The finest-hour syndrome
(A minister became convinced that God was telling him that his wife would die and he was then to marry Samantha)
Perhaps he spoke as other men had,
only the God-talk more;
I don't know if Samantha'd been
through the same pattern before.
I believe the minister had been
a captain of high finance.
Oh, utmost probity, no swindles;
no hint of dalliance...
I suppose, though, he'd told young Alison
Sylvia would soon retire,
and I suppose he took pride
in Alison as she flew higher.
And I suppose a still small voice
said ten years long he should quit
the firm, and voluntary church work
would not silence it,
but I suppose when he gave in
to study for the ministry,
surrender wrenched him like tooth loss,
hard-cold as January.
I believe the finest-hour syndrome
is what happens when
somebody foils a blaze then wants
the buzz all over again,
studding the rest of his career
with unexplained small fires.
Pray God the minister was no worse
than such artless self-liars.
This poem was written in 2000 and published in Orbis 170, winter 2014, p.69. The version in Orbis, reproduced here, has benefited from some editorial suggestions by Carole Baldock.
The term 'finest-hour syndrome' is my own invention. The phenomenon of serial arson by a former fire hero is one I first heard of ca 1996 in the course of training as a Fire Safety Manager at work. In all the refresher fire training I've had since then, I haven't heard of it again. Googling in search of more detail, I've had the impression that former heroes are very much a subset of the would-be heroes' subset of serial arsonists.
The minister's error, as described in the title note, is close to events I read of as having happened at a church in London in the early 1990s. But the poem's prequel to that story is entirely speculative.