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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Profound trivialities

"In one sense what may pass between the pope and myself may be trivialities. In another sense, the fact of talking trivialities is itself a portent of great significance. But the pleasantries which we exchange may, as one church leader said, be pleasantries about profundities." If you're confused as to whether or not I stopped off in the Vatican this week for a nice cup of tea and a natter with His Holiness, don't be. For one, the above quote is by Geoffrey Fischer, a former archbishop of Canterbury.

Secondly, if you're gullible enough to think I could or would discuss any matters with the Pope, trivial or no, you should seriously consider a common sense transplant. However, the above quote was brought to my mind when my grandmother died and I ended up back in the hometown, spending (too many) hours in a chapel and talking over the most profound trivialities with family members I hadn't seen in (far, far too many) years.
I used to be the tallest of all my cousins. Now they're all six feet or more, gangly in suits and surreptitiously swigging bottles of Bud at the wake. Together we talk about school, college, girlfriends, smoking, drinking, where we go, what we do, who we do... the most trivial of trivialities.
And we exchange stories. As the eldest, I remember more than they do about our grandmother before she got ill, so I tell them about what a good cook she was and how mad she would get when we didn't eat our porridge. Our parents would tell us about how she owned her own business in a time when that was unique, or when she gave our aunt's Christmas outfits to a girl begging without a coat, or the time she nearly got shot by Soviet border guards in Russia for trying to sell contraband nylons and had to run away into a forest.
These stories may seen like throwaway vignettes, but together these trivialities sum up a more profound whole. I knew Nan the doting grandmother, Nan the grump, Nan the feminist, Nan the business woman. The woman I'm incredibly sorry I didn't know until now was Nan the uncompromising trailblazer.
This column was originally going to be about summons from the dole office - a demand for a form I'd already sent in. But then, something profound happened. Everything else seems, well, trivial.