Saturday, July 23, 2005

J. I. Packer, the Bicycle, and the Typewriter

In J.I. Packer: A Biography, Alister McGrath recounts the story of Packer's childhood accident:

It was 19 September 1933. A new school year had begun in England. A seven-year-old boy had just started to attend the National School in the English cathedral city of Gloucester. He was shy and uncertain of himself in his new surroundings. He was already being bullied. Another boy chased him out of the school grounds on to the busy London Road outside. A passing bread van could not avoid hitting him. He was thrown to the ground with a major head injury. The young boy was taken to the Gloucester Royal Infirmary and rushed into an operating theatre. He was discovered to have a depressed compound fracture of the frontal bone on the right side of his forehead, with injury to the frontal lobe of the brain. It was potentially very serious.

Now fast forward four years:

Every schoolboy of the period longed for the day when he would own a bicycle of his own. Usually around the age of eleven, at the point when a schoolboy would enter senior school, parents would mark their son's 'coming of age' by giving him a bicycle as a birthday present. Packer dropped heavy hints that he expected to receive the cycle, like all his friends. However, his parents knew that they could not yet allow their son to have a bicycle. If he were to have any kind of accident, the earlier injury could lead to something much more serious, and potentially fatal. but what could they give their son instead?

On the morning of his eleventh birthday, in 1937, Packer wandered down from his bedroom to see what present awaited him. The family had a tradition of placing birthday presents in the dining room of the house. He expected to find a bicycle. Instead, he found an old Oliver typewriter, which seems to him to weigh half a ton. It was not what Packer had asked for; nevertheless, it proved to be what he needed. Suprise gave way to delight, as he realized what he could do with this unexpected gift. It was not more than a minute before he had put paper into the machine, and started to type. It proved to be his best present and the most treasured possession of his boyhood. (pp. 6-7)

To this day, Packer types all of his material on an old-fashioned typewriter! Thank you, God, for giving an 11-year-old Packer what he needed, not what he wanted!