A few months ago I took my car to be serviced in a garage in Gwaelod-y-Garth nearby where we live just outside Cardiff. I left very early in the morning and the plan was that Meira, my wife, would follow me shortly afterwards, once she’d had her breakfast, and pick me up on the corner of the busy junction at Gwaelod-y-Garth and, together, we’d go in her car to buy some much-needed bedding plants for the garden in Pugh’s Garden Centre in Radyr.
For some reason, Meira was slightly delayed – someone might have phoned as she was about to leave if I remember correctly, and anyway the traffic is particularly heavy at that time of the morning, especially around Gwaelod-y-Garth and the hill leading to it and the A470 beyond – so I was left standing alone on this busy junction twiddling my thumbs waiting for her to arrive and wondering what to do.
Peoples’ faces were a treat, incidentally – angry faces behind bars of steering wheels, their frustration at being delayed for work etched menacingly on their faces. I saw nobody smile; instead I saw uncomfortable reminders of how I used to feel when I battled against my addiction to alcohol and drugs all those years ago and the repeated cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, good intention-failure-guilt, that brought me to my nadir.
And that’s when I spotted a wooden bench nearby with its back to the junction and the heavy traffic. I crossed over the road, adroitly avoiding the unending stream of bad-tempered, abusive traffic. Thankfully, I reached the other side of the road intact, and ended up looking down at the wooden bench. It had on it a brass plate which was inscribed with the following words:
‘Dedicated with love to Bertie Waldron, May 1919 – Feb 1988.’
Who was this Bertie Waldron I wondered. (When I returned home, later that same morning, I tried to find out more about Bertie Waldron on the internet - but, alas, with no success.) Whoever he was, however, I mused, somebody, somewhere, must have loved him very much to have dedicated this wooden bench in his memory.
I sat down gratefully and rested my weary bones, the traffic noise a cacophony in me head. And there in front of me I saw a revelation. There was a gap of about ten feet in the tall privet hedge in front of the bench, and I found myself looking out across open countryside towards the beautiful Caerphilly Mountain beyond which was captured on a canvas of deep-blue sky, peppered with delicate cotton-wool clouds each one winking provocatively at me in the early-morning sun; to my left I could see clearly the top of Garth Mountain as if defiantly challenging all-comers to deny its majestic beauty, its uniqueness and its God-given right to be there; and to my right, Pentyrch Quarry, shrouded self-consciously in lush, evergreen forestry; and I marvelled at the different shades of green that I could detect – up to thirty different shades of green, I warrant, that’s how much I counted in as many seconds – but there was more, much, much more.
And on this ugly, nasty piece of road manifested in peoples’ anger and frustration suddenly I felt peace and tranquillity, and I witnessed God’s beauty in those memorable vistas that had, until I discovered Bertie Waldron’s wooden bench, been hidden from my view. Indeed, for an instant, I became acutely aware of God’s own very presence in that place. There, on that busy junction, was God – and I met Him there, thanks to an unknown someone who had loved Bertie Waldron so much that they dedicated that wooden bench in his memory.
And that’s when I remembered my father’s words, “There was never a night so dark, Wynford, that there weren’t stars”.
So, how about it this week? How about looking for the best in mankind; the exceptional in every situation and circumstance? Yes, they’re there – look for them. And how about helping ourselves appreciate what we are – that we’re all geniuses, that we’re all unique, and that we all have a unique contribution to make to life’s rich tapestry?
In a culture that tends to denigrate everything good, and tends to talk about nothing else but the bad and the worst in mankind, having a bench like Bertie Waldron’s is imperative I would say. Indeed, our mental health depends on it. It’s as important as that.