A man from Japan, in Tsunami's wake, asked me to help him inscribe the book of condolences in English. I could help him with the language, the spelling, but not the sentiment. It was coursing through his veins, the blood of his own people.
He introduced himself as a serious man: an admirer, follower, worshipper of Jesus, the awkwardness of words made it hard to tell. He said he was lonely, but did he mean alone, or individual? He read the Bible at home, he said. Belonged to no church or fellowship.
He reminded me so much of Philip Larkin's description of a church as a serious house on serious earth. The fact that our encounter was in a cathedral seemed at once incidental and yet of great importance. Our communion, though imperfect, was serious.
As he left he asked me to take a photograph with his camera - of him overshadowed by this great pile of stone, "this special shell". It was a pillar of grief.