Hearing your husband preach each week has its good and bad points. Not, I hasten to add, in respect of his sermons: I know I'm biased, but he remains one of the most good-humoured, intelligent preachers I've ever heard, irrespective of my relationship with him.
No, I refer to the fact that sometimes (whether intentionally or not) he manages to produce some thought, some soundbite, some observation that goes straight to the heart of whatever it is I happen to be struggling with at the time. This was the case this week. And last week, actually: being a Harvest homily, I have actually heard it two Sundays running. Not that I mind.
The address began, as so many of his do, with a joke.
Two old friends bump into each other on the street one day. One of them looks forlorn, almost on the verge of tears.
His friend asks, “What has the world done to you?”
The sad one says “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago an uncle died and left me $50,000.”
“That’s a lot of money!”
“But then two weeks ago a cousin I’d never even met died, and he left me 100,000.”
“Sounds like you’ve been blessed....”
“No, no, you still don’t understand. Last week my great-aunt passed away, and I inherited nearly a quarter of a million!”
“Then – why look so glum?”
“Well, this week – nothing!”
Of course, this then led us into the focus of Harvest Thanksgiving: being deliberately aware of blessings, all good gifts around us, etc., and proactively expressing our gratitude to The Boss - whether by stewardship, hospitality, or a basket of random cooking apples and tinned soup to be donated to a local charity. However, the story took me somewhere slightly different.
There have been some fairly difficult times recently: for my friends and loved ones, and therefore for me as well. I'm a solver, you see. Anyone who knows me well, especially in a professional context, will recognise this: I like nothing better than a cry for help to which I can respond, making it all better. "Cassie - why doesn't the computer do this?" "Cassie - how do I deal with this pile of stuff?" "Cassie - have you got the music that I need?" However, most of the recent tricky stuff has got me down rather badly - because most of it is of the type that has no solutions. Nothing, niet, nada. I am left floundering, disempowered and helpless.
My life is usually one that bounces along with a fairly high proportion of good things. So when I find, in one fairly short period, that I'm fighting this lot, it's a bit of a blow. In absolutely no order of seriousness: a badly sprained foot, and hence dropping out of the play I was in; resulting pain stops my regular walks, so I put on weight (always an issue); my father descending ever more rapidly into dementia, and all the ghastly stuff that goes with it for my mother; a colleague's father dies suddenly, another colleague's mother is diagnosed with terminal illness; the freelance earnings take one of their occasional nose-dives, but it's bad timing; three (THREE) of my clients, lovely ladies and in one case a close friend, have serious marital problems; a very dear theatrical colleague has painful and as yet undiagnosed health problems; and so on.
It's all fairly ghastly, and the nonsense with my foot - hardly earth-shattering news in itself - undermines my usual sense of optimism, leaving me debilitated and depressed.
And then along comes my husband's little story. In a reluctantly-accepted lightbulb moment, I think: well, if you take 'weeks' and replace them with 'years', or even 'quarters', my life's been a bit like that. Every year, when my husband and I probably bore the collective pants off our friends and relations with the ubiquitous Round Robins, there is always so much more to celebrate than to commiserate. Friends, visits, music, food, drink, theatre, food, places, photography, family, work, play, joy - including, within the last two years, my 50th birthday and all its joyful celebrations, and a magnificent four weeks in the USA. Not Pollyanna-style - the good is always interspersed with the bad and the ugly - but on balance, a pretty colourful and fabulous cornucopia.
And this week - or this period of the last four months or so - nothing. Bad news, ill health, deep sadness in many quarters. And I can't do bugger all about most of them. I can keep doing the stuff I do best - organise, pay bills, be taxi service, be there, make stuff work - but I can't make it better for anybody, including myself.
Even as I read this back, I think, "well, that's a load of crap. It's not 'nothing' at all. You've had a week with very dear friends and a week in a beautiful place in Wales. You've created a successful concert with some stunningly talented friends." So even that is true: it's never 'nothing'.
But even if life feels like wading through treacle right now, for the most part - it's just a phase. It's just 'this week'. And joys go on around me. Two other dear friends, after many years and several disappointments, have just produced a beautiful little boy. Another pair of theatrical colleagues, gorgeous people both, have got engaged. Yet another pair celebrated the most inspiring, simple, joyful wedding it's ever been my pleasure to attend. Their stories weave around my own, in their own colour and light, and they celebrate their 'great weeks', and share them with the rest of us. That keeps me going.
And when, as I trust and know from experience it will, my next 'great week' comes around again, I hope I'll be able to share it with those I love and care for. Meantime, I've got to keep remembering: it's just "this week - nothing". Not "this lifetime".