Father Browne’s large figure crossed the playground once again. He’d spent the best part of a week walking between the church and the school. It was Friday and it was the last chance to talk to the children about Sunday’s special service. He’d made an effort to include them and was now finding that they had plenty of ideas of their own about what form it was going to take. The playground was empty, as the children had just been called into the hall for morning assembly. Father Browne entered the hall, already propping his gold-framed half-moon glasses on his nose. A perfunctory prayer from him, a few brief announcements from the headmistress, then it was back to Father Browne to talk about the arrangements for Sunday. He added that he’d be visiting each class in turn to make sure that all the key players knew what they were supposed to be doing.
In every school there’s always a class that’s a bit wilder than the rest, and Father Browne went to see them first. Even as he entered the door, Tommy’s football described an arc across the room, falling to the floor in a series of little bounces… very audible bounces as the class fell into a sudden hush.
“Tommy…” said Father Browne sternly.
“Sorry Father,” said Tommy, as he crossed the room to retrieve the ball.
“Good lad Tommy,” said Father Browne more kindly, “But put it away until break time.”
The part of Sunday’s service that was bothering Father Browne most of all was a novel idea that this particular class had suggested. In effect, they wanted to offer up things that were precious to them, things that meant a lot to them, and they wanted to do it at a key part of the service. Father Browne had images of kids trooping into church with flash bicycles and computers, and he had a foreboding sense of absolute mayhem. With a great degree of tact and thoughtfulness, Father Browne now sought to point them in the most sensible direction he could. However, there was a firm “no” to the boy who wanted to bring his dog and the girl who wanted to bring her pony.
“Tommy,” said Father Browne, “I suspect you’ll be offering up your football at Sunday’s service?”
“Well I…” began Tommy, looking surprised, and then he beamed, “I sure will!”
Father Browne breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped that each child would offer up something easy to handle, and in turn he went through the entire class. Well, almost the entire class, because Lucy always seemed to be invisible in the corner. She was the quiet one in a wild class; a small and slight figure, and if you noticed her at all, it was only because of her thick glasses. Father Browne understood that she used to get a fair amount of teasing about those glasses, but she took it all so quietly, never complaining, never seeming to be upset. But then, who knew what was going on inside her mind, and those tiny eyes, mere pinpricks behind the thick lenses, gave away no clues whatsoever. During break time in the playground, when most other children were chasing around after footballs, or chasing around after each other, screaming and shouting, Lucy was usually in a quiet corner, if you noticed her at all, playing with a couple of little threadbare dolls. But that was if you noticed her, which most people didn’t, and even when they did notice her, they were struck more by her thick glasses than anything else. She seemed to have no real friends in the school.
By break time Father Browne had swept through the school and was just finishing with the last class when the bell sounded. Children streamed out into the playground, screaming, shouting, pushing and pulling. Tommy’s ball soared all the way across the playground and before long the usual gang had got into their usual kick about. Girls skipped, boys played tag and there were a few animated discussions about what was happening over the weekend. In a quiet corner sat Lucy, playing with her little dolls, out of sight, out of mind. Until Tommy booted his ball with ill-judged strength and direction, with enough force to knock poor Lucy over! Lucy fell awkwardly, but as she was already in a sitting position, she didn’t hurt herself, but her glasses went flying from her face. Tommy’s eye, ever on the ball, watched with annoyance at his miss-placed shot, then with horror to see Lucy bowled over. He ran over to retrieve the ball, then almost as an after-thought, looked to see if Lucy was all right. One of the other girls was already by her side, and she turned to Tommy.
“Lucy’s lost her glasses, don’t anyone move!” No one moved.
“I see them,” said Tommy, and picked them up from the ground. They felt heavy in his hand, and he turned them over carefully and flexed the temples. They seemed to be fine, no damage done, but looking down through the lenses, his feet looked as though they were miles away. How could anyone see through these things, he wondered, and then he wondered how much Lucy could see at all!
“Can I have my glasses please?” asked Lucy in a quiet voice. Her eyes looked much larger than usual, but curiously vacant, and although she’d suffered a sudden knock and a bit of a shock, she wasn’t about to burst into tears or anything.
“Here,” said Tommy, holding out the glasses in front of her, wondering why she didn’t reach for them. He quickly realized that she could barely see a hand in front of her without those thick lenses, so he took one of her hands and pressed the glasses into it with his other hand.
“Oh thanks,” said Lucy, grasping her glasses with obvious relief, then added with a hint of alarm, “Are they… they’re not broken are they?”
“No they’re OK,” said Tommy, now a little embarrassed at all the fuss he’d caused, “And look, I’m really sorry. It was me kicked the ball. I’m sorry.”
“That’s OK,” said Lucy, and with the glasses on her face she looked straight up into Tommy’s face. “I’m not hurt, and my glasses aren’t broken.”
Tommy could only gaze into what seemed like deep pools of water, ripples spreading outwards, with those eyes that seemed so large a moment ago now looking at him as if from a great distance.
Father Browne had noticed the little commotion in the corner of the playground, but as soon as he reached the scene, the children had dispersed, leaving Lucy sitting playing with her little dolls.
“Lucy,” said Father Browne, squatting down beside her, “I didn’t even notice you in class this morning. I suppose you’ll be offering up your precious little doll friends on Sunday?”
“I suppose so,” said Lucy, though without much enthusiasm.
Sunday saw more activity in the church than Father Browne was used to. He’d strived to get the interest of the children and it had paid off. Some of the older, much older parishioners didn’t look quite so happy. In fact, they looked downright grumpy. Kids running all over the place! Father Browne, ever the diplomat, made sure he chatted with some of those grumpy-looking faces, then he turned his attention to the children, noting with dismay that two of them had brought bicycles, but thankful that it was only two, and at least that girl hadn’t brought her pony!
The service went well and the time came for the children to process forward and offer up the things that they valued, treasured and enjoyed. One by one they came forward, and each one had to say a few words about how much they enjoyed each prize possession, how they’d brought it to church to offer up during this service, then step down and walk back to their mums and dads in the pew. A small stack of Game boys and Play stations grew next to the microphone, along with the two bikes and an assortment of other toys and games. Father Browne occasionally glanced towards these things, wondering how he was going to be able to work them all into his sermon. Tommy, much to Father Browne’s relief, walked up to the microphone with his football tucked under his arm, rather than kicking it to the front of the church!
“I’m offering up my football,” said Tommy, a little alarmed at the way the microphone made his voice boom around the church, “Because it means a lot to me. I’m always kicking it about. I’m in the school team and my youth club team. I hope I can play professionally when I’m grown-up. I suppose I should be grateful to God that I’m fit and strong and can play football as well as I can.” He cast a glance at Father Browne when he said that last bit, and Father Browne gave a little nod and indicated that he could step down and return to his parents. It occurred to Tommy as he stepped down, that Father Browne had a great view from the front of the church. He could see everyone’s faces. All Tommy ever saw in church was the backs of people’s heads!
When Lucy’s quiet and cautious little feet made their way to the microphone, Father Browne had a momentary surge of panic. He looked twice as she passed, but she had nothing in her hands, least of all those little threadbare dolls that she played with so much at school. Lucy paused before the microphone, and then began to speak in a quiet, careful and confident voice.
“My eyes are really bad,” said Lucy, “And I’ve worn glasses since I was a baby. I don’t know why my eyes are so bad, or why they keep getting worse, but I can see fine with glasses. Only I’m scared of breaking them because that happened to me once and I couldn’t see anything until I got new ones. Sometimes I get teased about how thick my glasses are, but I try not to let it bother me. I guess I’m used to it anyway. One thing I know for sure, I really am glad I can see with my glasses, so I thank God for my glasses, for being able to see with them, and I offer them up today.”
Lucy walked towards the heap of toys, took off her glasses, bent forward and slowly placed them on the ground. She took a step back, turned towards all the people in the church, and looked quite bewildered. She couldn’t see Father Browne’s anxious face looking in her direction. In fact, she couldn’t see any faces; just blurry shapes and patches of light and dark. Lucy almost began to panic, then felt someone gently grasp her arm.
“This way,” said Tommy, who’d hurried to her side when he realized what was happening. As he guided Lucy towards the steps and passed the microphone, he called across to Father Browne and the microphone made his worried words boom all around the church, “It’s true Father, she can’t see a thing without her glasses.”
Father Browne nodded, turned away, produced a voluminous white sheet of a handkerchief and blew his nose loudly, surreptitiously dabbing his eyes at the same time. As Tommy guided Lucy back to her place he could see all those faces again, and fluttering among them were dozens of handkerchiefs dabbing tears from dozens of eyes.