Alan was one person I always admired. Although I have changed his name to protect his identity, his real name had made it into our local newspaper. And not for any negative reasons, but for good reasons. For Alan was one of the lifeguards at Coral Reef Waterworld. Yes, the same venue which was the main subject of my last blog, Down the Tube. But Alan's time at Coral Reef, long before the renovation, was probably around the years 2007-2010 or thereabouts, according to memory. It does not really matter precisely what years Alan worked as a poolside lifeguard. What matters to me more was his achievements.
|Coral Reef Leisure Pool|
Alan was exceptionally good-looking with a slim but superb physique, to which I was called to attention by Alan himself as he was taking a shower following further training and prior to going on duty. I said to him that I looked just like that during bygone days, as I made my way to Sauna World, housed in a building of its own reserved for the over-18's, but still fully attached and accessible to and from the main pool. But despite our huge age difference, I could not help myself going weak at the knees in reverence. As I had always perceived, there is an element of glamour in being a lifeguard.
Alan was friends with a colleague named Scott, a fellow lifeguard whose employment at Coral Reef Waterworld began some time after Alan's, but by overlapping, enabled him to be on duty at the same time as Alan, at least for a short while. It was after the end of another Saturday sauna session during one mid-afternoon that I had the opportunity to talk to this person whilst he was sitting on a lookout tower overlooking the pool. The height and location of the tower was right next to the upstairs restaurant balcony, thus making conversation not only possible but without any difficulty. After sharing with Scott of my own experience as a poolside lifeguard in 1973, he explained that lifesaving techniques has evolved since then, to the point of being near to the level of a paramedic, and therefore leaving my former life-saving techniques obsolete. In fact, according to his testimony, if a vehicle accident occurred on the main road just outside, the lifeguards were duty-bound to attend to the victim's injuries until the paramedics arrived. They were that qualified.
With such updated information, it was no surprise that Alan's personal achievement caused me to look to him with a degree of reverence - something I cannot bring myself to do to an employee dressed in a suit and tie and sitting at an office desk. Because Alan became Lifeguard of the Year, the highest award and the top rung of the ladder attained by vigorous training and testing, both in and out of the water. And the announcement of this was published in our local newspaper, The Bracknell News, complete with pictures.
However, although Alan does have a Facebook profile, he had never allowed me to be "friends", or to have our profiles linked, which reason might have something to do with our age difference. But he has made enough of his posts set to Public, for me to build a picture - sketchy as it might be - even if he had not posted publicly for the past twelve months. He left Coral Reef Waterworld a few months after gaining his award to take a sabbatical, before beginning to drive a van for a living. Not long after this, he took on a post at Waitrose, a superstore favouring towards the upper-middle class side of the market. Since I cannot imagine such a well-trained lifeguard swapping his profession for a job in shelf-stacking, nor for that matter, for sitting at the checkouts, I can only imagine his role in management or departmental supervision.
It was this sabbatical he took which, I will admit, turned my admiration into envy. Because on that cold Monday morning in January 2010, while I had to take a break from window cleaning in the blowing cold wind, Alan with his mate, also a lifeguard at Coral Reef, along with their girlfriends, were heading to Heathrow Airport to board a flight to Singapore. From Singapore, they would proceed to Australia, then to New Zealand, and then to California, to cover a duration of between five to six months. Damn it! I felt the cold wind eat into me as I sat on a low wall, my ladder lying on the sidewalk waiting to be used. And I envisioned the joy and excitement those four must have felt as they took their seats in the Boeing 747, still parked at the loading bay. But at least I was able to comfort myself with memories of my own Round-the-World backpacking trip in 1997, covering Singapore, Australia, and California. Yet Alan has still beaten me by including New Zealand into his itinerary, as well as a longer duration out of the UK.
Never mind that news came in that whilst Alan was speeding in his hired camper van, he was stopped by the Police Down Under for speeding, and he was obliged to pay his penalty. Never mind that their visit to the Great Barrier Reef did not seem to hold a candle to my own visit some thirty months earlier. Never mind that their photos sent to Facebook were predominately about dancing and skylarking about on the Pacific beach, rather than the more "serious" sightseeing of the corals and tropical marine life, the beauty of nature, the mangrove trees and other exotic vegetation, and of human history. Their Round-the-World sabbatical was still an envy for someone stuck in a mundane outdoor job on a cold January Monday morning.
Then as I thought of my long-lost friend, I began to look through his profile timeline. And as I did so, I begun to feel my emotions sink. I began to feel very sad for him - and that despite his apparent present success in raising a family of his own and looking to be doing well for himself. Because of the casual use of foul language in his posts depicting the vanity of life without a real purpose for living. That alone tells me a lot. A lot more about himself than he could possibly imagine. Because, as one author wrote many years ago:
I told her to get lost. She replied, "You're the one who is lost." She was right, I was lost. The word screamed in my head. LOST! LOST! LOST!*
And that is exactly I can perceive this magnificently-trained lifeguard. Lost. His Facebook posts can be so revealing. Little wonder I felt sad. Very sad for him. And it was a similar set of circumstances which caused me to cry out one night, Lord God, why, oh why did you create us?
It is the sort of question I do ask: How can someone like Alan, who has been trained up to save other people's lives, be in the same fold as Adolf Hitler, who is guilty of the murder of six million Jews? And again, where is the reality of God reconciling the world to himself in Jesus Christ without counting their trespasses against them, according to 2 Corinthians 5:19 - if all I can see around me is a lost world unable to find itself?
At least I can say that there is no record of Alan ever disliking me. I do recall him having a level of respect for me as a customer at Coral Reef Waterworld, and maybe even as a kind of father-figure, but definitely no dislike. But as I read down his timeline column on his profile page, and see how he sees his own life as so futile, I can't help feeling that my heart goes out to him. I would very much like to see his life perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and for him to know that he has eternal life.
This is distressing. Because it all boils down to this: We as true believers in Jesus Christ, are the living letters from God to the rest of the world, along with the beauty of Creation, and of the Bible itself. I suppose there are three witnesses - the Church/Israel, Nature, and the Word. How the incorrigible human heart rejects Creation for Evolution, turn the Bible into a myth, insist that Israel shouldn't have a place in the Arab land of Palestine, sees the Church as something of a standing joke, and perceives salvation, if it exists, as something to be worked for and earned. As for the churches, what went wrong?
Could it be l lack of love for each other? Already I have said, not everyone in my church loves me as a person and a brother in Christ. This grieves me, it grieves me badly. I'm disliked - not because I deny Christ. I don't deny Christ. That is something I will never do. I doubt whether this is something I'm able to do. Neither am I an imp of Satan, although I'm seen as wicked. Instead, I'm disliked because I don't present myself as an ideal Englishman - well educated, stoic, self-reserved, refusing to hug, holding a profession, a Conservative voter and a Royalist, a lover of the Queen and her family members. Oh yes, I can add: Good at team sports and ready to go to war for his country. As a result, I tend to be shut out from social circles. Like the time in 1978, when I asked a group of my own age if I could join them on a week-long boating trip. I was told flatly, No. Or the occasions I was told with quite an angry tone, Someone is sitting here! - which might not have been necessarily true. Or the viscous snide, You're not sitting at this table! Or more recently, at the start of the church Men's Curry Club one evening a couple of years ago when I was told to move in a threatening manner. And this comes from an Arminian who insists that a believer, after Christ has cleansed him from all his past sins, can only hold on his salvation by hard work and keeping of all the Commandments.
Just a minute! As I'm reading through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and I can hear the leaves of the trees rustling. After Paul the Apostle returns to Jerusalem, he is fervently persecuted by his own fellow Jews. His own brothers, all sons of the same Abraham, are baying for his blood. And the reason is simple. It's not that complicated. Paul believed in salvation through faith in the risen Christ alone. The Jews believed that salvation can only come through obedience to the Law of Moses, including the need for circumcision. I can see a parallel, a chilling parallel in the unholy attitude among the Jews towards Paul and among those who has taken a dislike to me. In the case of the latter, it is my failure to think, feel, say, and act like a proper Englishman. Or at least that's how it looks. Instead, I hold diverse opinions, rebellious opinions, and I guess I get a thrill in lowering my head and pushing hard whilst kicking against the goads of national and cultural hypocrisy.
What does Alan sees in the church? After all, he was brought up in a country which Constitution was borne out of the Christian faith. So he is most likely Church of England, or possibly a Roman Catholic. But without the revelation that God loves him unconditionally, he will forever have that veil across his eyes. The deceptive veil of a truculent God who always quick to judge everything he does, right down to his innermost thoughts. A divine being who is never satisfied, but insists on works, impossible works, in a failed attempt to bribe for his love, whatever love that is supposed to be. The very same problem I still suffer myself to this day, due to Roman Catholic upbringing. The difficulty in accepting God for whom he really is. A God of Love, who loves us unconditionally. The love God had for Barabbas to the extent that he allowed his own Son to take his place in Pilate's execution. At Pilate's Court of Justice, God loved Barabbas. He loved him so much that he was set free instead of executed. No, it wasn't the baying for his life by the crowds below which had released him. Rather it was God's LOVE which released him!
God is love. It was his love which satisfied his justice which demanded an accounting of every sin committed. Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross, has fulfilled that justice. In his love, God wants to give us eternal life. Eternal life through his Son. To believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. That is all. It's about time every church drops it's national heritage and advocate God's love a lot more. Preach it, act upon it, live it! There is absolutely nothing wrong in a man giving a tight, prolong hug to another man! It will make him feel loved, accepted, one in the family. It lifts the spirits, it also enhances health. And furthermore, there is no work required to earn it. It cannot be earned. God's love is higher than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest ocean, wider than East is from West. And it's free, unconditional, and has no national or cultural limitations.
Oh, how I wish I took advantage of the opportunity I had during Alan's employment at Coral Reef. My failed attempt to be pleasing to all men, an ethic which can only lead to death. My heart goes out to him. My greatest hope is that someone else will open his eyes to what tremendous love God has for him.
*Doreen Irvine, From Witchcraft to Christ, 1973.