109. Tribute to a Bank Robber
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
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 at that time God didn’t even exist, I had no idea that, in His planning, He would be taking any interest at all in my own 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. Together Bryce, Paul and our dear friend Suzi gave me a lasting love and commitment to serving the Baha'i Faith.
Now, someone might say that, since the capacity and aptitude of souls differ, how can one reproach the wicked for it is their capacities themselves that are different. Such difference in capacity must inevitably lead to a difference in character.140 But this is not so, for capacity is of two kinds: innate and acquired. The innate capacity, which is the creation of God, is wholly and entirely good—in the innate nature there is no evil. The acquired capacity, however, can become the cause of evil. For example, God has created all men in such a fashion, and has given them such a capacity and disposition, that they are benefited by sugar and honey and are harmed or killed by poison. This is an innate capacity and disposition that God has bestowed equally upon all men. But man may begin little by little to take poison by ingesting a small quantity every day and gradually increasing it until he reaches the point where he would perish if he were not to consume several grams of opium every day, and where his innate capacities are completely subverted. Consider how the innate capacity and disposition can be so completely changed, through variation of habit and training, as to be entirely perverted. It is not on account of their innate capacity and disposition that one reproaches the wicked, but rather on account of that which they themselves have acquired. 'Abdul'Baha
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 a need for palliative care necessitated me to spend almost a decade 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 that we will enjoy one another's good company again even to the end.
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