Cyril doesn’t know how to dress, except for his tie.
You can’t miss him in the hallway. For some thirty years he has been the established usher in this little Belgian branch, now a small ward.
Talk to him.
– Remind me, Cyril, how long ago was it that your mother passed away?
He will hesitate. The challenge is twofold, emotional and mathematical. His mouth opens in a brief rictus of hidden grief and calculation. Perhaps you shouldn’t have asked. But at the end he is grateful you triggered the reminiscence.
– How long ago? … Five years… It was two days after my birthday… You know, I had a dream she would die two days after my birthday… I didn’t know the year, but it was two days… And, slap, it happened… She was gone… Two days, the Lord had told me.
He speaks in slow, short sentences. Seldom tries a compound. Pauses after each phrase. In an attempt to overcome his mild aphasia his mother had trained him to articulate syllables like chewing gum. His discourse has a synthetic sound to it.
– How old are you now, Cyril?
– You’ve been in the Church for a long time, haven’t you?
– Since 1975.
He will not waver on that figure. The turning point in their life. Cyril and his mother, one of those odd couples of single mothers with a problem child, immensely receptive to the Gospel. Sometimes a widow or divorcee, often a case with a dark secret. She opens the door, invites the missionaries in, embraces the Restoration. To undo her past she talks more than the messengers. They listen approvingly while failing to comprehend her misfortunes, told in another tongue and from another sphere. She struggles with envy when her glance passes from her child to the hale and hearty elders. But she knows: this Church will be a haven for her lifelong toddler once she is gone.
Indeed, twenty-five years later, the death of Cyril’s mother left him, orphan at fifty-six, in disarray. The safety net worked.
– You still do the same job, Cyril?
– No, no. Pre-retirement since last year… They didn’t need as many attendants in the museum any more… They installed all that electronic stuff… Visitors can’t steal anything now.
– And you can keep busy?
His eyes will lighten up.
– Yes, the temple… We go to Holland now.
– You like to go to the The Hague temple, Cyril?
He will pause. For him a question is a question.
– Yes and no… It’s cheaper… The travel is cheaper… But it was nicer to travel far… You know, our first temple was in Zollikofen… All the way to Switzerland… And then we went to London, that’s England… I also went to Germany, the Frankfurt temple… I went to all these countries… Now we go to Holland… Only an hour away… It’s not really another country.
He seems to think he said something negative.
– But it’s a nice temple too… We must stay on the straight and narrow path… The temple is given to help us…
Cyril loves to preach. He is never asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting, but he compensates at each fast and testimony meeting. Second or third person to come forward, leaving his usher post. His favorite topic, no, his only topic is enduring to the end. We must stay on the straight and narrow path… We will have challenges… We must endure… Suddenly emotion overtakes him and compound sentences without connectors wash over the pulpit, gurgling up out of deep sources, merging childhood dreams and morsels of Scriptures. The audience partitions. One segment looks down, counting the minutes for it to end. The others supportively focus on his teary face — those who, perhaps, have a better chance to endure to the end.
– Now that you’re on your own, can you manage, Cyril?
He will say the judge has appointed a legal guardian. Someone had to take over for part of his mother, wasn’t it? But the rent and utilities for his tiny apartment take more than half of his pension. And then there is food to pay, and the 12-mile bus drive to church, and sometimes clothes.
No, don’t look at his clothes. We know. Since his mother died, Cyril is free to choose from his narrow wardrobe. Peculiar colors, purplish pants, a checkered shirt, worn-out tennis shoes.
– It’s wonderful you always wear that tie, Cyril.
He will smile.
– Yes, yes, it keeps me on the narrow path… Oh, time for Sunday School… Need to go.
He limps away. As ever he wears, somewhat clumsily knotted under the fraying collar, but convincingly displayed on the front of his grizzled shirt, his immaculate temple tie.