The only famous Edwina I know of is Currie, the publicity hungry former Tory MP, so when I heard about a talk being given by another Edwina who was a lay minister and founder of a missionary movement, I initially wrote it off as too boring to contemplate.
However, the event did contain the word ‘retreat’ and it was organised by a woman I met early in the summer who made an impression on me for various reasons. As I am desperately in need of the sustenance of stillness right now, I signed up. What did I have to lose? Apart from seventy-five quid.
‘Why did you come here today?’ asked Edwina Gateley. When it was my turn to speak, I was truthful. ‘To be honest, I was put off by the whole Catholic, God thing, but then I went to your website and listened to you read a poem. It touched me and I was intrigued,’ I said.
Boy had I underestimated this understated bespectacled older lady, the sort of person I wouldn’t give a second glance to in the street. I was rapt by her stories for the entire day. Honestly, you could hear a pin drop in that room.
She started the Volunteer Missionary Movement, spent four months alone in the Sahara desert and another nine in a camper van in the woods and then she went to Chicago where she helped hookers get off the game.
94% of them she told us, had been abused as children. ‘They had given it away for free and now they wanted to be paid for it,’ she explained matter-of-factly as she postured like a seasoned Midwest call girl for laughs.
We guffawed as she imitated the prostitutes telling her to ‘fuck off lady’ and choked back tears when she told how she had identified the body of a 24-year-old alcoholic she’d looked upon as a daughter.
It was an incredible talk and I should have come away feeling inspired, but instead I felt angry with myself for never doing anything useful. Gah! That damned inner critic of mine.
Then, this morning, as I was running by the river, I thought of my son. He’s spent the weekend at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. He’s just started a politics degree at uni and wants to become a politician to make the world a better place. Then it struck me. I gave birth to him. And I fought tooth and nail to get him the education he needed when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He went to a fantastic special school and the fees were paid by the Government. And here he is giving back. That’s a big tick in the ‘useful’ box for me I reckon.
Part way through my run, I saw a bench in the shade of a weeping willow and felt compelled to sit there for a moment. Edwina calls God ‘Sophia’ and says she gets to you through the back door. This looked like the kind of spot Sophia might hang out in so as a breeze tickled my bare arms, I said to myself: ‘Look if you are here Sophia or whatever name you go by, reveal yourself.’ Nothing happened. Pah. It’s all bollocks this God stuff.
On the way home, I ran past a bunch of people doing a marathon. They looked dog tired the poor sods. A woman of my age thundered past in a cloud of dust, before stopping suddenly and doubling over.
I asked her if she was okay. ‘I’ve run of steam,’ she gasped. ‘I am so disappointed, I wanted to do a sub-four.’
I noticed she was running for Cancer Research UK. ‘You’re saving lives here. Who cares about a sub whatever?’ I said.
She told me that her mother and sister had both died of cancer earlier this year. Then she kept muttering ‘I am so disappointed, so disappointed.’
I noticed she was breathing shallowly and urged her to take some deep breaths. Then I told her about my dad and the miracle that occurred when he started immunotherapy treatment.
‘My Dad would be dead if it weren’t for people like you,’ I said. ‘I had lunch with him on Friday. That day was a gift that people like you have given us. I can’t thank you enough.’
‘I feel so sad that there has been no support here for me, nobody from Cancer Research came,’ she whispered.
I jumped in the air, waved my arms and whooped.
‘Look. I’m cheering you on! You’re my hero.’
She gave me a big, broad smile.
‘I am so glad I bumped into you today,’ she said. ‘You’re an angel.’
‘Let’s run together for a bit,’ I said, which I instantly regretted, because even though she was 18-miles into a marathon and had run out of puff, she was still a far swifter runner than I was after a measly three miles.
When I finally waved her goodbye, I was so out of breath I could barely talk. ‘Thank-you!’ she cried.
Wow. I’d made a difference to someone’s day. Another tick in the ‘useful’ box and it was so damned easy.