Rather than writing in to Mariella or Coleen or Alain, I’ll be communing on a semi-irregular basis with a different spirit on the anniversary of their death. The spirits being what they are, I won’t be able to ask any specific questions but will leave myself open to whatever advice they wish to bestow on me.
First up, appropriately, is none other than St Nicholas, father of Christmas, whose spirit, on this day 1672 years ago in Myra (modern-day Demre in Antalya, Turkey), was received with angelic smiles into the Kingdom of Heaven—or so say the St Nicholas Centre.
How did I hear from him? It’s fair to say that Nicholas got in touch with me. This morning I found, scrunched up and deposited in one of my trainers, a fragment of papyrus. It being Ancient Greek and his handwriting unorthodox, I struggled to understand it at first—so please excuse any errors—but after much googling managed to translate it roughly as follows:
There is nothing so commonly misunderstood as charity. I will tell you what it is, Will. What’s more, I’ll tell you why my symbol is Three Gold Balls. The two things are related.
One time, when I was a young man and travelled the villages of Lycia with only a donkey to my name, I came to an inn. It was late and raining, so I sought refuge there.
“It’s late and raining,” I said to the innkeeper. “Will you give me board?”
“Have you money?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Then I cannot take you in.”
“If you will not take me in, then at least let my donkey rest the night in your stable. She is exhausted from travelling.”
“Have you money?” asked the innkeeper.
“No,” I replied.
“Then I cannot take your donkey in.”
“If you will not take me or my donkey in, then at least let us rest awhile in your garden under the protection of that tree.”
“Have you money?”
“No. Still no money.”
“Then I cannot take either you or your donkey into my garden.”
Just as he was about to shut his door I made a final offer: “Innkeeper, take these robes from me. They are of woven cotton and dyed with chay root after the fashion of the Indians.”
“What do you want for them?”
“Sanctuary for my donkey. That is all.”
So my donkey spent the night in the stable and I slept naked on the road and the next day walked naked to Patara. This is why I am called the Patron Saint of Donkeys.
But mine was not an act of charity. Though I gave, nothing was taken from me. I lost nothing.
That summer, my donkey gave birth to three gold balls, one of which I gave to a shepherd with gambling debts, one to a family whose daughter suffered from psoriasis and the last to a woman who had offered me a fig. That is why my symbol is Three Gold Balls.
That was where Nicholas’s message ended; the parchment was ripped so of course there could have been more, but we can only speculate. This morning, after cancelling my bet365 account, I went and bought skin cream and fig rolls. Afterwards I made a donation to the donkey sanctuary on my dad’s behalf.
But what has Nicholas’s advice said to you?