When two or three meet together …
The Cardman was a keen photographer and enjoyed the rare opportunity of spending time with his digital camera and nature. He might take more than a dozen photos of a single subject, from different angles and at various settings, and then download them onto his computer, choose the best one or two, and erase the others. Never, during the remainder of his life, would he take for granted the ease and convenience of the digital age.
On one dry, sunny, early July afternoon, made even more perfect by a warm, gentle breeze, he was sitting alone on a bench by the river, watching the birdlife.
A middle-aged man, with a well trimmed grey beard, white hair and wearing sunglasses in a purple frame, walked past the bench. Recognising the Cardman, he immediately stopped. `Can I join you?` he asked.
With his eyes still fixed on the river, and the lush green of the bordering banks, the Cardman agreeably encouraged the stranger to join him.
`My name is Leonard Forsythe,` the man offered without being asked, `I`m here on holiday.` It was a strange thing to say and, for Leonard, rather out of character, being generally of a reserved nature.
`I guessed that,` the Cardman replied. `Would you like a strawberry?` He proffered the punnet he held in his hand. `They`re one of my weaknesses, you know. I could eat a punnet a day, given the chance.`
`Thank you,` said Leonard, gratefully.
Leonard was intrigued by the Cardman`s fixation with the view in front of him.
`What are you watching?`
`Ah, I see. Any in particular?`
`Well … yes,` the Cardman finally turned to face Leonard. `I`m waiting to see if the shagorants are here today. You see, it`s an unusual environment for them; they`re normally observed out to sea and on the rocks. It really is quite rare,` he explained.
`I see … but I`ve never heard of a shagorant?`
`That`s my name for them,` the Cardman replied. `I can never remember the difference between a shag and a cormorant, so I call them all shagorants.`
Leonard laughed, then he asked, `you`re the man with the cards, aren`t you?`
`I`ve seen you by the Cathedral. We`ve come down here on holiday for years, and I love going to the Cathedral.`
`Down from where?` the Cardman asked, again looking towards the river.
`From The North.`
`Where in The North?`
`Ah! The Angel of the North. Is it really as big as they say?`
`Yes. It`s very big.`
There was a pause in conversation as both sets of eyes searched for the elusive shagorants.
`It`s a beautiful day,` Leonard eventually said, looking around him. `I love these clear blue skies. It makes me feel so good.`
`Yes, it`s very special … have another strawberry.`
And then completely out of context with their conversation, Leonard confessed, `I don`t go to church, you know. But I do believe in God.`
`Good what? Good that I don`t go to church, or good that …`
`Both,` interrupted the Cardman.
Leonard was surprised. `Good that I don`t go to church?` he questioned. He was expecting some judgemental reply from this rather unusual character sitting beside him, and, maybe, if truth be told, he was hoping for it. But no. All he said was `good`.
Then the Cardman qualified his answer a little. `Leonard, you must be true to yourself. The time may not be right for you at the moment; but, whenever it is, there`ll be a welcome awaiting you.` And he thought of the hosts of angels ready to rejoice when one more lost soul is found.
He offered another strawberry. Appearing to be changing the subject, and holding a piece of fruit close to his eye in adoration, he said, `these are my favourites of all fruit. In my opinion, there`s nothing to compare with a naturally grown strawberry in its proper season. The taste is amazing. But I`ve often wondered if we all taste them the same. You like strawberries, Leonard, I can tell, and I assume you enjoy the same flavour as I do. But I will never know for certain, and you can`t tell me either because you don`t know how they taste to me.`
`That`s very interesting. I`ve never thought of that before,` Leonard said, just a little confused.
`And, another thing,` the Cardman continued, `the best strawberries are the ones in their natural season; not those forced ones in the winter. The season is actually very short – unless you also grow Autumn strawberries. They start ripening in early April, but they are well over by the middle of July. Mm … quite soon, I suppose.`
`So the moral of the story is “make the most of them while you can”,` Leonard said. `It`s like life, itself, isn`t it?` now realising how deeply he was thinking and feeling a little embarrassed and surprised by his openness to this virtual stranger.
Leonard stood up. `I`ve got to go; really good to have spoken with you,` and he held out a hand to which the Cardman responded.
`One thing before you go, Leonard. Do you realise you`ve just been to church?`
Leonard sat down again. `How do you mean?` he asked.
`Well, we`ve `sung` our praises by openly appreciating the natural beauty all around us. You`ve heard my sermon about strawberries. And we`ve shared a meal together. In a very simple way, that`s Church.
Leonard looked at the Cardman in astonishment. `But you didn`t mention God?` he asked.
`No. But you did!`