For some people, a vocation arrives unexpectedly, even in the context of apparent tragedy. For Peter, it arrived when he was taken ill at the age of three. Suddenly, a normal, healthy, little boy was mentally impaired. Peter was called to live a different way of life. And with that, his parents also were called to live their role in a new and unexpected way.
They all rose to the challenge. With extraordinary courage and generosity, his mother and father gave him a home where he felt not only loved and secure, but also free. In this, they were helped by the village in which they lived. Peter was safe there, and could indulge his love of walking the roads for hours every day, making friends as he went, greeting the farmers and the garage men and the shoppers and the passers-by. He could explore his world without fear of recrimination – even when he skilfully took an engine to pieces and reassembled it with just one, crucial, screw out of place!
Peter loved his village and the villagers loved him. When the other week he died of cancer, now in his fifties, there was not even standing room in the church. The friend who gave the funeral address remarked that outsiders might think of him as ‘handicapped’, but to them all he was just ‘Peter’. The stories he told about Peter made us laugh, but we were laughing at ourselves, not at him. As the vicar remarked, ‘When you met him, your spirits were lifted.’
Aristotle once said, ‘Call no man happy until he is dead.’ It was only at Peter’s funeral that his capacity for happiness was fully revealed: the way that his innocent, sunny personality had touched everyone he met. It was as if his parents’ love for him had been poured through him onto the whole of the community. Even more, the love of God, ‘poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5.5), had been channeled through their faith and trust into the hearts of everyone present. Believers and non-believers, old and young, rich and poor, stood shoulder to shoulder in that lovely old village church, and sang and prayed and laughed and wept and gave thanks.
The Christian vocation at its core is to love and to draw out love from others. Peter, in his very simplicity, and his parents, by the grace of God, showed us how to live that vocation to the full.