Reaching Out

The other day I experienced something quite profound in human nature. I was at a football match with my 15 year old son Dom to see his team who were playing really badly and were looking like they were going to get beaten by a far better team.

As my son got more and more tense at the prospect of the pasting we were witnessing I had tried and failed to console him. During the match I noticed a young toddler with a dummy in his mouth who probably hasn’t even started speaking in the row in front of us. He had no interest in the game but instead was facing Dom who was upset and visibly (and vocally) stressed at what was happening on the pitch.
I continued to try to calm him down and try to put things into perspective as his dad – I just made it worse (isn’t that what dad’s of teenagers are for ?). As the game went on I saw Dom motioning to the boy in front as he tried to move the toddlers hand which was reaching out and touching his leg and Dom complained that he kept doing it. I realised then what was going on. As he looked into Dom’s eyes I could see that he recognised his emotions and that he was going through something painful. So without even realising it he empathetically was trying to reassure Dom. He didn’t have words to say but he knew someone was upset and rather than be bound by social conventions he reached out to try and reassure my son that everything was going to be OK.
About a year ago my wife and I laughed at the bizarrely inappropriate language when trying to get a running watch fixed and all the emails from the customer service thanked her for “reaching out to them” when actually all she wanted was for a broken watch to be fixed. During that match a toddler with a dummy in his mouth and an inbuilt sensitivity to human emotions helped me experience what reaching out can really look like. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Let’s not forget that children are just as much a part of our village (or cities). Maybe we should watch and learn more from children if we are all to be raised.

A Nation Grieving

I remember really clearly waking up one Sunday morning to hear the news of Princess Diana’s passing away. This month has not been the same as that but we have lost so many. Lemmy from Motherhead, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Joe Cocker and now Terry Wogan. Many very talented high profile people who have lived their lives giving much to so many. It is not just those who are high profile though someone I know (lets call him Peter) lost not only 2 friends during January but one of them was his former business partner.

All who have passed away have family and friends whether the nation takes note of the their passing or not. The fact that the grieving is more private it is no less acute for those dealing with their loss. Peter’s friend wasn’t religious and neither were his family. There was no church to carry him through and very little money with definitely no life insurance either.

Peter had a night at the pub where he had invited everyone who knew his friend and asked them to tell stories as he put a eulogy together and at the same time a whip round to help pay for the funeral. He took on the role of the minister/ priest and pastored the mother and children as well as plan a funeral. All this he did while holding down his regular job and continuing to perform even if he didn’t feel like it one bit for a few days.

The most touching thing to me was that he used his skills to craft a temporary epitaph and even after saying they were not religious he made and carved a cross to mark the grave and have as a marker to the life that again touched many and will continue to be missed into the future.

Loss is a difficult thing to measure and go through. Comedian Justin Moorhouse on his podcast said that he was in bits all day when he found out about Bowie as he had made such an influence on his youth and life since. I vividly remember listening to the laughing gnome in my childhood and even now I think it is underrated as so much more than a one hit wonder. I’m not sure if it gets easier the more we experience grief or we learn to dull our senses to the pain the more we experience it. But talking about it, remembering those who have gone and spending time honouring their lives beyond the formal service in small ways seems to help. Maybe it all contributes to how we deal with and process those emotions ourselves. Recognising our own needs and others we may have lost in the past.

I’m going to listen to the laughing gnome and remember a genius who I didn’t know personally but knew of and is missed by his family just as Peters friend will be. Maybe in doing so I am coming to terms with the loss of my youth, and that small act of remembrance will be echoed by many who have lost heroes, culture icons or simply their own loved ones.

Tribute to My Dad: Don Jones

A story is told of William Booth who was writing a sermon of encouragement to send around the world when the Salvation Army was in its early days. The message was to go by telegram and, charged by the letter, since finances were sparse all the budget could stretch to was just one word. That word that Booth came up with: … “OTHERS”.

“OTHERS” … we believe our dad devoted his life to implementing that one word sermon in pretty much all that he did. He taught us more about being unselfish than some of the great writers and activists could ever do.

From creating stories out of thin air at bedtime; devoting his love and time to all the grandchildren of whom he was so proud, creating family traditions by setting legendary birthday treasure hunts or making Donald Duck noises; he was always present in the moment with the sole exception of when he was asleep, which being honest was another regular but also loveable aspect of his character. He was renowned for the fashion icon of socks with sandals but also his bushy Caterpillar eyebrows, which he wiggled at the grand children and others to catch their attention and raise a smile.

We knew him as a man of integrity, not willing to turn a blind eye to injustice or even the most minor dishonestly. He was a man of his word and was dedicated and committed to anything he turned his hand to.

His service for others is wide and varied. He ran a swimming club with a name, “Paisley Puppies”, which would put you in jail these days. Actually it came from his humour and referred to teaching children to swim “Doggie Paddle”. In the days before health and safety he would transport up to 14 children to the pool in his estate car and taught scores of young people to swim. He also taught many children to play a musical instrument, and more recently to read at local primary schools. He was never happier in his work for the customs than when he was a welfare officer and able to provide pastoral care for others. Even after his retirement he continued to serve others as a community manager for the Salvation Army in Penge for several years.

The reality is whether he was writing to students studying away from home at university or encouraging those in his church to believe in themselves he rarely put himself first.  For the past few years he has increasingly been not only a loving husband but devoted carer for mum, with 53 years of marriage. He possibly had the benefit in later years of being able to turn his hearing aid off?

He brought joy into the room with him, even though his jokes would never earn him enough money to buy a fast car, which as his sons we know would’ve been wasted anyway. But he was rich in spirit and love. He made an art of playing the fool but always endeared himself to others when he did. He was very easy to spot in a crowd with his loud singing, clapping and laugh, we were always able to pick him out in the audience when he supported us at school concerts or am-dram productions – and we were encouraged by it.

We learnt from him how to be a dad but also how to be a man of God.

Every day of our lives we know our dad prayed for us and the rest of the family kneeling at his bedside. On Friday night we found ourselves at his bedside praying for him. It has been tough and will continue to be but we are very grateful for the rest of our family, support and prayers from friends and the huge network of people or to use Paul’s words “Cloud of Witnesses” whom dad has influenced and encouraged over his life.

Albert Einstein as one of the brightest brains ever to have lived is well known for his scientific theories but I would like to share something he said far more profound than The Theory of Relativity, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. Using this equation of Einstein’s I don’t know a person whose life is more worthwhile than my dad’s Don Jones.

Last week after a lifetime of living for others and bringing a kingdom of love and grace to those he met our dad passed away peacefully. We believe he is now enjoying that kingdom and will enrich it with his personality.

With Love From Your Sons; Ian, Stuart & Alastair