A Close Shave, O Jerusalem

Stories for my Father, Ivor Coats, 25 January 1923- 13 June 2016

When General Secretary Gorbachev emerged from his jet on his arrival irazorn Moscow after the 1991 August Coup, he was trapped in his holiday Dacha in the Crimea for two days, he was unshaved and looked disheveled. I was shocked, I had never seen a world leader, let alone a super-power world leader, looking so undignified. Seeing the Communist Leader’s loss of dignity, I was not surprised that the USSR collapsed in the following days. There must have been a lot people whose dignity had been denied for that empire to collapse.

For some reason Gorbachev’s unshaved image inspired me when I fly long distance to emerge from a plane shaved and wearing a bright floral tie. Maybe this is because I am my father’s son.

Now in his 90s, I find my father recovering from pneumonia in a London hospital and he is most upset, he has not shaved in two days. He is determined to regain his dignity and leave the hospital. He has his artificial leg on. Holding his stick in one hand and my arm with the other we walk up and down the corridor in the ward. He quizzes me, “Are you going to buy me a razor?”

I tell him that Dr. Rohini, the extremely friendly caring doctor, had asked me not to buy him one but instead ask the nurse, Mary, to supply one and watch him shave. She is on her break so we wait. We return to his bed and he sits down on it. The nurse returns, provides a wash basin, no mirror, not that one would have helped much as his eye sight has largely failed, and a cheap disposable razor and small packets of shaving cream. He takes off his sweater and shirt and shaves himself. The woman visiting the patient John opposite says to John “Isn’t he doing well” and they both smile.

Finally my father finishes shaving, with three small bloody nicks on his face. He puts on a clean shirt and smiles proudly.

He was discharged the next day. I bring him home.

At my parents’ flat in Clapham I am in the galley kitchen and he comes and asks “Did you buy new razors, do they have covers on.” “Yes they in the bathroom and there is one out with no cover.” He walks back to sitting room. Later I am sitting with him and he starts to unbutton his shirt. “Do you want to shave?” I ask. “Yes,” he says. He gets up with some difficulty and stick in hand heads to the bathroom. I follow, run hot water into the sink and spray shaving cream on his hand. He shaves with a new multi-blade razor, no nicks today. He returns to the sitting room and I help him on with his shirt. I clean the smeared shaving cream off his glasses.

He sits down and says, “Let’s have a drink.” I get us both a whisky and water. Then I wish him good bye, kiss him on the cheek.

I am heading to Jerusalem on the night flight. I arrive at the airport, shave and wait for the flight to be called.

Thinking of the God Jesus has us know, who loves the dignity of every person and ask us to use our dignity, if we still have it to help others gain and retain theirs, to always build the new Jerusalem.

Thinking of a father, who told stories to us as children, of how in Assisi, Italy in June 1944 after being hit by anti-tank shell in his armoured car, killing his driver and taking his right leg, he was captured, lost his clothes and then fought as a prisoner to regain his dignity and use his rank as a British officer to persuade his captors to help other prisoners. He helped many.

Thinking of a father still fighting to regain his dignity, inspired as his son, clean shaved boarding a plane to Jerusalem.

Originally a post on Facebook April 20th 2016

Postscript: My father died on 13 June 2016 held by my sister and me. The last thing I did for him was to give him a shave.

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