Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

The sun is shining? Yes, it’s back-to-school time

Every September it happens, come rain or shine. After weeks of terrible weather, the kids go back to school and, almost simultaneously, the sun finally comes out to play. It’s the same every year.

“It’s just not fair!” my youngest said on Tuesday as he reluctantly packed his rucksack for another term’s hard labour. “The last time it was sunny was in June when we were doing our exams and revising every minute of every day!” he reiterated mournfully, hurling his pencil case and French/English dictionary with force, his voice almost breaking with the combined grief and effort, while the golden morning sun streamed cruelly through our living room window.

He was, of course, exaggerating. If I recall correctly, his June revision schedule hadn’t been quite as intensive as he’d described. In fact, “every minute of every day” had actually been approximately an hour before bedtime, reluctantly undertaken in between episodes of The Simpsons and the World Cup ... and playing football in the front garden as the long nights lengthened.

Nevertheless, I held my tongue out of sympathy and solidarity, remembering only too well the heat-waves of the early ’80s that coincided precisely with my O and A Levels and stopped the very day they finished, to be replaced by storms and severe weather warnings.

“It’s like there’s some kind of cruel conspiracy going on!” he went on, as though trying to delay the moment we set off to school for as long as possible.

I couldn’t argue, other than to ask him to qualify exactly what he meant.

“If it is a conspiracy, like you say it is, then who is the conspirator? Who exactly controls the weather and who is he/she conspiring against ... and for what purpose?”

“God, of course! He’s having a laugh because He doesn’t have to go to school and I do!” was his instant, instinctive reply.

“Aah, but I thought you said that you don’t believe in God! You’ve never believed in God!”

“Well I do now!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. All his life I’d tried to encourage him to believe in God — any God — and he had steadfastly refused. All those failed attempts at prayers before bedtime that he’d sabotaged with Power Ranger action figures ... all those arguments with his RE teachers he’d told me about while I inwardly cringed ... all the futile trips to Mass and the pointless Holy Communion classes I’d made him attend against his will, but for the good of his soul ... and now he’d finally conceded that God did exist — or at least said he had — but only because he wanted a divine scapegoat to blame for the weather and for school.

“So you’re saying that everything this ‘God’ of yours does is preconceived specifically to annoy you. That doesn’t sound like a very good God, does it?” I counter-challenged. “What about the farmers who have been praying for sunshine to grow their crops? Do you think they’ll all be cursing God today, now that the sun has finally come out?” I continued, brandishing an apple with one hand to illustrate my point, while I packed two packed lunches with the other ...

Then my older son strolled in, searching for his school tie and a pair of (preferably matching) socks, and chipped in to the debate with his usual mix of wit and sarcasm:

“Look, if God does exist and He does actually care for all of humanity while simultaneously running the seasons and the weather patterns in every part of the globe, I hardly think he’d have time to check precisely your school timetable and then arrange the weather above Bangor Grammar School accordingly, even if He is omni-knowledgeable and omnipresent and omnificent, do you? Now why don’t you all just shut up and help me find me my tie.”

Aarghhhhh ... and this is only the first hour of the first morning of the first day of a new school year. This is going to be a long term ...

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