forward to it.”
I knew it was all meaningless. They were all just empty words, but common courtesy compelled me to go through the motions.
“Your thoughts are deflected towards the negative pole,” the psychiatrist explained when we first met.
“Everything looks black and you’ve lost your sense of self-worth, but you have a great deal to live for Mr. Mosely. Rediscovering the resilient person you were is the most important step in the recovery process. Take a step back to the time before you had to return to Ireland and take time to write a little every day.”
As you know, I took his words to heart. A day hasn’t passed without some reflection on the life-events which have moulded me. The past holds so much beauty, but it developed out of so much pain and desperation.
If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the paradise you seek in your heart.
There are many things I want you to appreciate, but most of all I want you to understand what I spent my life running away from and why the return has been so traumatic. I shielded you children from that Ireland. Your contact was limited to the Irish breakfasts, smuggled back in my luggage or to wearing those silly green hats on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Please Dad, can we go to Ireland this summer,” you pleaded.
I gave you the deaf ear. My trips were limited to duty calls, secretly dreading the day I would be forced to return. It had taken me half a lifetime to escape and fate had dragged me back alone and taken a cruel revenge on me.
There were times in life when I was optimistic about what the world had to offer. Opportunity and pleasure was there waiting for the young and the brave. Twenty five years ago as I knelt beside a beautiful young girl in a tiny church in Poland, I was certain that the chains which had held me down had been broken and that my whole future would be blessed. That distant God far away in paradise would take care of us, because I had found him again in a congregation of staunch Polish Catholics in Nova Huta.
I had loved Magda from the first moment, having almost given up hope of meeting someone to complete me. There was something about her which put everyone else into the shade. Unknowingly, she had awakened something in me that had set my life on a very different course. Everyone who knew me would have confidently predicted my future, but with your mother I discovered a passion which I hadn’t dared dream about. A boring predictable existence had been turned into a nail-biting adventure from the first moment I saw something pure and wonderful in her eyes..
If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you will kill the person you were meant to be.
“Trust me with the rest of your life,” I had begged, feeling a huge weight of responsibility, nonetheless determined to make it work.
Looking into her trusting eyes, I saw the able young man she had been tricked into believing in. His neat black beard conferred wisdom beyond his years and his fit body conveyed a vitality which made him invincible. Your mother’s uncle came from behind the altar and put our hands together to symbolise our eternal union. The world was at our feet and everything was possible.
“Perhaps your Irish Catholic God is at the root of your problems” the psychiatrist had suggested on my first visit.
“Don’t get me wrong Shaun, but psychiatry has turned me into a Christian atheist. Many torture themselves endlessly, blaming their own sinful nature on the loss of God’s good graces. I don’t like to interfere in a patient’s faith, but if they ever really looked behind their warped idea of God they might summon up enough courage to abandon him. Then they could put full trust into an expert who could help them to accept themselves, warts and all.”
“Believe me, I fully agree with you,” I answered,
“My problem is not that I have the wrong idea of God, but rather that the warped one they brainwashed me with as a child has come back to haunt me. I wasted so many years without an alternative that it made it all the more frustrating to find myself back where I had started.”
As I reflected over the months of therapy, I began to understand how long I had been burdened by a jealous, unforgiving, misogynistic, homophobic God.
If those who seek to attract you say to you: ‘See, the Kingdom is in heaven!’ then the birds of heaven will be there before you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea!’ then the fish will be there before you. But the kingdom is within you and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that it is you who are the sons of the living Father.
You children witnessed my first feeble efforts to build a shatter-proof God when they put you into my religion class here in Munich. Each of you could catalogue the many false turns I took along the way. My efforts to direct your search left you and your schoolmates with an easy target to punch holes in.
I disclose my mysteries to those who are worthy of them. Remember those who know all, but are lacking in themselves, are utterly lacking.
Over the last two years, my humble efforts to come to terms with the past has reopened wounds, but also allowed me to relive the many wonderful moments I have been privileged to enjoy. Life is made up of many precious experiences and some come only once. The ability to love and to be loved has to stand out above everything else.
When you make the two into one, and the inside is like the outside and the outside like the inside, and what is above is like what is below, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make a pair of eyes in place of one eye, only then will you be ready to appreciate paradise.