The Radcliffe Singers’ Christmas concert was a selection of pieces from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. It was not a work I was very familiar with, but as soon as Lisa told me about it I borrowed a copy from the library and listened to it all the way through.
“It’s a different sort of work for you, isn’t it?” I said to her one evening when she dropped over to our house for a cup of tea. “Baroque isn’t really your thing”.
She frowned thoughtfully; “You’re probably right”, she agreed. She gave me a grin; “I probably like the fact that it’s in German. There are only two or three of us in the choir that actually speak German”.
“I was thinking about that when I was listening to it. You do hear the odd Gaelic song in Celtic music, but most of us folkies aren’t used to the idea of listening to songs in a foreign language; the stories are too important to us. But it’s pretty common in classical music, isn’t it?”
She nodded; “Italian opera, Latin church music”.
“You would have understood the Christmas Oratorio pretty well, though, wouldn’t you?”
“My German’s not as good as yours, but I got most of it”.
The concert was the week after our conversation about Mickey and Colin, and I could see immediately that she was still thinking about that. Her greeting to me that night was friendly enough, but it was guarded, and she didn’t make much eye contact. Emma felt it right away; she put her hand on my arm, and as Lisa moved away to talk to someone else she whispered, “What’s with her?”
“She’s still upset about last Sunday afternoon”.
“Right”. She glanced up at me; “Are you okay?”
“Yeah – a little sad, but basically okay”.
The music, of course, was excellent; the Oxford Sinfonia was accompanying the Radcliffe Singers again, and the acoustics in St. Mary the Virgin Church were superb. Emma’s German was a lot more rudimentary than mine, but I could see she wasn’t worrying about it; she was simply sitting back, enjoying the music. Wendy was beside me, and at some point during the evening I felt her take my hand; we sat like that for the rest of the concert.
We went to the reception afterwards in the Old Library, and as we were standing around with wine glasses in our hands Wendy glanced over at Lisa, who was talking quietly with Emma and Alanna McFarlane. “A year ago at the Radcliffe Singers’ Christmas concert was when you met Lisa for the first time”, she said.
“I was thinking about that last night. It was later in the month, though, wasn’t it? The Sunday before Christmas”.
“Yes”. She smiled at me; “It’s been quite the year”.
“Yes it has”. I put my arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the forehead; “I’m pretty sure I feel younger than I did this time last year!”
She laughed, her eyes shining at me; “Looking pretty good there, Mr. Masefield!”
“Looking pretty good yourself, Miss Howard!”
Owen came up to us from behind, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You two are looking ridiculously happy; do you think you could dial it down a bit?”
“It’s Christmas, Doctor Foster”, I replied, “and I’ve just spent two hours listening to Christmas music”.
“I understand German”.
“So you do”.
“What did you think of it?”
“They were very good. It’s not really my thing, but I could tell they were very good”. He nodded at Lisa; “Are you going to talk to her?”
“Do you think I should? My instinct is to let her come to me”.
He shrugged; “You could be right, I suppose”.
“On the other hand, it might not hurt to let her know that as far as I’m concerned, the door’s open”.
“That’s what I was thinking”.
At that moment Emma and Alanna moved off to talk to one of Alanna’s other friends in the choir. Lisa was standing by herself, looking around, and I grinned and said, “Looks like now might be a good time”.
Wendy spoke softly; “Don’t push her, Tom”.
“I won’t”. I handed her my empty wine glass, walked over to Lisa with my hands in my pockets, and said, “Hey, you”.
She gave me an awkward glance; “Hey”.
“You guys were brilliant”.
“How did you feel about it?”
“Mostly good; I didn’t make any major mistakes”.
“It sounded pretty good to me”. I hesitated, and then said, “Are you okay?”
She was quiet for a moment, her arms crossed in front of her, and then she said, “I’m not trying to be difficult, Tom”.
“I like feeling safe”.
“I get that. There was a time in my life when I moved across an ocean and halfway across another continent so I could feel safe”.
She stared at me; “I suppose you did, didn’t you?”
She gave a heavy sigh; “Mark was here tonight”.
I was surprised; “He was?”
“He was sitting near the back. I didn’t notice him until close to the end”.
“Did you talk to him?”
“No – he didn’t come over for the reception. I think he left right after the concert”.
“Are you scared?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s angry”.
“Do you think he’ll try to meet you?”
She shrugged; “I really have no idea. I’ve had no contact with him at all since that night in my room, and I changed my email and mobile number right after that”.
She looked down. “I don’t really know what I’d do if he got in touch with me; it’s been a long time since I’ve thought very much about him”.
“He got a fine and a community service order, didn’t he?’
“He did”. She gave me a sudden smile, and I knew she was ready to change the subject. “So”, she said with a cheerfulness that I knew she wasn’t feeling, “have you got plans for Christmas?”
“Well, Jenna Reimer’s arriving December 23rd”.
“Oh, right – Emma told me about that. She’s rather excited”.
“Yeah; we’d hoped there might be a few more Reimer relatives, but Sally’s still attached to the idea of Christmas at home, and Joe and Ellie feel they should stay to be with her and Will”.
“Emma told me she and Jenna want to do some looking around together”.
“Jenna loves her history”.
“And we’ve got lots of it!”
“Yeah, we do. They’re making plans for a couple of days in London. What about you? Are you going down to Essex with your mum and Colin?”
She nodded; “We’re leaving on the 22nd, but you probably already know that”.
“Going for a week, right?”
“Yes. I’m actually looking forward to it this year”.
“I hear Mum’s going to church with you again this Sunday”.
“That’s what I hear, too”.
“Are you making a Baptist out of her?”
I laughed softly; “I doubt that very much. But listen – why don’t you and Colin come and join us at our place afterwards for lunch?”
She grinned; “Not a Sunday dinner?”
I smiled awkwardly. “Don’t tell anyone, but I got so used to having my main meal in the evening when I lived in Canada that I find Sunday dinners hard to take”.
She laughed softly; “Have you told your mum?”
“Oh no – it means a lot to her!”
“Yeah, I could tell”.
“So what do you think?”
“I’ll talk to Colin; I think he’ll probably say yes”.
“Sounds good. Oh – Sarah might be there too”.
“Your niece Sarah?”
“Yes; she’s joining us for church”.
“I didn’t know she went to church?”
“She doesn’t, or at least she hasn’t up til now. But she and Emma have been talking”.
“Ah”. She gave me a thoughtful look; “Is your dad okay? I thought I might see him tonight”.
“He really wanted to come, but he wore himself out last weekend, and he’s been struggling all week. He’s getting more and more frail every day. He’d be glad to see you, though”.
She nodded; “I’ll come out to visit him before we go to Essex”.
She glanced over to where Wendy and Owen were still standing, talking quietly together. “Can I ask you a really personal question?”
“Ask anything you want; I’ll tell you if I don’t want to answer”.
“Are you and Mum in love?”
“We haven’t used that word yet”.
She was still watching Owen and Wendy. “She’s happy with you, Tom”, she said quietly.
“I’m happy with her, too”.
Emma had mentioned to me a couple of days before that Sarah was interested in coming to church with us. I raised an eyebrow; “This obviously hasn’t come out of the blue for you?”
“No – we’ve been talking about it for a while”.
“More about God, and Jesus, and why I’m a Christian and stuff”.
“You didn’t tell me about that”.
“She asked me not to”.
“Oh? How come?”
“She only wanted to talk about it with me”.
I nodded slowly; “Good for you”.
“I don’t think she’s there yet, but she’s curious”.
“I wonder what the rest of her family will think?”
“She hasn’t mentioned it to them yet, either”.
Our church was not as full as usual that Sunday, since the university term was over and a lot of the students had gone home for the Christmas vacation. The hymns that day were mainly traditional Christmas carols, and I was surprised to see Alanna at the front of the church, playing the piano. “Audrey’s home with the ‘flu”, Kathy McFarlane explained to me, “and Patrick’s gone home for the holidays, so Alanna stepped in at the last minute”.
“I didn’t know she did this kind of thing”.
“She doesn’t very often, but she doesn’t mind”.
We had a guest preacher that day, a young faculty member from Regent’s Park College who was a regular member of our church; she had a very different style from Jim, but I enjoyed her sermon on one of the gospel passages about John the Baptist. She surprised me by preaching a shorter sermon and having a question and answer section at the end of it; for a moment there was silence in the church, but then the questions and comments started coming thick and fast, and after about ten minutes she glanced at her watch, smiled at us apologetically and said, “Well, we’ll have to leave it there, or some of you will be going home to a cold dinner!”
“I liked that”, Wendy whispered to me as we got to our feet for the closing hymn; “I’ve never seen that done in a church service before”.
“Rob used to do it now and again in Meadowvale”, I replied. “Apparently in the early years of the Anabaptist moment it was a lot more common. Mind you, sermons were more participatory in those days, too”.
“Some of those questions were really good”.
“Yes, they were”.
When we got back to our place Lisa and Colin were already there. The young people volunteered to put lunch on the table, and I glanced at Wendy and said, “Do you mind if we step out back for a minute?”
“That would be fine”.
“Anything you need us to do?” I asked Emma.
“No, but this won’t take long – ten minutes at the most”.
“Ten minutes will be all we need”.
It was cold outside, but Wendy and I were both wearing thick sweaters, and we walked slowly toward the back of the yard with our hands in our pockets. “What’s up?” she asked.
“Mickey called me again last night; he was anxious to know whether I’d thought any more about his request”.
“Going to London to talk to him?”
“What did you say?”
“I reminded him that I’d asked him not to call me. He got a bit defensive at that point; he said he’d assumed I was putting him off because he hadn’t heard from me”.
“What did you say?”
“I told him again that my dad’s dying and my time’s rather taken up with that. He wasn’t very satisfied with that answer”.
“So what are you thinking?”
I shrugged; “I suspect he’s going to keep pestering me unless I go, but I’m really not happy with the idea. I honestly can’t see the point of it”.
“That was going to be my next question”.
“He says he wants to talk to me about Colin, ‘man to man’, but I already told him I don’t like that way of doing things. I told him I thought it was wrong to exclude women when women are involved in the situation”.
“Thank you”. She took my arm; “So what are you going to do?”
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to go, but I haven’t told him that yet – or at least, not definitely. I told him not to expect to hear from me until after Christmas. He wasn’t very happy with that”.
“I’m really sorry he’s pestering you like this”.
I shook my head. “If you and I are going to have any sort of relationship with each other, I’m obviously going to have to have some contact with him, since he’s still involved in Colin’s life. And I really don’t mind talking to him, but I’m going to do it on my terms”.
“Be careful, okay? He can be angry and violent”.
“I’ll be fine, Wendy. I won’t do anything stupid, and I’ll always talk to you after he’s talked to me. I told him that last night; I told him he should assume that everything he said to me would be repeated to you”.
“Thank you”. She stopped and turned to face me. “Do you think you could tell Lisa that, too?”
“Do you think I should?”
“She needs to know you’re with her, Tom. She really likes you and she feels safe with you, but you gave her a big shock the other week. She knew you believed in nonviolence and loving enemies, but I don’t think it had ever occurred to her that you wouldn’t pick sides between her and Mickey”.
I shook my head. “I am definitely picking sides between her and Mickey, but I’m not going to be needlessly confrontational with him”.
“I get that, but the subtleties of that approach might be somewhat lost on her. Her reaction to him is completely visceral”.
“I understand. Sure – I’ll talk to her”.
The conversation with Lisa didn’t start well.
I asked her if she would step upstairs with me to my office for a minute. She looked at me quizzically, but I smiled and said, “I’ll tell you up there, okay?”
I led her up the stairs and into the office. She glanced at the packed bookshelves as I closed the door and sat down on the swivel chair by the desk. “Nice collection!” she said.
She took her seat in the easy chair; “What’s up?”
“I wanted to tell you that Mickey called me last night”.
She gave me a withering glance; “You’ve been talking to Mickey?”
“Actually, I’ve been trying not to talk to Mickey”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, he called me on Thursday after the court denied his petition; he was a little pissed off and he wanted to vent”.
“Are you buddies now, that he rings you to vent?”
“No – far from it”.
“So what else did he want?”
“He’s rather concerned that your mum and I might conspire together to keep him away from Colin”.
“I hope you told him that’s exactly what you were doing?”
“No, I didn’t say that”.
“Because it’s not my style to be pointlessly confrontational”.
“So what did you tell him?”
“Well first, let me give you a fuller report of what he said to me”.
“He was calling from the hospital – his wounds are still healing. He asked me if I had been the one who persuaded Wendy to deny his petition. I told him that at first I’d been in favour of the petition being allowed, but when I saw that it was pointless – Colin wasn’t going to go – and that you were terrified at the prospect, I changed my mind and told your mum I thought she should oppose it. He got quite agitated when I told him that, but I calmed him down a bit.
“Then he said he knew at the moment he wasn’t allowed to see Colin, and he was prepared to admit that to a certain extent that was his fault…”
“‘To a certain extent!’ That was big of him!”
“I understand, Lisa. Can you let me finish, please?”
“Sorry – I just…”
She looked away for a moment, and I could see she was struggling to control her emotions. I waited, and eventually she looked up again. “I’m sorry – go on”.
“He said he’d always hoped that his separation from Colin wouldn’t last forever, and that when Colin got a bit older the two of them would be able to have some sort of relationship again. I…”
“That is never going to happen! Colin’s scared of him – surely you can see that? I hope you told him to keep his fucking arse as far away from Colin as possible?”
I looked at her steadily. “Hi – this is me, Tom Masefield. I love you and I am not your enemy. I’m saying that because for a moment there I thought you’d mistaken me for someone else”.
She stared at me in silence for a moment, and then sighed and shook her head. “I’m behaving like an idiot, aren’t I?”
I reached across then and put my hand on hers. “You’re behaving like a person who’s been badly hurt, and I understand that. I just don’t think Mickey and me having a shouting match every time we talk is going to accomplish anything”.
“I’d rather you didn’t talk to him at all, actually”.
“I know that, but short of me changing my phone number at least once a month, that’s probably not going to happen”.
She nodded slowly; “Right”.
“Can I go on?”
“Yes; I promise not to interrupt you any more”.
“Thank you. Well, he asked me if he and I could get together and talk about these things ‘man to man’; I told him that was a rather dated way of thinking and I wasn’t prepared to exclude women from the conversation if they were involved. He got a little agitated about that, and the long and the short of it is that he’s still trying to persuade me to come down to London and have a talk with him”.
“And are you going to go?”
“I don’t think so, but I haven’t told him definitely yet. I did tell him I was rather busy with a dying father, and the chances of me getting away to London were very slim, but he wouldn’t let me off the phone until I’d at least promised to think about it and get back to him. He called me again last night to find out how my thinking was going”.
“What did you tell him?”
“I reminded him that the last thing I’d told him on the phone on Thursday was that he shouldn’t call me – I would call him. But of course, he was getting a little impatient with me”.
She snorted; “Big surprise! Two days is a very long time for Mickey to wait when he wants something!”
“I know. Anyway, I told him not to bug me until after Christmas – that I’d get back to him after the holidays. I don’t think he was happy with that answer, but I wasn’t giving any more ground, and so eventually he agreed”.
“And – that’s it”.
“So why are you telling me this?”
“Because I promised your mum I’d tell her every time Mickey talked to me. Actually, I told him that, too – I told him he should assume every word he said to me would be repeated to her”.
“I bet he wasn’t pleased with that!”
“Not exactly, but that’s okay. Anyway, your mum suggested I should bring you into the loop, so I have”.
“Thank you – I appreciate that”.
“She also suggested there might be some doubt as to whose side I’m on here”.
“Doubt on my part, you mean?”
“Yes, and I want to be absolutely clear about that. I have a conviction about nonviolence and reconciliation, but that doesn’t mean I’m impartial here; I’m not. I know you’re not entirely clear about how you see me, but I’m not ambivalent about that at all – I see you as my daughter, and I’ve got your back. Whenever you need me, I’ll be there for you. That’s a promise”.
She nodded, and I saw the emotion on her face. “Thank you”, she whispered.
“Not at all”.
She frowned thoughtfully; “I don’t mean to send ungrateful – believe me, I’m not – but can I ask you exactly what this conviction about nonviolence and reconciliation means?”
“You’re asking me if I would use lethal violence to stop Mickey from hurting you, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am”.
“Well, that’s a tough one”.
“It didn’t sound tough to me; it sounded as if you were completely opposed to it, which is why I was a bit confused when you told me you’d got my back”. She smiled at me sheepishly; “I’m not trying to be difficult…”
“No, it’s a fair question, and it’s one we’ve often discussed over the years in study groups at our church. And Mennonites have had to struggle with it in some pretty lethal situations, too”.
“I suppose; that’s why your relatives left Russia, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Personally, I’m not opposed to using restraining force on people in dangerous situations, but I am opposed to using lethal force. And I hope that if push came to shove, I’d be willing to put my body where my mouth is and stand in the way”.
“But what would that achieve, Tom?”
“The question is, what has the alternative achieved? Violence has always led to violence; it’s never brought an end to violence”.
She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then she nodded. “Okay – thank you; I think I’ve got a better idea now of what you meant”.
“I don’t think I’m quite finished yet, though”.
“In any dealings I have with Mickey, there are going to be two things I’m going to keep in mind. The first is that you and Colin and your mum need to be safe from him. That’s my bottom line. I’ll never say or do anything that would compromise that. I promise you that”.
“Thank you. What’s the second thing?”
“That all other things being equal, if it’s possible to have a peaceful relationship with him rather than a belligerent one, I’ll take that option”.
I sat back in my chair and stretched my legs out. “So – are we good?”
She grinned at me; “You and Emma keep coming out with these lovely Canadian expressions! Sometimes I don’t know what they mean, but I love hearing them, anyway!”
I laughed softly. “‘Are we good?’ means ‘Is everything okay between us?’”
“That’s what I thought”. She got to her feet and stretched out her hand to me. “We’re good”, she said as I took it. “I’m sure I’ll still get emotional at times, and say inappropriate things, but I’ll try not to treat you as my enemy. I know you’re not my enemy, Tom”.
I got to my feet; “Can I give you a hug?” I asked.
“I love getting hugs from you”.
I put my arm around her and held her close. After a moment she whispered in my ear. “You know what you were saying about me not being clear about how I see you?”
“Well, that’s not true any more. Actually, it hasn’t been true for a while”.
I stepped back and looked into her face. “Oh?”
“I see you as my father. Is that alright with you?”
I nodded and pulled her close again. “More than alright”, I whispered.