Call Me Catholic!
God puts adds in lost and found
by Michael McGirr
You can't call yourself a Catholic until you've lost something important. A few weeks ago, I noticed that my wedding ring was missing. My first reaction was surprise.
I am not a person who, apart from the occasional holy medal, has ever worn jewellery. It always looks uncomfortable to me. Watching Mr Howard claim victory on Saturday night, my attention was drawn to the enormous bangle on his daughter's wrist. I was so distracted by this piece of ordnance that I paid less attention than perhaps I might have to the words of the Prime Minister who, I soon gathered, had not lost something important, namely the election. We didn't need his words to know this. The bangle spoke volumes. Every time Mr Howard finished a sentence, his daughter clapped so enthusiastically that the bangle jumped around. The nation held its breath, dreading that if things went on much longer, the wearer might do herself an injury. I admired her obvious regard for her father and have to admit, after Saturday, that this regard is more widely shared than I had thought. I just knew that if my father were ever elected to the top job, I could never wear a bangle by his side.
Nor would I even be able to support him with more subtle jewellery, such as a wind chime hanging from my belly button. Or a coat hanger threaded through five holes in my head. No part of my body has ever been pierced. I have always thought that, if I were to undergo such a procedure, all the gas would escape from the puncture and I'd deflate like a balloon. The expulsion of the hot air from the temple that is my body would have dire consequences. For one, it would mean the end of this column.
It strikes me that concern for our fellow beings has become associated with the wearing of jewellery, although it might be stretching the meaning of that word to use it to describe the little plastic noses we have to put on our faces on red nose day. Apart from red nose day, we have yellow flower day, pink ribbon day and a growing list of others, all of which involve the purchase of temporary adornment in a specific colour. I generally take the option of buying a pen. I then make the point of displaying the pen for the day in the outside pocket of my jacket and shirt so the rest of the world knows what a decent chap I am. Come to think of it, I may as well just buy the badge.
A wedding ring, however, is a different matter and I was happy to wear mine, especially given all the fringe benefits that came with it. For the exchange of rings at our wedding, we chose the words from the Book of Common Prayer: 'with this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.' Both Jenny and I were drawn to the wedding service in the Book of Common Prayer. It is exquisite. It says, for example, that marriage 'was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.' More modern expressions of the same thing seem bland by comparison. The Book of Common Prayer brings dignity and elegance to hum drum realities. Catholics missed out on something because they chose for generations to defame the author, Thomas Cranmer, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII. Cranmer knew both prosperity and adversity himself. The latter was evident, for example, at his execution. This took place in 1556. But Cranmer had also been married. This will comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with his rite for the Solemnization of Marriage. It smells like the real thing.
Having acquired my wedding ring in such auspicious circumstances, I was amazed that it could slip away so silently. It was some time before I noticed it was gone. By that stage I had come back from doing the shopping in Goulburn, 50km from where we live, and was stumped. I kept my hand in my pocket for a while but eventually I had to come clean to my wife about my ineptitude. Showing a positive spirit, Jenny said this was a good thing because it meant my finger was getting thinner and this meant, in turn, that I was losing weight. She immediately fixed me a sandwich to help remedy this situation. But, in truth, we were both disappointed and reminisced for a while about the woman who sold us our rings only a couple of years before. She told us to choose carefully as we'd be wearing them for a long time. She told us she had a ring once which was so uncomfortable that she'd had to divorce her husband to get rid of it.
I was always conscious of my ring, always fiddling with it. But it left without a trace. It reminded me of an old friend who'd been married for over fifty years. She and her husband had a scratchy relationship; the way they irritated each other seemed to keep them young. One morning, our friend woke to find that her husband had died in the night. She commented after that she had been constantly aware of his presence for fifty years. Yet he slipped away without even ruffling the sheets. He had left without so much as a cough or splutter. She found this both comforting and discomforting. On the one hand, she was glad he'd gone peacefully. On the other hand, if she'd known he was going he would have put a few sharp words into his ear to make sure he didn't get off so lightly. She felt, and still feels, the absence of her husband as a presence. Sometimes, I guess, the deepest losses hardly seem to stir the air for anyone else.
I put an advertisement about my ring in the Lost and Found part of The Goulburn Post . As always, there were more things lost than found. My advertisement appeared alongside appeals for missing cats and attempts to find good homes for old cars. Pitching to both the best and worst of human nature, I said 'reward offered before wife finds another bloke.' This brought two responses from a pitying public. The first was from a woman who rang to say that she hadn't found a ring but she had found a set of car keys. Perhaps I was having a day of losing things and had lost those as well. The second caller said that he'd heard a story on the radio about somebody who had a parcel delivered. When he opened the parcel, he found a man's wedding ring. It wasn't mine, of course. It turned out that it belonged to an Australia Post worker. But the caller's message was that there was still hope. As, indeed, there still is.