34. Final Tribute to a Bank Robber
I hadn’t been planning to leave my comfortable home and pleasant lifestyle. I didn’t want to abandon those precious memories of my children’s childhood faces and places, or lose friends with whom I’d shared many happy hours, nor to farewell companions with whom I had learned so much. I didn’t want to turn my back on any of that. But, as I would shortly learn from the Quran; God plans, and man plans, and God verily is the best of planners. #Quran 8:30.
However, since for me God didn’t even exist, I had no idea that, in His planning, He would be taking any interest at all in my own private life. Funny how bad things overtake you just as you think you’re really getting your stuff together.
But then, suddenly, I find I’ve left that ‘successful’ life behind and I’m choosing to live in a council estate with people I never even knew existed, and I’m teaching their Pacifica children.
More than that, I’m beginning to find myself waking up each day with a sense of deep inner contentment, even sometimes, bordering on a sense of ecstasy.
And I’m developing real friendships with a whole range of people I’d never met before, some of whom would have been dismissed as down-and-outs by my previous circle of friends.
And that’s when I met Bryce whom I’ve mentioned in a previous post, and who proceeded to become a regular feature of my special-needs classroom, where he’d turn up in a battered old van, with ever-present cigarette, guitar and dog. It was in that unlikely setting that his true joy in making children happy turned my early suspicions of his intentions into gratitude and then admiration.
As it happened, it was also taking a while to win Bryce’s own confidence in me; in his eyes I was probably a ‘stuck-up’ privileged middle class woman. However, little by little I did win that trust until, over copious amounts of coffee, he relaxed enough to begin sharing glimpses of his earlier life before discovering Baha’u’llah; accounts of an absent father and often absent mother who was, as my grandmother would have delicately put it, ‘no better than she needed to be.’ Accounts of a long procession of female ‘friends’ and various alarming scrapes with the law.
One of these stories, ‘enhanced’ or not I couldn’t tell, was of a robbery carried out late one night with a few of his similarly disreputable mates.
It was only after they’d succeeded in getting away with an enormously heavy safe that they were faced with the dilemma of how to open it, for none knew the combination. After much drunken argument, they decided that the easiest method was to simply toss it down a steep bank somewhere, in the hope that the crashing and banging would cause the vault to open. So far, so good.
But instead of the hoped for outcome, to their alarm, the bank-safe veered off course and ended up crashing into the roof of someone’s home below from where, the newspapers reported on the following day, it had landed to the great surprise of the homeowners, fair and square in their toilet.
When you knew Bryce long enough, the stories of his life ceased to surprise. And soon I learned why he was so happy to spend time in my rowdy, hyperactive, special-needs class which most people felt cautious to even enter.
It turned out that when he was little, this very class, in this very school, in this very rundown neighbourhood where I was now teaching, had been his own class. And he loved me for being the kind of teacher he would have loved so much, had he been fortunate enough at the time to have found one.
Throughout all Bryce’s non-conformist life I never detected any real malice towards any of the ‘victims’ of his various activities. The deeply thoughtful philosopher whom I now knew was a transformed man, no longer an illiterate special-needs drop-out trouble-maker, but a respected recorded songwriter and more.
He told me (in much less refined terms) that the continually unsatisfied relationships he had been seeking in that succession of women was the love he finally discovered in his recognition of Baha’u’llah. He came to realise that, in all that time, he had really been trying to replace the missing love and tenderness of his elusive mother, and these qualities were the understanding, forgiveness and tenderness that he had finally found in this Bahai Messenger.
And so it was that, after a long and unrequited search, an illiterate nobody became a devout student of those same literary gems that I too finally found in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, and about which it was the joy of his heart to share with others.
Amongst the valuable lessons I learned from my time with this unique soul was not to be prejudiced about someone because of their past or their appearance, nor be quick to doubt the capacity of another soul, or to assume that the least likely person could not open to learning about Baha’u’llah.
It seems somehow fitting to me that the very rest home from where Bryce eventually left this mortal life is the same rest home where I have now spent the last five years of my own life and from where it is probable that I too will eventually take my flight.
Bryce...I feel your spirit still in this place and I know I’ll have been in good company to the end.