Moving to Southampton - a new chapter begins (part 2)

Back to last October.... well, it was during a visit over to my parents in Ireland (they retired back there in 1991). Mum had been in a local nursing home in my Dad's home town of Kilmallock, Co. Limerick for 2 years already and was basically bed-bound, but reasonably alert mentally (for a time she did seem to lose the will to live and started wasting away, but then made a rather miraculous recovery). During this time Dad had been stubbornly living on his own in their bungalow about 8 miles away, going in most days to see Mum, but his own health was gradually failing. He was diagnosed as having the beginnings of Parkinson's disease which was affecting his mobility. He started to have the occasional fall. A home help would come in and see him most days, help with the housework, etc... but we (the children, none of whom live in Ireland) were getting more and more worried about him.

Kilmallock parish church, Co. Limerick

By October, Dad was barely able to walk at all and something needed to be done. He could no longer look after himself and his living conditions in the bungalow were deteriorating fast. So he reluctantly agreed to move into the nursing home were Mum was already. At the end of October I went over for the weekend, as I was doing once every 6-8 weeks or so. But this time it was different: I was on my own in the bungalow, a place I never really warmed to and now disliked even more with neither Mum nor Dad there. I'll never forget arriving on the Friday evening. I went to get the front door key from a neighbour and friend of my father's (who we were incredibly indebted to for keeping an eye on Dad when he was on his own. This gentleman unfortunately passed away 2 months ago). I went into the bungalow and was disturbed by an unexpected thought:

where is my home?

Whilst still living in Liverpool, I considered that as much my home as anywhere, the Brothers being very much a "family" to me for the past 22 years. But I also obviously had a deep emotional attachment to the place where my parents lived, simply because they were my parents. Now that they were in a nursing home, however, it wasn't the same. I suddenly felt rootless, adrift... it was as unexpected as it was rather frightening.

Then I heard a voice in my head saying, "James, your home is Southampton." And I suddenly for the first time in 22 years felt a very strong nostalgia for the place where I grew up, which ironically I couldn't wait to leave when I was 18. People, places, events all came flooding back into my mind as I stood in the doorway to the bungalow, all of this happening within a few minutes of opening the front door. Things that I had deliberately (though perhaps subconsciously) put to the back of my mind when leaving home, perhaps as a self-defence to make leaving easier, now occupied my thoughts and did so throughout the whole weekend. I felt guilty for not having kept in closer contact with people I knew and grew up with in the Southampton area: very good friends, some of my relatives, etc... especially people I'd got to know through my music-making activities (more about them in a later post).

But not only did I feel this nostalgia, I also felt a very strong, God-given intuition that I was somehow MEANT to go back and live in Southampton, presumably in our community attached to my old school, St. Mary's College.

Me, a fresh-faced 12 year-old in 1981, joining St. Mary's College, Southampton as a pupil,
the school to which I am returning to teach.

To cut a long story short, in the subsequent weeks I ended up speaking to one of our Superiors based in Rome, as well as our French Provincial (Head Brother for France, Italy and England) about my current state of mind and other things... it was decided that it would be best for me to have a sabbatical (break) year, possibly doing further study in the Paris faculty where I studied for 4 years in the 1990's, with a view to moving to Southampton after that. This would have consequences for our 2 communities in England, but my Superiors recognised my need for a fresh start, and I am eternally grateful to them for that.

However, there was a further twist in the story at the start of this year, when a situation developed in Southampton which created a fairly urgent need for another Brother in our Southampton community which had been reduced from 3 to 2 Brothers, both over 70 (though very fit and well, including our "Team Win" Africa projects veteran Bro. Francis ). I volunteered my services and, as they say, the rest is history.

I very much feel God's hand not just guiding me, but carrying me on my way back to Southampton. I am convinced that is where he now wants me to be, which is helping me to approach the move in peace and calm. I will have a teaching post in the school. This was in doubt for a while, but then within a few days 2 maternity leaves were announced, as well as a future retirement.

I am looking forward to the fresh challenge. I will miss the school here, especially the pupils, and also the many, many close friends that I have made during my 22 years based here. I will, however, be continuing as a school Governor and will also be organising future "Team Win" projects for pupils from both Southampton and Liverpool (and there's much in the pipeline for the next 2 years).

"So fare the well, my own true love,
And when I return united we will be..."

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