I was at mass yesterday in Oxford. In the oldest Catholic Church in the city – the Oxford Oratory. Mass-goers in Oxford are spoiled for choice as there are plenty of churches to choose from. This one is particularly noted for the quality of its sermonising priests and I was looking forward to hearing them in action at the Solemn Mass, sung in Latin.
I wasn’t disappointed. For the first time in a long time I heard a sermon that actual said something. Had I to evaluate the priest as a speaker, he’d have gotten top marks for vocal variety, humour, content, use of body language, and engagement. He ticked all the boxes. He had a strong opening, a strong close, and all that was in between was perfectly pitched with grace and humour. Impressive stuff. I’d go back for more.
I knew that a publisher friend of mine was in town from Poland but I hadn’t been in touch with him. He’s a mass-goer too, and I figured that being Polish, he might go to the Polish mass at Blackfriars. But then, I had a feeling that I’d see him at mine. I said as much to the friends I’m staying with. I was sure I’d run into him.
I went up to take communion and caught a glimpse of the chap kneeling beside me at the altar. My mate. Small world. Afterwards, when we caught up, he didn’t recognise me. It’s been a while since we’ve met in person and I’ve changed. And if you add the fact that both of us being in Oxford was so out of context, his lack of recognition can be excused.
But when it finally dawned on him, the warmth of his greeting was staggering. He was genuinely delighted. And it was infectious.
We’re working on a book project together and are in pretty regular email contact with the occasional phone call. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been in the same city at the same time but we keep in touch. And yet nothing can really compare to meeting in person.
Yes, Skype and Facebook and letters and phone calls are all well and good, but seeing someone in the flesh, hugging them, holding their hand, that’s something that the virtual world can never offer.
I am blessed with the friends I have around the world. These past few days have seen a series of reconnections with friends from previous lives and despite the years, nothing much has changed. We’ve moved on. We’ve done things. We’ve had some catching up to do, but the friendships that were there years ago are still alive, kept alive perhaps by the virtual tendrils that are Facebook updates and Viber messages.
This week (I’m still having trouble sitting, by the way) I’ve a lot to be grateful for: Old friendships. New friendships. A life that allows me to live it anywhere I can find an Internet connection. It’s been ten years since I’ve been in Oxford and rediscovering it has been a pleasure.