(Since Ben was two we had been living in a very beautiful area of rural France where I had managed to establish a relatively successful antique business.)
It was ten days before Christmas and there was a smattering of snow on the cold ground. We had come over to England in our lorry loaded with antique brass and wooden beds, in the hope to pay for our visit to Ben’s Grandmother through the London bed dealer I had contacted before leaving.
It was the first time we had visited since her move and Ben was thrilled to discover that there was a church dominating the tiny cluster of houses. As soon as he awoke on the first morning he asked if he could visit the ‘chateau’. As my mother was part of the volunteers of church cleaners, she handed me the keys with the usual precautions of locking it up properly and not to loose the keys!
As we strolled the path through the gravestones to the beautiful oak doors Ben was questioning me on the occupants of the ‘chateau’. He was just eight and his Down’s syndrome made everything harder for him to understand.
“Does beast live in chateau mum?” He asked in an intrepid voice, clutching at my coat. He didn’t like being scared and Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast had recently come out on video. He had watched it and been so terrified by the beast that he refused to watch it again however many times I tried to persuade him to, which was quite often as I loved the film!
“No sweet heart the beast doesn’t live here, it’s not a chateau, it’s a church”
How does one explain, as a total non believer, what a church is to an eight year old with a learning disability in the time it takes to walk to the door? In his Catholic school in France he had learnt about Jesus….
“It’s where Jesus lives”
“Well, not all the time…..” Oh God I was getting into something that was going to be hard to explain! “A church is where people come to speak with Jesus and pray”
“Jesus there now, Ben see Jesus?”
“Oh I don’t suppose so, Jesus is very busy you know, he’s probably not in today”
I unlocked the door and we entered the cold and silent church. Ben stood in awe for a moment.
“Wow Jesus house” he murmured. Then off he ran calling Jesus’ name and checking all the dark corners and the doors, most of which were locked. I smiled and watched my precious son in his own little world with the excitement of the possibility of meeting Jesus shining in his face. Having searched behind every heavy curtain and entered rooms that I was sure he should not be entering, he came back to me with disappointment in his eyes.
“Not here mum”
“No I told you he probably wouldn’t be here”
“There’s lots of other people who want to see Jesus, lots of other churches he has to be in, don’t worry, very few people actually get to see him”
“Want see Jesus”
“No Ben, he’s not in, he’s very busy. Come let’s go back and see Granny again”
“We can certainly come and visit the church again, but I think that Jesus will be out all day”
“Ok we’ll come back later and see whether he’s come back, but don’t be disappointed if he’s not here, I don’t think he will be”
“Love you mum” and he hugged me in the way that only he can, his sweet face buried in my stomach.
I carefully locked the heavy doors and didn’t loose the key (!)…..and we wandered back to the house, me parrying all his question of where Jesus was, what he was doing and when he would come back to his house.
We got back to my mother’s warm house, I took his coat off and tried to settle him down to doing a drawing. Within five minutes he was stating: “Jesus back now!”
“No sweetheart, he isn’t back yet”
“Ben go see”
“No sweetheart, we’ve only just left, he won’t be in yet”
”Ben go look”
“We’ll go and have a look a bit later, okay?”
“No Ben, later. Why don’t you draw me a lovely picture of Jesus?”
“Yes, we’ll go soon” And he settled down for another five minutes with his crayons. Then…. “Ben go see Jesus?”
I gave up “Ok Ben, lets go and see if he’s home” and I put his coat back on, picked up the keys & with a sigh and an understanding smile from my mother, off we traipsed again.
He still wasn’t in!
This procedure carried on for the rest of the day, my mother taking her turns with him, to check if Jesus had got back at the times when it looked like I was going to scream with frustration.
Needless to say Jesus didn’t come back all day and as it began to grow dark Ben realised that today, at least, he wasn’t going to get to see Him. To our enormous relief, he settled down to watch a cartoon film, somewhat less scary than Beauty and the Beast, and at last we had some peace. Although, deep in my heart, I knew that when Ben gets an idea into his head he doesn’t ever seem to drop it and that although we may get some peace tonight the whole rigmarole would probably begin again as soon as he opened his eyes the next morning.
The phone rang; it was my London bed dealer.
“I’m running a bit late, the weather is terrible” I looked out of the dark window and saw great flakes of snow swirling to the ground. “Traffic’s a bit bad, but I’m well on my way, should be there in about an hour”
I stopped pacing the floor and settled down for an hour giving Ben a cuddle and watching his film with him. Finally the door bell rang.
“Turn the telly off Ben, that’s the man from London”
My mother answered the door and after pressing the remote button Ben came to have a look at the ‘man from London’
As we let him in and he began to remove his woollen scarf and heavy overcoat I heard an audible gasp from Ben, who was now standing close to my side with an absolute look of awe on his small round face.
Our London bed dealer had shoulder length, straw coloured hair and a beard! I looked at him and then looked at Ben; he was still staring at the man’s face.
“Do come in, can I make you a cup of tea to warm you up, you look frozen”
I felt a tugging on my jumper and looked down at my little boy “Is Jesus mum?”
“Er….” I looked from Ben to the bearded man and then back at Ben, could this be an opportunity to get a bit of relief from the constant visits to the church tomorrow? “Er…..” I knew it was a lie, but what a temptation! “Um,Yes Ben, it’s Jesus”. His eyes grew wider and I looked up again at the man and winked “Jesus, may I introduce my son Ben to you”
“Hi Ben” he said, smiling and proffering his hand to shake.
Ben, still one hand holding my jumper, took a tentative step forward and with eyes as big as plates asked “You Jesus?”
I nodded at the man and mouthed “I’ll explain later”
He took Ben’s hand in his and smiling said “Yes I’m Jesus, hello Ben, how are you?”
“I fine, you fine?” then looking up at me he said in a stage whisper “See, I told you mum, I told you Jesus come”
“Yes well Jesus is frozen and would like a cup of tea, shall we go and make him one?”…..
In the back of the lorry, by torch light, he agreed to buy a number of the beds and we made arrangements for me to deliver them to him in London a couple of days later.
What always amuses me when I recall this story is that when we made the delivery, having agreed to rendezvous in a London pub, it seemed perfectly normal to Ben that we should meet up with Jesus at the bar and have a pint with him!
He never bothered me again about visiting the church, he had met Jesus and was satisfied. He never really went on about it either; just occasionally when religion or church came into a conversation he would say “Ben met Jesus, eh mum?”. And I always confirmed that yes indeed, Ben had met Jesus. He had had a goal, he had achieved it and was, as usual, happy.