A pop up on LinkedIn is how my memory of him gets reawakened. He, O, is an old friend whom I haven’t spoken to in a very long time, far longer than I care to admit.
It is with some trepidation I send a request to connect and a message. That gets accepted, following which we exchange a few messages, ending with obtaining his phone number.
A forty five minute conversation on the phone today reminds me of all what I have missed from that friendship. All things being equal we plan to catch up properly when next I am in London, wives, kids and all…
The plan — if stopping at the B&M across town and picking up two wall mounted shelves and a spirit level with no inkling of what to do with either counts as one — was to spend the evening measuring, marking, drilling and putting up two shelves. The objective was to provide storage for books, a journal and my phone in a location accessible from my bed. I was certain it would be an absolute doodle, given my decent score in woodwork in my secondary school days, and my machine shop expertise during my undergrad.
It took only a few minutes before it became apparent that I had both underestimated the level of skill required and overestimated my previous knowledge. By then I had already mucked up the first location I had identified, with only my refusal to admit defeat driving me on.
I just about got there with a functional product in the end, poorly aligned edges and simmering frustration notwithstanding. For what it is worth, I suspect my time would have been better used paying someone else to do it whilst I focused my energies elsewhere.
Amidst the rolling, changing landscape that is my recollection of growing up, two things remain as immutable constants; the university communities I spent most of my growing years till turning seventeen and churches— searching, attending, serving in, and leaving them.
In my first memories of church, my father and I are in Benin City, at the Air Force officers christian fellowship. The University Chapel in the next town, Ekpoma, becomes church for the five or so years following our relocation; the desire being to bring both sides of the family together for good. The trigger for a change of state is, in my memory, an acrimonious debate about what direction to take the chapel in, one which leads to us joining up with a fledgling pentecostal startup in a city further north, eventually leading to us being foundation members of a branch of that church, when it rolls into our corner of the world.
Along with this journey through various churches, my folk remain active in a number of less formal organisations — mainly the local scripture union and the campus student christian fellowship — which tie up our Sunday evenings.
In retrospect, it seems that the overarching driver for each church move, bar the one forced on us by the family situation, was a sense of seeking more — more connection, greater community and a more pentecostal reality, the Chapel and the church we helped found (CwHF) being the opposite ends of the spectrum. Where the Chapel was prim, proper and very much in the mould of a traditional Anglican Church, CwHF lived at the bleeding edge of Nigerian pentecostalism, complete with hand clapping, loud, lengthy preaching, tears during worship and speaking in tongues.
Far from having repudiated that charismatic, pentecostal upbringing, I find that the expression of church I am most drawn to these days is focused more on being useful in the real world. Social justice, a safe space to wrestle with doubts without being judged and freedom to engage in the more introspective form of worship I increasingly crave have become the determining factors in what places I choose to worship in.
I suppose in a sense I am a prodigal of sorts, God does love all His children though, that much I still hold to.
A year ago if you asked me how well I enjoyed my own company, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would place myself somewhere between 9 and 9.5, the 0.5 my attempt at modesty. Pressed for evidence, I would point to the various things I did alone without so much as a flutter of an eyelid — Football Manager, a substantial list of feeds subscribed to in my Feedly, a number of series I watch obsessively and any number of books I have my nose in from time to time.
That is why I find the sense of listlessness I begin to feel mid-way through my two weeks away from work doubly disconcerting. Far from being painstakingly planned and flawlessly executed, the two week holiday happens to me suddenly, the result of a perfect storm of failing to request the days (hoping I can convince S to go away with me for a week) and a month at work which frankly seems to have come from hell. I barely have time to send out the notes from the last meeting on the 21st before I have to leave the building, a compromise which still leaves me having lost three days of holiday.
I do manage to hatch a cunning plan to make the most of the enforced holiday — the first of the weeks till after Christmas up in my corner of Scotland and then a quick hop down south to London till the New Year.
What my plan fails to account for is S’s Spanish jaunt getting off to a dodgy start, the absence of wifi at their lodgings meaning that communication is at a premium, limited to the occasional text message sent by international text. The combination of loads of time on my hand, and a limited number of places I can go to at short notice drives my mind into overdrive, what-ifs, maybes and should haves jostling for primacy in my mind. I find myself twiddling my thumbs, counting the hours and finding little comfort in the things that used to fill my alone time, hardly the most productive or healthy use of my time and energy
This sense of discomfiture at the absence of someone is one of the things I have perhaps struggled most with over the last few months, particularly as this thing with S has evolved. Part of me realises that there is a balance somewhere, between retaining individuality and yet becoming a collective that is greater than the sum of its parts.
I suppose NCIS:LA’s Nell Jones (Renée Felice Smith) captures this most succinctly in the Season 8 Christmas episode, “Tidings We Bring”, when in a conversation over a gift she gives to Eric Beale (played by Barrett Foa), she describes them as pendulums which keep time individually but when placed on the same wall sync up.
For the bank on the corner of King’s and Union which I pass everyday, only stopping to use its ATM on the odd occasion I need cash which has been closed for over a month. A closure I only noticed today because I needed cash.