An “annus horribilis” he believed it was called. He hadn’t known the phrase before the Queen had used it to describe her horrible year. He didn’t care much for Greek or Latin or whatever it was but it came to mind again now simply because it described his year so perfectly. Annus horribilis.
The writing had been on the wall. That was another phrase that he didn’t understand but, again, it seemed appropriate. The writing had been on the wall. Julie had been unhappy about his working all hours and giving little time to the family, For years, it seemed she’d been whinging. She had never understood that he was only doing it for them. He just wanted to make enough money to be comfortable. If he could strike it lucky, build up a nice nest egg that would then simply provide everything they needed, then they would be secure. That was all he wanted – for them to have everything they needed.
When he said “strike it lucky” he didn’t mean that he was relying on Big Wednesday or lotto. True, he had bought a ticket each week but that was just to add some icing to the cake. In reality, he had worked hard – very hard! He had poured blood, sweat and tears into his business ventures. He had worked long into the night, taken few holidays – all for the family. And look how much they appreciated it!
He understood Julie saying that the kids really wanted him to go to their school functions and sports highlights but he had tried to explain to them that if he could just get established, he would have all the time in the world. He might even coach one of their sports teams.
This year hadn’t started too badly. It had even looked like an “annus possibilitus”. That’s what made it so galling. Just when his ducks were beginning to line up! The landscaping business had done well and was easy to sell. The profit was more than he had expected. Seven of the staff had had to lose their jobs but the new owners had retained three.
That sale meant a badly needed cash injection into the rest home and it was now looking quite promising. Surely Julie had realised that this was their opportunity. He had only to get it firmly on its feet and it would provide a nice steady little income. That was one string on his bow. The more exciting one was the investment in the software company. He didn’t know anything about software but he had been assured it was cutting-edge and the potential market was huge. Half the landscaping money went into Robo-Future Enterprises. It was all part of his master plan. Diversify. Not all your eggs in one basket. Choose carefully. Look for those things that would really make money. Aged care and I.T. were certainly diverse and both looked like burgeoning industries.
He had chosen well. Every week there was more money in the bank as the businesses grew. He was just an investor in Robo-Future Enterprises. He didn’t have to do anything. Surely Julie saw how this was working out. If he could invest wisely, they could have a steady income and he would be free to do whatever he liked. It was working.
The rest home still required his time. There was urgent maintenance and there were always issues with the staff. A lot of the equipment needed to be updated and he needed to establish a new culture. Staff turnover was quite high so he always had to train new staff. However, things were slowly changing. Yes, he was working longer hours than ever but it would only be while he was getting things bedded in. Once they were hunky-dory he would put in a manager and the things would just tick over and make money – quite considerable money.
It was looking so promising. All this hard work really was beginning to pay off. He could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
He pondered the irony, reflecting again on the evening he had come home and found the house empty. The note on the table simply said that Julie and the kids had gone and there was no point trying to dissuade them. His failure to show up at Ben’s prize-giving had been the last straw that had broken the camel’s back. How many times had she had to plead with him? How many times had the children had to be disappointed? How many times had she had to defend him telling them how hard he had to work?
He knew where they would have gone and he was right. He rang Julie’s parents but Julie had told them she didn’t want to speak to him. He had rung several times. Once she had answered the phone. She was polite but brief. The call probably hadn’t lasted one minute. He had emailed and asked for opportunities to see the kid but had had no replies.
That had been September. For three months now he had come home to an empty house. At least it meant that he didn’t have to keep making excuses. He could work all the hours he wanted. If he could only get things working nicely, he could then show them that it had all been worth it and that he had time for them.
He was actually quite a wealthy man, he thought to himself. If he cashed up his investments he was probably the richest man in the neighbourhood. He just had to get it to the point where it would tick over nicely without his involvement and there would be a steady flow of money coming in.
In October, he had eventually gone to the doctor. He hadn’t been right for some time and it hadn’t gone away. He hadn’t expected such a deterioration in his kidney function though. The doctor had emphasised the seriousness of the condition and the probability of needing dialysis. He couldn’t imagine sitting around every day connected to a dialysis machine. That would take hours out of the day. And in the meantime it worried him. How sick was he really? Would his children visit him or was he destined to become a lonely individual stuck in his home.
He had few friends. He hadn’t really had time and people didn’t seem to have his focus for getting ahead anyway. Don’t waste time with people who aren’t focused.
It was as Christmas approached, and as he pondered the year that was coming to an end that that phrase had come back to his mind: annus horribilis. And what future did he have to look forward to?
His only real company in the house was the TV so he had that on constantly – not that it was really much company. On the one hand there were the incessant Christmas advertisements. He didn’t want any of the rubbish they offered. It seemed so trivial and crass. On the other hand, there was all the talk of peace and joy. That just seemed to mock the reality of his world. Peace and joy, bah!
On the third hand, (Could you have three hands?) all of the news seemed disastrous. Story after story was of people being killed in wars, or accidents, or as victims of terrible crimes. How could people treat each other like that, he wondered. And what’s the point of the talk about peace and joy anyway?
Then one day, close to Christmas, there had been a knock at the door – the first person to come to his house for a long time. Two young people beamed at him and seemed full of the joys of spring.
“We’re from the church on Williams Street”, they announced. “We are going around the neighbourhood because our church does a lot of things at this time of the year. Would you be interested in coming to our Christmas Eve musical? We have a service on Christmas Day too. Lots of people come to both of those.”
He appreciated their sincerity and their bounciness but he had bigger things to worry about. He was sure they had no idea about the realities of his life. He wasn’t interested in church either. He hadn’t been for years – decades even. Again, it was about focus. Who could afford time out of every week when his businesses required everything he could give?
“On Christmas Day we also have a lovely meal for people who maybe live alone or maybe don’t have other people to share Christmas with. You don’t have to belong to our church. Anyone can come.”
He smiled at them. They were so enthusiastic. So naïve, he thought. Did they have any idea about his health or his family or the needs of the rest home? A dinner wasn’t going to solve any of those problems. He had real things to worry about.
“Thanks guys,” he said, “I appreciate what you’re doing but I’m not really interested. I hope it goes well for you.”
It was nice to have visitors but not Christians! Just go away!
“That’s all right, sir. It’s not just about being busy you know. We do these things because we want people to know about Jesus. Do you know Jesus, sir?”
“No, and I don’t actually think I really want to. Again, thank you. I appreciate what you’re doing. Maybe the neighbours will want to go to your church but it doesn’t interest me much. I’ve got lots of other things to think about. I don’t have time for Jesus. If I can get my life sorted out, maybe then I’ll have more time to think about it.”
“Thank you, sir.” They smiled again, and he watched curiously as they turned and walked down the path. But half-way to the gate, one stopped, then turned back. The other followed.
“Sir, it is none of my business but maybe this is when you need Jesus. You know, Jesus said that He came for those in need. He always befriended people who seemed to be at the bottom of the heap. I am not saying that you are, sir, but Jesus said that he came for the sick, not the healthy. He said He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came with good news for the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed. He came to talk about God’s love and His mercy. Sir, have you got a few minutes for us to tell you about Jesus? He means a lot to us.”
He had nothing in the tins to offer them but he surprised Himself by inviting them in. And he let them talk about Jesus. But, in the end, when they asked if he would like to know Jesus, he thanked them but said, “No” and showed them out the door. He felt a little pressured to make a decision he wasn’t ready for and, anyway, he had never thought much of Christians.
As soon as they had gone though, his world collapsed. It was all too much. Between sobs, he cried out, “God, if you do exist, help me please.”
Inexplicably, he felt a wave of relaxation start at his head and sweep though his body to his feet, then another, then another. Nothing in his circumstances had changed but the tension, and the heaviness, were gone. He slept better that night than he had for years.
On Christmas Day, he went to the church service. He was surprised that the two young people weren’t there but it was nice all the same so he accepted an invitation to stay for the Christmas meal. He thoroughly enjoyed the company and the various things that the church had organised as a gift to these folk. Best of all, however, was the discovery that those young people were there. They had been preparing the meal and they, and a lot of their friends, served him – smiling at him even more broadly now. When they brought him his dessert, he asked if they would visit again and tell him more about Jesus.
That night he made two decisions. He would sell the rest home. He didn’t need it. He had some income and he could even afford to give money to help that church care for other people. And he would write to Julie and apologise. He had been a fool. He didn’t mind admitting it.
He thought about his kidneys. He didn’t know what the future held but he knew that God loved Him and Jesus had said he had come for the sick, not the healthy. He felt He could trust Him. He remembered a sentence from the church service: To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God
He googled “annus horribilis” and discovered that there was another Latin phrase that meant the opposite. Was it possible that this year might turn out to be an “annus mirabilis”? Was it possible that despite everything that had happened, this might be a wonderful year?