Author Alice Sebold wrote a book called The Lovely Bones in which the narrator is a 14 year murder victim called Susie. She observes her family from heaven as they make their way in the world without her. Heaven for Susie looks a lot like her school playground. It has the best swing sets, good friends and counsellors to help her settle in. Every thing she desires appears as soon as she thinks of it. In heaven she was granted her simplest dreams
Now I know it’s not theologically correct but I was reminded of this idea in one day recently as August blended with September. It was one of those perfect days. I noticed a dew on the grass when I got up, and the cool crispness of the early autumn. Later, after breakfasting out with my wife, we went to the shore with our dog. The sun shone, the sea was calm and the dog behaved.
We reached our destination after about 20 minutes walking. A mound of brambles, overlooking the Lough, that brimmed over with blackberries. There followed 90 minutes of silence, and sun and a gentle breeze that was so delicious I could have eaten it.
So plentiful was the harvest that we didn’t mind the scratches and scrapes that you inevitably gather in this exercise. You always know that the reward will be worth it. Wearing stout shoes I stepped up to my waist in the bushes in pursuit of the voluptuous fruit that stained my hands the colour of blood.
With several pounds of berries in our bag we reluctantly left for home and put them straight into the preserving pan and later that evening enjoyed the first blackberry jelly of the season.
It was in the middle of those moments, when the blackberries, plump and sweet were coming off the bush in handfuls that I thought of Susie, the character in Sebold’s novel. Heaven for me at that moment would have been an eternal September.
Thing is, that special time was only possible because I took a day off work to leave my kids to school on the first day of a new term. It was only possible because my kids were safe and secure in their classroom, with their friends, and with teachers who care about them and their education.
God forgive me for ever taking that privilege for granted.
And God, be with those families and teachers in Beslan who grieve and those who still struggle in their pain. And bless those who minister to them as they continue to rebuild lives again in the shadow of that horror.