Some stories just stay with you. It might be a moment in your life when you got a glimpse of something a little bit bigger than you. A poem or a lyric that struck a chord. A picture that stirred your soul. Or a conversation that changed the way you looked at the world.
For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation like that I had many years ago with a man called Charles Eade. At the time I was in my late teens and Charles was retired, and an elder at our church. He was one of those people where the age gap didn’t matter in the slightest. He’d always smile as if he were really pleased to see you, and he always had something interesting and uplifting to say. (You can tell I had a real soft spot for him).
But the conversation I remember best was about an All Black called Michael Jones. For those who don’t hail from our fair shores, the All Blacks are our national rugby team, and Michael Jones is a legendary player, beloved for his incredible skills and ability to keep calm under pressure (his nickname was Ice Man). He is also a Christian, and had made a personal decision to not play rugby on Sundays. At the time Michael was at the peak of his career, and Charles Eade had somehow managed to spend some time with him.
I was suitably impressed (bear in mind I was a teenage girl and there may or may not have been a poster of Michael Jones on my wall at that time…).
Me: Wow, what did you talk about? (Thinking I would have been tongue-tied being in the presence of such greatness).
Charles: I asked him what he prayed for before a match.
Charles: You know I’ve always wondered what he’d ask for. His passes to stick, for the opposition to fumble, that God might help him score some amazing tries (like touchdowns), to win by a great margin…?
At this point Charles gave me one of those looks, you know the ones where people sort of widen their eyes, and nod their head to make sure you’re with them. Honestly the thought had never crossed my mind, but the question was so – Charles. What would I pray for in his situation? I had no idea.
Me: What did he say?
Charles: Courage. He prayed for the courage to go out and play to the best of his abilities.
And I never forgot it.
It’s not about the show, the hype or even the performance; it’s about having the courage to give it your all. Especially when others are watching. Michael Jones carried the weight of a nation’s expectation with him and always played out of his skin. For those of us who write we have to deliver our work for public scrutiny; and the pressure to perform or produce can be huge. It takes no small measure of courage – but that’s what we need to have.
We write for many reasons. To tell a story, to entertain, to ask questions – of ourselves and our readers, to make a connection. Somewhere in the middle of all of it I hope I can tell a story that sticks too. Even if, like Michael Jones, I never know anything about it.
I’ve read many books that have challenged the way I think – and not because they’ve been overtly making a moral point either. In Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis really made think about the way we can be totally convinced by our own versions of truth. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde made me wonder whether a person’s countenance is changed by the life choices they make. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott – that life can often be hard and full of loss – yet still full of hope too.
In my current WIP, the question is about choices. What happens if a good person makes a spectacularly bad choice? Two of my characters do, and respond quite differently. I hope it resonates with someone and makes them think.
Looking back through some old journals I found a poem I wrote some years after my conversation with Charles Eade.
Charles Eade asked Michael Jones What do you pray for before a game? Ball handling Speed Good hands Points? Do you ask to win To anticipate your opponent To play well? What does a man like you Ask God for? Michael Jones said Courage Charles Eade told me I have never forgotten
Poetry isn’t my strong suit, but it captured a moment that has really stuck with me and inspired me. How about you? Have you ever been surprised or challenged by a story or conversation?