It was early morning as the airman set off on the sixteen mile journey to his place of duty. It was a routine that both he and his young wife, Joan, had come to know. As he left there was also the certainty that his return would be at the same time each day, regular as clockwork, unless a message reached Joan to say that maybe an exercise had been called, which required him to stay on base till it was completed. This was their life. But today was going to be different. Today, the unexpected was going to happen as events were to transpire that would bring about new and radical change to their lives. The tranquility of their idealistic life was about to explode because of decisions made on the international scene.
Cyprus, where they lived, was considered to be an ideal place for a young couple to begin married life. Cyprus has often been called the island of love. It was on the island of Cyprus that Greek mythology refers to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, being born of the foam of Paphos. Aphrodite, who the Romans would have referred to as Venus, was known as the Greek Goddess of love, desire, beauty, fertility, the sea, and vegetation. This was their island home, a natural romantic extension of the honeymoon of married life.
Unaware of all that lay ahead, Joan began her routine of chores. For a young girl raised in the Scottish highlands, living on a Mediterranean island really was romantic. But there were still things that must be done. It was always best to ensure the housework was carried out early in the day, before the heat became too intense. And even though they were still expecting their first child, they were living in a reasonably sized, three bedroom bungalow with a large living room and a budgie that sat in a corner in a cage. Yes, there was much to do.
The building had a flat roof, as was the case with so many houses in the east and certainly in this locality, where the washing could be hung out to dry or where one could sunbathe when desired. Down stairs, towards the front of the bungalow, was a large, shaded balcony on which to relax in the welcoming cool breeze. In the evening during the summer months it was not unusual to see the local people using such areas as if they were their living rooms. They would sit together with their families, perhaps drinking coffee or watching television or just socializing. The family was traditionally the most important institution in the island society. Especially in village life, where people thought of themselves primarily as members of families and rarely spoke of themselves as individuals in the existential sense. They traditionally identified themselves first as members of families, then according to their places of origin, and lastly as citizens of a nation. Jon and Joan had also come to know that the pace of island life was leisurely, that the people were kind and helpful and always ready with a smile. The people were hard workers too, resilient people who had withstood and accommodated a succession of invaders throughout their long history.
As the day progressed, Joan began to prepare for the return of her love. She looked through the window, but he was not there. She stepped through the door, but he was not there. She looked into the horizon, but there was no vision to brighten her life. There was a certain eeriness about that day which she could not completely comprehend. This was July, nineteen seventy-four on the island of Cyprus. There was no telephone in the house to communicate with the wider world. There was no one living nearby who would understand her anxious concerns being expressed in English. She was alone, upset, and anxious, not understanding why it should be that her love was acting so much out of routine. Was he alright? Had there been an accident? She did not know. There were so many questions, yet so few answers to match them.
Nightfall came down very quickly in Cyprus. The eastern countries did not have the long periods of dusk known in Scotland, and as Joan continued to wait in her Cypriot home there was still no sign of her love. All she knew was the terrifying sound of gunfire that was surrounding her home. Could it have been fireworks, she thought? Was there some local tradition or celebrations she was not aware of? No, the sounds she was hearing were clearly different from any fireworks she had ever heard before this day, there had to be another reason for what was happening. And as she sought to secure the premises, Joan was beginning to understand the full meaning of fear.
The windows and shutters were closed as she went from one room to another. The external doors were locked. Every means of access to the home were checked and then double checked, nothing could be left to chance. The house lights were all turned off, just in case any undesirable person should be attracted to the home lit up. Even her radio was switched off–though along with that action came the fact that any news from the outside world was switched off too. Her desire for protection ironically also became the means of her isolation. Add to that her increased discomfort, because, at the hottest time of the year in the Mediterranean, she had switched off the fans designed to keep her cool, just in case their noise compromised her security.
As she sat down in the safest part of the house, still not knowing the cause of the day’s events, she thought of the one whom she had married. Was she widowed already? Would she also be following him into death? Just one day can change ones perspective so dramatically. Life had appeared to be hopeful as the day began, now it seemed to be so hopeless. Her heart began the day with leaps of joy as she considered the wondrous moments that they shared; now, however, her heart was thudding with such an awesome dread. Life was now appearing to be so out of control. What could she do? The reality was clear: there was nothing she could do except to pray that someone, or something, could intervene and bring back her heart’s desire. It was at that moment, though the explosions and the gunfire continued on, that an inner battle of her own began, as she sought to discover a spiritual trust in the midst of the unknown.
Joan began to read a book related to the underground Christian church in Eastern Europe called “I Found God in Soviet Russia” by John Noble. As she did, the words “I prayed” sprang out of the pages from the second chapter. She knew that was her only answer as she poured her heart out to the only one who was there to listen… God. Her circumstances were not changed. The fearful happenings outside, whatever they may be, were not changed. The terrifying noise of gunfire had not ceased, and the absence of human company continued to be. The concerns at the absence of Jon were still there, but she knew she did not need to face those fears alone. She was already a woman of faith, but it is in the midst of trials and adversity that a full understanding of what that means in practical terms can be grasped.
The words I have written are just one part of a true story. My wife, Joan, and I were the young couple starting married life in Cyprus 40 years ago as a military coup and Turkish invasion transformed the lives of so many irrespective of their national background. Not everyone survived. For some, the questions in their minds and hearts may never have had an answer. Yet for so many came a realization that when the world appears to be out of control, human answers are often insufficient.