The week after I buried my husband, my vicarage home was invaded by a colony of bats. (It’s not too often I get to type this sentence so I took my time over it). I woke up one morning, head thick from diazepam, surviving that first shock of consciousness, cuddled my tiny unhappy children, staggered downstairs, hit the video ‘Play’ button to summon ‘Thomas the Tank Engine,’ and headed for the kitchen and the first restorative swig of tea.
Then I saw it.
It was big and black and recumbent in the sink. It looked a bit like a large crow or a rook, but it was unmistakably a bat. The rubbery wings gave it away. And its poky little rodent head with the large ears. I didn’t run screeching from the house, but filled the kettle and ruminated. There’s a lot to be said for those little white pills when disaster doesn’t only strike but threatens to annihilate, but they are not to be recommended long-term. Trust me. Love and hugs and listening and scrambled eggs on toast from people who care are much better.
Closer inspection revealed that this one had friends. Not only friends – family, sisters, brothers, distant cousins, maiden aunts, embarrassing uncles and casual acquaintances it had picked up from several nights out in the church belfry next door. If it had been on Twitter, it would have been racking up its followers. I counted forty straight off. Being resourceful little blighters, they were roosting anywhere and everywhere they could. Underneath the table, on top of the wardrobe, perched on lampshades, behind the sofa. Half a dozen critters were taking a nap on the curtains in the sitting room which brought my two-year old up short and he came running to find me as fast as his stout little legs could manage to inform of the ‘Big spiders!’
I wished he was right on this one.
It says something for my state of mind that I didn’t immediately up sticks and head for the nearest Travelodge, but, you know, I just didn’t want to leave my home. It sounds implausible now, but after the couple of weeks I’d just had, an invasion of bats was chicken feed in the hierarchy of alarm. My friends rallied and called the bat-busters and my mum came to help with the kids and do some ironing. And she wasn’t on diazepam.
We rubbed along with our house guests. They were comatose all day which meant as long as we didn’t actually tread on them or trip over them, they kept themselves to themselves and we almost forgot they were there. The next day the local junior school even brought Class 3 on a nature trip to draw them and write down some bat facts which proved an entertaining diversion. Nowadays, we’d likely have the Health and Safety police knocking on the door and Child Protection whipping away the kids. And they’d be right.
That first night after my lodgers moved in, I lay wide awake in bed as half a dozen of them lurking in the bedroom took to flight. I watched them swimming through the air, pushing their wings downwards and backwards as they executed graceful turns and precision dives. It was as though I was watching a film in black and white. Or as though I was standing outside myself, looking in, dispassionately weighing up the situation. I didn’t see any need to respond. It was what it was. Let come what will come. Nothing now could be impossibly changed.
Two days later, after much negotiation that passed me by, the bat whisperers arrived, rapturous at such a find. I was feeding my children fishfingers and Alphabites in the kitchen whilst our boarders occupied their customary places underneath the table, snoozing peacefully. The experts set to work. They discovered that the colony was roosting in the roof space, but my explorers had found their way down the cavity walls and glimpsing a new and promised land, were then pushing their way, Hitchcock-fashion into the house through the air vents. And as the professionals prised off the vents, they came tumbling out over the floor, a mass of arms and legs and wings and spindly tiny bones and fur.
Each bat was lovingly gathered up and taken away.
We had our house back.
I didn’t realise until the last bat had exited, just what a strain it had been. I had such a slide show in my head of death and despair, that I viewed the advent of the bats as a sort of necessary finale to it all. I only know that I felt a huge relief when the intruders were gone and I could lie in bed in safety. I’d been scared for so long, I didn’t know how not to be scared.
My spiritual life feels like that now, even though you might think that’s a bit of a stretch. Bear with. I’ve always felt the dread of a God who could not be appeased – winging around my mind posting demands and ultimatums which I had to try to achieve otherwise bad things would happen. You must be saved or you will burn in hell. You must go to church on Sunday or you will be run over by a bus. You must wear a hat when you are in the Lord’s presence or you are guilty of disrespect to the Almighty. You must read your Bible every day or you are not a real Christian. You must pray every day – ditto. You must keep the Sabbath holy and never even think of buying sweets. You must regard anyone who isn’t a Christian with pity and suspicion. You can have joy down in your heart but not anywhere else. You are not of this world but you have to live here until you are taken to the next. And that’s only if you’ve hit the jackpot of salvation. And if you haven’t? Hard cheese.
These are the black malevolent bats which swirled around my psyche throughout my life.
And I am seeing them off. I am taking each one and kicking it out of the door. I just don’t believe these bats any more.
And I know I go on and on and on about this, but I now believe in a loving God who embraces all – and I mean ALL of his creation. Who doesn’t have people who are in or out, saved or lost, chosen or rejected. What sort of God would lovingly create only to vindictively destroy? It doesn’t make any sense. It really doesn’t.
But still, there are a few stray buggers who are hiding in the woodwork and behind the curtains and thumbing their noses at me. It will be a lifetime’s work to find them all.
My house is clearer than it has ever been. And I am beginning to move around freely and rejoice in the freedom to live without fear.
Just believing in a God who loves me and doesn’t need any bats to back her up.