hould we thank God for good luck? To do so ought to be a paradox that confuses faith with superstition, for surely the blessings we enjoy are just that – daily reminders and manifestations of divine grace and mercy. For happy marriages and healthy children we give thanks, even though psychologists and medics might tell us we’ve been lucky; whereas winning the lottery jackpot is actually more of a challenge, loaded with responsibility, than a free gift.
Yet there are coincidences in our lives that are so convenient, and bring us such joy, but are also so trivial and personal, that it feels presumptuous to ascribe them to Providence. There is a kind of luck in God’s universe that is, if you like, the flip side of free will, and that somehow enables His creation to enjoy what can only be described as happy accidents.
Let me now descend from this lofty philosophical opening to a personal perspective. I’m rubbish at numbers in any application, whether it’s adding up a restaurant bill or filling in a tax return, and one of the more galling ways in which this failing appears is in remembering dates. To any friends who happen to be reading, I apologise, for forgetting their anniversaries, birthdays, even those of my godchildren. I write them down in notebooks I lose, I remember them a week early and then forget to get anything in the post. I make phone calls a day, a week late. I’m rubbish.
But no matter how vague I might become as age advances, I shall never forget my daughter’s birthday, because she was born, unexpectedly late, in the small hours of my late parents’ wedding anniversary, which I became determined to remember in early childhood; and her christening, for various practical reasons, happened to be arranged on my mother’s birthday, which also happened to be the Feast of Christ’s Baptism; and I shall never fall into the caricature trap of missing my wedding anniversary, because the church and hospitality bookings, combined with the availability of an old friend who had promised to marry me 18 years earlier, before he’d even started studying for ordination, meant that my wife and I were married on St Patrick’s Day – so every year, every pub in London, with the support of Guinness, reminds me weeks in advance.
So you see what I mean: surely the Lord did not arrange these things that I might be spared some passing embarrassment in the home, easily smoothed over with the excuse of a writer’s dreamy disconnec tion from the diary; and yet I’m grateful.
I am more sensibly grateful, however, for remembering Mothering Sunday. My father refused to have any truck with “Fathers’ Day”, dismissing it as an invention of greetings card manufacturers, ignoring whose advertisements became a family ritual, while inculcating in me the observance of the Mothering Sunday festival before I could sign my name. The proliferation of “Mother’s Day” cards also irritated him and my mother, and cards bearing the inscription “Mothering Sunday” became harder and harder to find. Cards labelled “no message”, which we could dedicate ourselves, came later.
But I truly give thanks for the fact that I have now remembered Mothering Sunday two years running – with reference to my wife. I always remembered it for my own mother, who passed five years ago, but it’s surprisingly hard for fathers of young children to remember that their wives are now eligible for another tranche of flowers and chocolates that were not in the original contract. For some time after my marriage, when anyone politely asked after “Mrs Thomas”, my first reaction was to forgive them for a clanging inquiry into the health of the departed. And for men much younger than I, Mothering Sunday is still observed on autopilot for mothers hale and hearty, who are obliged to point out to their sons that the young girl they welcomed into their family also deserves some recognition for all the pain and stress and devotion required of a woman who has borne a child. It’s not that men don’t care: it’s just that we think in boxes, and we have to adjust to the fact that this particular box can have more than one occupant.
I forgot to call my young friends before Mothering Sunday, and I should have written this column last week; but, as I said, I’m rubbish with dates.