You, who long pain and sorrow bear …
It was full early when Caroline Grey awoke. As far as her intellect could calculate, she often dreamed and, when she knew she had, she would be retrospectively analytical, regarding dreams as messages with far deeper meanings than the apparent cacophony of irrational events that would fill her mind during those vulnerable times of stillness and quiet. I am a captive audience whilst sleeping, she would observe. But an audience to what?
She looked for hidden meanings that would be divine messages, breaking through the gossamer thin veil between heaven and earth. On this particular morning – a bright, sunny April day that promised so much with the clear call to awaken to the delights of spring – the dream Caroline had experienced was so vivid that, once awake, the wonder of it captivated her. What was it saying?
Over a light breakfast she told David – her husband and greatest friend for the past 27 years – about it . He listened intently, whilst routinely spooning in his cornflakes and occasionally asking her to repeat herself, ostensibly for clarity, when the sound of crunching obscured her words. In reality, David`s hearing was not as sharp as it used to be. Caroline listened, too. By recalling the dream aloud she could analyse it better. In the brightness of day, she had to prevent herself from a natural desire to discard parts of the dream that now seemed totally irrational and of no meaning. Everything has a meaning, she would tell herself, it`s just that I may not understand it.
`Well, what do you think?` Caroline asked with childlike enthusiasm.
`Mm. This man with the cards in your dream … isn`t he the one who stands in the square outside the Cathedral?` David asked.
`Yes, darling.` Caroline shot a guilty look towards the cork noticeboard, on the wall beneath the kitchen clock, remembering the latest card the man had given her. It was only two days earlier when she had to make a visit to the city to speak with Mrs Lawrence about her daughter`s forthcoming baptism. As she walked across the square, the man had smiled, wished her a good morning, then offered the card to her. It was strange, she thought later, because it said nothing other than a line of poetry, together with a reference from St Matthew`s gospel. She needed to sit down and read the passage of Scripture, but it was rather irritating that he had not written it out fully – hadn`t she got enough to do without sifting through her Bible to read some obscure passage that would probably have no relevance for her?
`Well, I think you should go and ask him the same question,` David concluded, his words bringing Caroline`s thoughts back to the present moment. `It will be interesting if he answers you, word for word, as in your dream.`
`Thank you, David. I will. I`m returning to the city this morning, so I`ll do that.`
It was about five minutes after the Cathedral bells struck eleven times. Caroline was aware she felt nervous. Not because of queuing in the Post Office to renew the road tax on her Fiat Panda, and not because she wanted to speak with the `man with the cards`, whom she had observed was, as usual, deeply ensconced in talking to passers by. But, it was the meeting of the local Women`s Institute that bothered her. It promised to be a difficult meeting, with some complex people, who were more set in their ways than the statue of Richard Lander in Lemon Street.
She left the Post Office and walked up to the Cardman who was now alone. He immediately recognised her, gave her a genuine smile whilst handing her a card.
`Have you looked up that reference, yet?` he asked, eagerly, referring to the card he had given her two days before. He knew what the reply would be.
Caroline smiled, covering her obvious embarrassment. `Well … actually I have been really busy …`
`Ah,` the Cardman laughed, `you`ve hidden it away, or just dropped it in the bin,` he teased her.
`I`ve done nothing of the sort,` she instantly replied, haughtily, feeling a little hurt at the Cardman`s assumption. `It`s pinned on my noticeboard, waiting for an opportune time when I can give it the attention it deserves.` She looked at the mischievous twinkle in the Cardman`s eyes and realised what he was doing. She laughed. `You`re teasing me!`
`Would I do such a thing?` he responded.
`Well, Mr Man with the Cards,` she said with mock authority, `I have actually come here to ask you something quite serious.`
The Cardman looked at her with concern. `What can I do for you?`
`I wonder what you would say if someone asked you if it mattered whether your cards were actually read by anyone or just discarded as irrelevant?`
`Is that your question?` he asked, seriously.
He looked at her, smiled, and quietly replied, `I truly believe I have been asked to do this work by God. What happens after I have given out the cards is not for me to know. It is in my Father`s hands, not mine.`
Caroline looked at him, open-mouthed. `That is what you said in my dream last night,` she said, astonished.
`Giving cards is only one way of passing on the messages of God. Through dreams is another,` the Cardman replied. `What do you think this is telling you?`
`I`ve no idea.`
`Can I offer you a suggestion?`
`Please do,` Caroline replied with a nod, intrigued.
`Well, I can see that you are a Minister of the Church.`
Caroline instinctively touched her clerical collar. `Yes, I`m a Methodist,` she confirmed.
`Well, you are an experienced preacher. Am I right?`
`Yes. About 30 years,` Caroline replied, aware of feeling rather transparent and vulnerable.
`Clearly, you`re having a difficult time in your ministry,` the Cardman continued, `you`re unsure whether the message you are giving to others is having any effect upon their lives – or bringing new people into the Kingdom, or helping others to journey deeper in their relationship with their God.` The Cardman paused before adding, kindly, `You are worrying too much about the outcome. That is God`s concern.`
Caroline was speechless. How could this man know so much about her, and be so perfectly on target with his analysis? A champion archer could do no better.
`Read the card I`ve just given to you,` the Cardman encouraged her, gently.
Caroline looked at the photograph of the beautiful pink camellia, and then turned it over. She read the words, thoughtfully. `How do you know these things?`, she asked, suppressing a sudden impulse to kneel down before him.
`Thank you so much`, she added, knowing that she had been touched by something far greater than this world could ever give her.
`May God bless you,` he said as they parted, her footsteps, light and dreamlike, leading her towards the meeting that she really did not want to attend.
I can`t go straight to the meeting, Caroline thought. Instead, she walked past the library and slipped quietly into the large Methodist Church, its modern-façade offering a permanent welcome. She needed space to reflect upon all that had happened in just those few minutes talking to the Cardman. She sat down on one of the comfortable, blue cushioned seats, feeling full of praise and thanksgiving for her precious God who, in some mysterious way, had revealed that He did care about her, after all.
Her mind focused upon the many times she had preached in that place; had stood behind the lectern and spoken deeply – often so personally – about what mattered more in her life than any other thing. She was passionate about her God; about the words of the Bible that pointed her to the Truth. She had imparted so much of her own reason for faith that she constantly felt vulnerable, like public property to be openly scrutinised.
But where had all those words gone? Had they landed somewhere safe and found refuge in someone`s heart, or been ignored, or easily forgotten? Her words; so often deep words of testimony – had they been rejected and left to rot? Is that why she had the dream? Was this burden becoming a barrier, festering like an untreated wound? Well, she thought, it has now been treated. The burden is now with God, not me.
`The Father has touched me today,` she whispered with a deep sigh. And remembered another time when she was convinced He had spoken to her. Not that there were any words. It was early morning when she sat on the rocks of a tiny Cornish fishing cove and looked out to a calm sea; the stunning sunrise a brilliant orange ball. She looked at the horizon and felt totally at home – alone with nature. Her prayer of heartfelt thanksgiving for the life she had been given was silent. Words were unnecessary and she contemplated the beauty of creation. Then, suddenly, she experienced a feeling of belonging. It was so vivid and strong, as if God had enwrapped her in His loving arms and – just for a fleeting moment – told her how much He loves her; how much she matters. Caroline belongs to Him. It was just a moment`s reassurance, but intense enough for her to realise what was happening. She had been touched by the Almighty. It was that same feeling she felt now, some eight years later. Kindness; acceptance; belonging, all flowed from that man she had just seen. He understood her intimately. How was that possible? Unless …
She was aware of tears welling up in her eyes. She looked, through the mist, at the card he had given her, and tried to focus upon the words that spoke directly to her. How did he know? How could he know … unless? No, that is impossible!
A welcoming voice softly spoke to her. He had entered the church a yard or two behind Caroline and, after giving her some space to be alone, decided to quietly join her.
`Hello, love,` he said in his distinctive northern accent. She turned towards him and he saw her tears. Instinctively, he placed his right hand on her shoulder.
No questions were asked. Just, `can I pray with you?` spoken in a whisper.
`Please do,` Caroline replied, without hesitation.
It was nearing five o`clock when Caroline arrived back at her spacious bungalow in Threemilestone, just to the north of Truro. She had given no thought to making dinner and was relieved when David announced it was all prepared.
`It`s been a bizarre day,` Caroline told him when they both sat down at their pine dining table, large enough to seat eight.
`How did your meeting go with the WI?` David ventured to ask.
`Surprisingly well. I really didn`t want to go, especially after speaking to that man with the cards …`
`Ah! You spoke with him?` David`s interest heightened.
`Yes. He offered me another card. Look at this,` and she passed it to him, having scrabbled around in her shoulder bag to find it.
David read it. He looked at Caroline, puzzled. `Did he know about your dream before he gave this to you?`
`Not from me, David.`
`Then, how did he know?`
`That`s what I`ve been wondering. He actually answered my question before I had asked it.`
David stopped eating and thought about the strange scenario – Caroline has a dream about the `man with the cards`, goes into Truro to ask him about it, and he gives her the answer without her even asking him.
`Is he telepathic?` David pondered.
`Possibly; I don`t know. He seems to look right through you as if searching your soul. It`s very disconcerting.` Caroline thought about him for a moment. `I`m sure he`s a man of God, with very special gifts.` And then she told David how she could not face going straight to the meeting after speaking with the Cardman. `So I went to Union Place and sat in the Church for a while. And I pondered for sometime, and I wrestled with the possibility that he`s …`
`Go on,` he urged, `who do you think he is?`
Later that evening, Caroline finally laid her guilt to rest by removing the card that was pinned to the noticeboard in the kitchen. She read the words. It just said “You, who long pain and sorrow bear, praise God and, on Him, cast your care.` And there was a Biblical reference Matt 15:21-28. She hastily collected a Bible from her study and flipped through the pages. She was not familiar with the exact reference but, when she read it, stopped abruptly. `Rebecca!` she blurted out. `David, he knows about Rebecca.`
David looked up from the West Briton, his thoughts suddenly being extracted from the dispute over excessive parking charges at the local hospital to their daughter`s name. `What`s the problem?` he asked, concerned. `Is there something wrong with Becky?` he added, without thinking.
Caroline just looked at him; understood that the mind does not always react rationally to the unexpected. She passed the card to him. He read it – at first glance, the Biblical reference did not mean anything, either. However, the poem did. `This is a verse of a hymn,` he mused. He could hear the melody in his head and dredged out the source quite quickly. `It`s from All Creatures of our God and King. But what`s this Bible reference about?`
Caroline read him the short passage from St Matthew`s gospel. `It`s one of those readings that I`ve always struggled with. On a superficial level it shows Jesus as being utterly unhelpful to the woman. It seems, he even insults her. To be honest, I always skip this bit when I`m leading a Bible Study.`
`Mm. Yes, I know what you mean,` David agreed. `So this is another one of those cards from the chap in Truro?`
`Yes, he gave it to me on Monday. I hadn`t read it until now. Again, it shows how much he knows about us …`
`You mentioned Becky,` David asked, solemnly, `where does she fit in?`
`She`s like the daughter of the woman in the story. Rebecca had been a worry to us for years …`
`Yes, yes … but what`s this man saying to us?` David`s experience as a solicitor tried to get to the core of the matter.
`Can`t you see, David,` Caroline replied, anxiously, `he knows about Rebecca and how I worried about her so long?` She automatically looked towards the glass cabinet in one corner of the lounge; in particular, at the empty top shelf.
David read the words over again and eventually agreed, `it would seem that this man knows more about us and the family than anyone else on earth.`
`I`ve never told a soul how I feel about Rebecca. Have you, David?`
`No, of course not. That`s what we agreed – to keep it to ourselves.`
`So … how does this `man with the cards` know?`
Years of suppressed hurt, released
April had long since passed, but David Grey could not clear his head of the biblical text, written on the first card which his wife, Caroline, had received from the Cardman in April. As a result, he found himself in the city centre, with no business to be done. His errand seemed almost involuntary. With Caroline`s agreement, he had decided to speak with this `man with the cards`, himself. Whilst he generally believed in divine intervention, that sort of thing happened to other people. He wanted to meet this man who had unwittingly, or not, stirred up memories that had been long since buried. David did not want to be reminded of the pain that, as parents, they had endured and suppressed.
On a calm, overcast July day, David entered the crowded Cathedral square and immediately saw the Cardman standing centrally, as Caroline had earlier described. There were people milling around him, like the wasps attracted to empty baked bean cans, used as decoys when he and Caroline went camping in the early years of their married life. That was a long time ago, when money was in short supply for the two students.
The `wasps` were as much of a nuisance, now, as they were then. What David wanted to say to the man was deeply personal. He did not want to be overheard; he hovered close by and waited for his opportunity to speak.
It was a humid day. The Cardman was aware of the perspiration on his forehead and round the back of his neck. It was an uncomfortable sign that he needed to visit the barber shop; he made a mental note to do that as a matter of some urgency.
The visitors to the square were in good spirits, he thought, even though there was a general air of disappointment because of the weather. It was not a day for sun bathing, and many of the people that came his way were exiles from the beach-loving fraternity. He noticed David standing on the periphery, looking quite severe, and perceived he wanted to talk alone. That was not difficult to achieve; all the Cardman had to do was walk towards David and leave his familiar `patch` in the square.
So, the Cardman approached the tall, thin, smartly dressed man in his mid-sixties. `I think you have something to ask me,` he stated as their eyes met.
`Yes, I was waiting for an opportune moment …`
`I`ve brought the moment to you,` the Cardman replied with a warm smile. He sighed, gesturing towards the crowded square, `days like today give me much to do. But … there`s time for everyone, yourself included.`
`Thank you.` David extended a hand to the Cardman, which the other shook, generously, with both his hands. It was a gesture that immediately attracted David to him. Was this really the man Caroline had been talking so much about? He looked so ordinary … her description of him had given David the impression of a kind of super hero or a guru, surrounded by the dreamlike vagueness of an ethereal mist.
But, here he was, just an ordinary-looking man, casually dressed, well shaven, with greying hair that lapped the collar of his white shirt. And his beaming smile was genuine. Not the businessman`s smile that David was so used to – an insincere greeting accompanied by the shaking of a wet fish for a hand.
No, David was certain, this man is authentic.
`I think it best if we go for a walk,` the Cardman suggested. `By the river is a good place to talk.` David nodded in agreement. The two men walked away from the Cathedral square, chatting about the weather and how the summer had, so far, been better than last year but could still be improved upon. They soon reached a quiet place, still within the concrete eyes of the city but with the tranquillity of the river helping it to feel set apart.
`This will be a good place,` the Cardman said, from experience, as they sat down on a wooden bench overlooking the water. `You don`t find many of these at this time of the year,` he added, patting the empty bench as if it were an old friend. He chuckled to himself before looking at David and asking, seriously, `you have something to say to me, I believe?`
`How do you know?` David asked.
`You were standing looking at me for long enough, I could see for myself.`
`No, not that … how did you know that what I want to say is private? Surely, you don`t go to the trouble of walking to this spot every time someone wants to talk with you?` David asked, slightly bewildered by the Cardman`s obvious gift of perception.
`Ah!` the Cardman replied, modestly, `I just know.` David recognised, in the tone of his voice, he should not pursue this line of conversation further. It was like the `man with the cards` had drawn a line under it and was now ready to move on, like having completed the hors d`oeuvres. His next question stunned David into momentary silence.
`How is Caroline?`
David did not say the words that were foremost in his mind. As far as he could remember, this man had never met him before … so how did he know that he was married to Caroline?
Stop analysing this, David thought, just go along with him. There are some things that you cannot understand. This is one of them.
`She is really well, thank you.`
`Good. Although, I suspect, she has been rather troubled by the cards I`ve given her.`
`Challenged might be a better word,` David responded.
`Yes, indeed. If I were to guess, you have come to speak about the first one – the card she pinned on the noticeboard and, as she put it, had been too busy to read. Am I right?`
`And I know what part of the text has inspired your coming to see me …` the Cardman paused, knowing that he had touched upon a raw and extremely sensitive subject. Something, deeply buried, that needed to be carefully brought to the surface before a healing could finally lay it to rest.
The Cardman held his head in his open palms; it was as if all that David had said was also hurting him. He turned to David and asked, `have you forgiven Rebecca?`
`Yes, but … how do you know about Becky?` David was stunned.
There was a pause, during which the Cardman appeared to be analysing the answer. `Have you really forgiven her?` he asked, eventually.
`What more could I have done?` David defended himself. `I told her on the `phone. I wrote to her …`
`Yes, I understand,` the Cardman could see the pain in David`s face as he recalled what had been securely filed away.
`But you, David. Have you, deep down within yourself, forgiven Rebecca for what she had done?` It was asked so gently, quietly. His insistence was in no way confrontational, for David could see in the eyes of the Cardman that he, too, was sharing this agony.
`No.` David realised this was the honest answer. How could it be otherwise? His daughter had lied to her parents for months, had stolen from them, had alienated herself from them as she slipped further and further into the clutches of self-abuse. And, then, finally to …
`And you, David – have you been able to forgive yourself?`
`I haven`t even started,` he whispered. `How can I?` He looked at the Cardman, sensing that this man beside him was like the best friend he had ever known. But … I have only just met you. Why am I talking like this?
It was illogical. David had spent his whole working life dealing with the black and white certainty of other people`s problems. The only `grey areas` were those missing facts, sometimes dishonestly hidden from him, and sometimes genuinely forgotten because they had been filed away. Filed away. Just like Rebecca. David suddenly felt uncomfortable, vulnerable. He had said too much.
He looked at his watch. `I must go,` he said, abruptly.
`You`ve said too much for your liking,` the Cardman responded. His perceptiveness was alarming. How do you know so much about me? David thought.
`Do you pray?` the Cardman then asked him, aiming the question like a dart at a treble.
`Sometimes,` David replied, feeling as prised open as a tin of sardines. `I suppose I leave that sort of thing to Caroline. She`s the professional.`
`There`s no such thing,` the Cardman replied. It surprised David.
`What do you mean?`
`In the eyes of God, there are no favourites. No professionals, as you put it. People are people. Every one has a place in God`s heart.`
`But what about the ones who give their whole lives to God – like hermits or monks and nuns, and bishops …? David challenged him.
`God has no favourites,` the Cardman repeated. `Everyone is special; unique. To God, no-one is greater and no-one is less.`
David could not accept this. `What about the martyrs, those who died for their faith?`
`As I said, no-one is ordinary. God loves you as passionately as He does anyone else.`
`That seems hard on those who gave their lives for Him,` David considered.
`You`re thinking in terms of rewards, David. That`s merely an earthly conception. There are far more wonderful things in store for you than those that your senses can understand now. Life is but a preparation.`
David resisted asking preparation for what? There seemed little point. This man beside him clearly had one foot on earth and one in heaven – or, perhaps, two in the latter! He was astonished how he had allowed himself to talk at such depth to this `man with the cards.` Which reminded him of another question, one that he could use to lighten the conversation.
`So, why haven`t you given me one of your cards?` It was said almost mockingly.
`Do you think you need one, then?` the Cardman returned question for question.
`Probably.` David felt so exposed already that, without pretence, he just asked what he really needed to know. `What do I need to do?`
There was a feeling of finality surrounding the question. The Cardman did not answer it immediately, as if it was so obvious it should not have been asked. No, he looked away from David and focused his eyes upon the gentle ripples on the clear water of the river. For David, it seemed an eternity before the Cardman spoke. But, when he did, it was a non-judgmental, and yet, unexpected reply.
`So, how did you get on in Truro?` Caroline called out to David from the kitchen as she prepared the potatoes for their evening meal. There came no reply from the lounge. When there was still silence after she repeated her question, she dried her hands and went to him. David was sitting in his armchair, seemingly staring into oblivion, his face pale, his eyes misty and red as if he had been crying. Before she could ask him what was wrong, he spoke, dreamlike, with no preamble.
`He knows all about Becky.`
`The man with the cards? You told him about her?`
`I didn`t need to.` David became animated and turned to Caroline. `Who is this man? He`s like no one I`ve ever met in my life!`
Caroline knelt beside her husband, the soft carpet comforting her knees. She could sense his pain and felt her own. Curtains had been pulled back from hidden shame and tragedy; as a result, years of suppressed hurt had suddenly surfaced. Her stomach felt knotted, her mouth dry, abundant tears were ready to dominate her life, again.
`He knows everything,` David whispered. His eyes met with the yawning space in the glass cabinet. He remembered the morning when Caroline realised it was missing. A black day.
`I told him about the Armenian vase. He seemed unmoved except by the reason it was stolen. “Material things are less important than the motive behind their theft,” he said. And, of course, he`s right. Then I told him about the money missing from our bank account.` David looked at Caroline like a little boy lost in a crowd, where everyone around him was at least twice his size. `Again, he seemed to dismiss the crime and focus upon the motive. It made me feel I was wrong, but, perhaps, that`s just my projection. He asked if I had forgiven her; and then asked if I`ve forgiven myself.` David`s words trailed off as he returned to the safety of his oblivion. Caroline stroked his left hand, instinctively showing him her solidarity with all that he had said. She had been with him, through the suffering, through the gradual realisation of their daughter`s addiction to drugs. Caroline had no idea how Becky managed to hide it from them. Most likely, she and David were so enwrapped in their own lives that they paid only cursory attention to their daughter`s development from adolescence to maturity. Maybe, it had all been one huge mistake, and Rebecca had only wanted to rebel against the dominating status quo of her parents. They were so entrenched in life`s not so merry-go-round, that they readily bowed to other people`s needs rather than the one who was, supposedly, closest to them. Indeed, it all seemed clear that her slide down the slippery slope of self abuse was a cry for help. Contrary to general belief, even adults need the attention that is innocently sought by little children. But adults are not so good at asking.
Caroline felt physically sick as the reality of her failures struck her. She stood up and walked to the glass cabinet. `I hate this,` she announced, venomously. `Can we get rid of it? Today!`
`That won`t bring Becky back,` David replied, regretting his words the moment they leapt from his tongue.
`I know that!` Caroline turned on him, yelling. `Nothing will ever bring Rebecca back. We let her down … we sent her to her grave.` And Caroline collapsed into her chair in tears that gushed forth with the power of a summer monsoon.
`Why has he done this to us?` David whispered once Caroline`s anger had subsided.
`That man with the cards,` David said, looking for someone to take responsibility for the unfamiliar chaos that he found himself amidst.
Caroline thought hard. She was not given to making hasty judgements upon people. `I wonder,` she said calmly, `if he knew this all needed to come out …`
The next day
The healing begins …
The sun shone the next day. David and Caroline Grey could see more clearly, again. The glass cabinet had been taken to the council tip and they had moved the remaining furniture around to hide its absence. No, this won`t bring Rebecca back, but it will help us …
It would take David a number of weeks to fully come to terms with the events of the previous day, but he would gradually accept the responsibility of his failures and realise that the Cardman had helped them to be free from the cell that had imprisoned their emotions for so long. They would be able to talk openly together about Rebecca and enjoy the memories of her precious childhood.
From time to time, tears would still dominate their lives, but this would gradually lessen. There would be a sense of having let go of the malignant guilt that had kept Rebecca`s name unspoken.
David thought much about the `man with the cards` and he remembered his final words before they parted on that day when they sat on a bench by the river. They puzzled him at first. But, in time, he understood.
`What do I need to do?` he had asked the Cardman.
And he simply replied, `you need to be free.`
Things to think about
We are introduced to Caroline and David, whose story will continue in the next chapter. But the most important aspect of this chapter is that, unbeknown to Caroline, she is actually being helped to face her tragic past by a stranger; someone who mysteriously knows so much about her and David. She is now facing something that she had hoped had long since been deeply buried within her.
The Cardman, however, is gently guiding her into reconciliation with her past, in order that she may be freed from an unexpressed guilt that has brought her years of constant distress.
To be able to speak openly and honestly with a soul friend, or spiritual director, or someone who is our spiritual accompanier, can free us from all manner of suppressed guilt and pain. The healing of memories needs to be handled so carefully but can, in time, result in a real sense of closure and freedom.