Birthday — deathday
Today is my 70th birthday, so I’ve completed my allotted threescore and ten years. I don’t know if there will be a victory lap, but it is customary to slow down for it. And, as if a reminder were needed that the race is ending, the day began with news of death.
I was woken up by my cell phone ringing at 2:20 am, but it stopped before I could answer it. Probably some boozy bloke in a shebeen. 076-011-2860. So I lay awake in the dark trying to remember what I was dreaming of before the phone rang. I was in a long dark passage lined with books. Simon was there and we were looking at a book and saying what we didn’t like about it and turned to a section that had something about New Age, and I said I’d seen something worse, and was about to turn to it when the phone rang.
I couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up, at 2:44 and switched on the computer at the wall, and the other cell phone, the Samsung, came on – I’d plugged it in to charge last night, but of course there was no electricity since I’d turned it off when I went to bed. So I looked at it to see what the time was, while the computer was starting up — 2:44 — but there was another missed call there too, at the same time. 076-011-2860. Same time, same number. That is more than a boozy bloke at a shebeen getting a wrong number.
Then there is an SMS telling me that there has been another missed call from the same number. Why doesn’t the phone ring long enough to answer, and then it tells me there’s a missed call? So I send an SMS, asking who’s trying to get hold of me, and it seems that is the mother of Fr Johannes Rakumako, saying that he has died. He has been ill for a long time.
I first met him on 25 September 1999, when August Thamaga, the archishop of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, brought him to see me. He was then known as Colin or Collen, and Thamaga had roped him in to help with services. Nearly two years later they were both baptised into the Orthodox Church by Archbishop Seraphim, and Johannes was sent to the seminary in Nairobi, and later he was ordained and served as a priest in Soshanguve and Tembisa.
But we have already planned to go to a funeral today, of Joy Bidgood. When my mother and Val’s mother and father died within 18 months of each other in 1982-84, Joy Bidgood offered to be a substitute granny for our kids, and they have always called her Granny Joy. She remembered their birthdays and came to events like Guide and Scout enrolments, and sometimes, if we had to go away, they stayed with her.
As the children grew older and became more independent we saw less of her, but she was never forgotten, and we were sorry to hear of her death at the age of 85.
So we won’t be having a big bash to celebrate my birthday. Apart from anything else, it’s Lent, and tonight we hope to go to the Liturgy of the Presanctified at St Nicholas in Brixton, and that means fasting all day to prepare.
My birthday often falls in Lent, and when that happens I usually celebrate it on Pascha, if i remember. Seventy years ago, when I was born, it was Western Easter Sunday. And I had my 11th birthday on Western Easter Sunday as well, and that was the last time. The next time my birthday will fall on Easter Sunday will be in 20 years time, in 2031. And in that year, as in this, Western Easter and Orthodox Pascha will coincide. So then, if I last that long, I can have a big bash, and you can wheel me in in my bathchair, and everyone can ask “Whose that old bloke? He looks really past it.” And then I could pop my clogs in bright week. That would be cool!