We often played on the ‘street’ as children. There were not too many cars traversing the roads between rows of houses during my 1970’s childhood, and those that did were happy to wait patiently while we scattered from our games on the tarmac to the safety of the pavement. Our house was an ‘end of terrace’ grey concrete block, as ordinary as every other in the street, but distinctive enough to a four-year-old who was studying the social anthropology of this council estate, in an uncelebrated small town on the west coast of Scotland.
Unlike my siblings, whose play world was largely outdoors, mine was lived both inside and outside and commonly in the margins between the two, sitting on the low brick wall which bordered the front of our house and the street beyond. Often I had a young companion on the wall, where were crafted daisy chains and drew with chalk on the pavement. I learned about the man who drank alcohol and who lived in the top floor flat directly opposite. His window coverings never moved from their half shut, half open position. It’s true, I didn’t really understand what alcohol was, save that it sounded bad from the tone of my young informer’s hushed whispers, and that it seemed to fit with his slightly groggy, unshaved and unkempt appearance. My mother would often talk to Mr Davidson if we crossed paths, kind words, in a tone which spelt pity and care. Mr Davidson was as much a curiosity to me as he was a concern. I kept a watchful eye on his house and Mr Davidson himself if he ventured outdoors, from the safe distance of our garden wall. I wasn’t scared of him, but I didn’t trust him either, at least not like I trusted ‘Uncle Bob’ who lived in the flat directly underneath.
‘Uncle Bob’ was a very elderly man. His age was no secret to me as he loved reminding us of just how old he was when he came to our house for Sunday tea. Mr Howie, also in his eighties, came to our home regularly for Sunday tea, a simple meal but one which invariably included cake. He lived at the opposite end of our street. Both traded stories with us children, Uncle Bob with a flat cap and twinkly eyes and Mr Howie with a smart trilby and ability to out-talk Uncle Bob in any contest. I distinctly remember overhearing an adult conversation where someone stated that although Uncle Bob and Mr Howie were exactly the same age, Uncle Bob had ‘lived a harder life” and so appeared more aged. I never found out about Uncle Bob’s hard life. His conversation with children was always light-hearted, encouraging and child focused. Mr Howie, on the other hand, made no such deference to the young and told long stories about his life as an insurance salesman and about the war, none of which I can remember to this day. Both Uncle Bob and Mr Howie died before I reached age 10, Uncle Bob first in keeping with his ‘hard life’. I missed Uncle Bob most. His presence had been such a reassuring one, pottering around quietly as he did. Sometimes he had been my ‘wall companion’, his walking stick supporting his slightly bent frame and twinkling eyes saying all the words that needed to be said.
45 years later, I’m still that introvert sitting in the margins. For sure, I’ve spent periods on and off that ‘garden wall’ but a career in medicine, working as a psychiatrist, marriage, motherhood, becoming a follower of Jesus has not changed my favoured spot in life. But, it has taken me rather a long time to realise that Jesus himself sits here with me.
God’s call on our lives may be closer to home than we imagine. God’s call is a conversation with Jesus, a quiet companion moving my heart to do His will, write His words, tell His story.
The exiles returning to Jerusalem in the book of Ezra rebuilt the altars and the temple, not by their own initiative, but by God moving the hearts of different people to work, to lead and to contribute to the project. God moves individual hearts to accomplish his master plan, and I’m glad of the company and the talents of others God calls me to work alongside