In January my husband and I had to rush my Dad to emergency. We had to take a strange route to avoid traffic. We also had to keep him calm. He was ironically excited in his delirium from level 10 pain. We thought he would need to stay a few days but in reality the […]When death comes. — Into The Clearing
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find a few sad Christmas trees around this year. After all, it’s been a tough year, and when you really think about it, Christmas trees are a mirror, or reflection, of ourselves and what’s going on both inside our heads, and in the world around us. A blank, green canvas, either real or fake, where we plaster bits of ourselves in the form of bright lights, jewelled ornaments, and perhaps even rustic relicts made when we were kids, along with contributions by our own kids and grandchildren, if we have them.
While our tree could well be described as “Rafferty’s Rules” or cluttered eclectic with loads of “character”, there are others who are clearly much more particular and their tree has to be perfect, and might, for example, have a very strict colour scheme. Of course, I admire these trees. Who wouldn’t?! However, I’m pretty sure these are the very same infuriating people who always coloured in between the lines when they were kids, and now throw out their own kids’ Christmas craft. It might not be perfect or ostentatious, but there’s nothing more personal and meaningful than anything handmade.
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about the best Christmas tree. Rather, I’m here to talk about the worst.
This wasn’t something I intentionally set out to do.
Rather, it was thrust upon me when I was out shopping, and I came across this poor Christmas tree parked outside Coles in front of the public toilets. While, as you can see, it did have a few decorations, there were no lights and it looks like it’s just been pulled straight out of storage, and stuck out on display without much spit and polish.
I thought this tree had taken out the honours for the worst Christmas tree I’d seen in 2020. Then, Geoff showed me a picture of his work Christmas tree. It was a strong rival, especially when you know that they’re going through a difficult restructure and there are voluntary and not so voluntary redundancies, which is particularly hard at this time of year. Indeed, if this tree could speak, it could well sound like Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch: “You’d be a grouch, too, if you lived in a trash can!”
However, some are more particular than others, and have a rigid colour scheme. Personally, I’m pretty sure these are the very same people who always coloured-in between the lines, and didn’t scribble back at school. All the decorations have to be red, purple for example. On the other hand, our Christmas tree is “cluttered eclectic” like the house. We have always had a real tree. However, being able to go outside much at all last December due to the choking bush fire smoke, I was too late to get a real tree and was mighty grateful to pick up a fake one for $10.00 at the local charity shop. The tree looked bad last year, but it looks even worse this year. However, what with renovating the loungeroom and rumblings of Covid, we didn’t get the tree up until Christmas Eve, and it looks so bad, that it won’t be up long after New Year’s. Indeed, to be perfectly honest with you, our tree could use a huge, brown paper bag to stick over it’s head.
However, as much as our Christmas tree is visually challenged, as the saying goes, there’s always someone worse off, and I’m not sure whether to award the prize to Geoff’s work Christmas tree, or to a Christmas tree spotted outside the supermarket and the public toilets.
Meanwhile, there’s our tree.
Meanwhile, our Christmas tree is a case of people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Our family has always had a real tree. Over the years, my dad’s waxed so lyrically about the scent of the tree in his usually Basil Faulty style (he used to be a close ringer for actor John Cleese), that going fake felt like selling my soul to the devil.
However, the lead up to Christmas 2019 and 2020 hit us hard. Last year, we had the extreme Australian bushfires known colloquially as the “Black Summer”. Although we live well beyond the fire zone, the air here was choking with smoke and with my lung issues, I had to stay in the air-conditioned loungeroom or I couldn’t breathe. It was dire. There were some clear days, which finally allowed me to venture down to the local shops to look for a real tree. By then, however, they’d all sold out and we were excited and thankful to find a $20.00 fake one at the local charity shop. It wasn’t fantastic, and it certainly didn’t have that fresh pine scent which sends my Dad into a spin. However, at least it was green, and we could hang our precious ornaments from it.
Fast-forwarding to 2020, we had a different problem. We found ourselves hosting Christmas for the first time, and while it was only my Mum and Dad, I still wanted the house to be festive and somewhat “neat and tidy”. This was a very tall order, but it pushed us through all sorts of incredible levels of pain, sacrifice and frustration. After finally getting rid of the old piano in the loungeroom, what was meant to be replacing the dingy old carpet with a floating floor, ended up with guttering the room and a massive paint job. Also, with the piano gone, we’ve lost our convenient display and storage unit, leaving a lot of homeless flotsam and jetsam out on the loose. Moreover, while Geoff was working, I started what became a significant purge of books and the clearing of the back room to the point where we’ve moved tables and lounges around and it’s now got a couch and a teenager out there much of the time. The speed of this progress has been an absolute miracle!
All this work didn’t leave much time for Christmas trees, and the night before Christmas, the sad and sorry fake was brought down out of storage, and the teenager who’d once insisted on taking over decorating the Christmas tree (more precision and perfection required), now had to be coerced out of a “why bother” state of mind. I couldn’t blame her. In its naked state, the tree really could’ve used a bag over its head.
Meanwhile, I came across a beautiful Christmas window display at our local bookshop, and wondered whether I should claim it as our own…
No matter where you are, Christmas 2020 didn’t feature on your Santa list, but it’s been sobering, reflective and it’s got us thinking about what really matters and how we live our lives. What’s important, and what we can go without. So, in this sense as long as we have our nearest and dearest and community among and around us, the rest doesn’t really matter. Indeed, I might even appreciate mediocre attempts to create a bit of Christmas cheer and paint a smile on what initially appeared to be a couple of sad Christmas trees.
How is your Christmas shaping up? Ours is now done and dusted, but that’s another post.
Best wishes and a Merry and blessed Christmas,
PS In hindsight, I should’ve covered our Christmas tree in toilet paper this year…a homage to 2020 and also to my youth.
It’s not very often that I even touch on the spiritual side of my life…my beliefs, my faith or Christian community. That’s not because they aren’t an important. Rather, it’s just that I often see too many shades of grey, and wrestle with so many aspects of my own faith, that it’s not easy to package it up and present it to anyone else in a vaguely coherent state.
I guess that’s what happens when you’re “beyond the flow”. You’re not usually the sort of person who walks into a place and immediately feels comfortable in that empty seat. Indeed, you bring your own. Ask questions. Wriggle. Don’t quite feel comfortable and look around at all the people who belong and ask: “What about me? Where’s my place? Will I ever belong?”
Above: Barney’s back in my day before it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Although I really struggled within myself while I was there, I was very happy there too if that makes sense. Found my place for awhile.
When I was in my twenties, I moved from the small Lutheran Church where I’d grown up and didn’t have many people my own age, and started going to St Barnabas Broadway. “Barney’s” was the Anglican Church aligned with Sydney University, where I’d literally swung from the chandeliers as an undergraduate, loving and being fully immersed in virtually all aspects of campus life. Barney’s was jam-packed with hundreds of young people, and I thought I’d hit the jackpot. That was until I struggled to run into the same people week after week and missed the intimacy of my home Church. Yet, I persevered and went to home groups and formed a really tight group of friends who were also mostly on the fringe of things to some extent. For example, the women among us weren’t real good at wearing floral dresses, which were a kind of uniform at the time. Over time, we came to see ourselves as the “black sheep”. Indeed, a friend of mine and I wrote this incredibly sad, cynical story of sheep drowning in their own tears abandoned by the shepherd. This wasn’t so much a comment on Barney’s, but more a sense of the individual getting lost and overlooked. Of course, that’s nothing new, but when you feel yourself drowning in sorrow, it can feel like you’re the only one who has ever been there. However, with the exception of mental illness, it is often something everyone experiences from time to time. Moreover, your teens and twenties can be particularly turbulent as you try to launch yourself out into the so-called real world and search for love. It is difficult for most people to respond to drowning souls. However, if you know anything about life saving, you’ll know that you’re not meant to drown yourself saving someone else. Rather, they recommend using props like a broom, which enable you to save a life and not go down in the process.
Anyway, as it turned out, my sense of drowning in my own tears, wasn’t far off the mark. While I was turning to spiritual and psychological sources of help, I was actually battling the effects of undiagnosed hydrocephalus (or fluid on the brain) where the cerebral spinal fluid (CFS) was building up inside my head and squashing my brain. I didn’t have trouble with headaches, but I was clumsy right through high school and with the pressure on my frontal lobe, wasn’t just extroverted. Stress was also quite disabling. After all, my brain was already under the pump.
When I was 25, I moved to Western Australia thinking a more relaxed lifestyle would be better. However, I was diagnosed with the hydrocephalus a few months later when I couldn’t touch my nose in a basic medical check up. Six months later, after a serious and sharp decline, I had brain surgery in 1996 where they inserted a VP Shunt from my brain under the skin through to my peritoneum. I moved back to Sydney to recover. The shunt blocked and it was decided I had to stay put and I moved back home with mum and Dad and did six months rehab to get back on my feet. I was off work for six-twelve months and went from being a Marketing Manager in a serious relationship to moving back in with my parents with my life squeezed into my bedroom cupboards. While I was grateful for their support, becoming a dependent child again was devastating. It wasn’t part of my plan, ambition and contradicted every little aspect of how I saw myself as a intelligent, independent career woman.
Then, the shunt blocked, and my bad luck appeared terminal. Not in a life and death sense, but in terms of my morale. I remember talking to a friend and thinking I’d never get married and have kids. That I “couldn’t even take care of a goldfish”. These were gruelingly difficult days, extending into months which kept crawling along.
Clearly, I’ve come a long way sense then. I met my husband Geoff on NYE 1998, while I was still in the recovery phase from that surgery. He took me on when I was still pretty much a rough diamond, and loved me regardless. Was part of the ongoing journey which saw me continue to recover and extend myself even to the present day. Thanks to what we are still finding out about neuroplasticity, I started rising back up and getting back into the land of living, even if I wasn’t quite back in the fast lane.
Anyway, I’ve taken you on a massive detour from where I intended to take you today.
The reason I’m touching on the spiritual, is that our fifteen year old son, who is known as on Beyond the Flow as the inimitable “Mister”, got baptised yesterday. When I asked him why he got baptised yesterday, he told me today that the baptisms were on so he might as well do it. However, his face told a different story yesterday when he was bursting with excitement, glowing and clearly being touched and immersed not only in the water, but also in the Holy Spirit and God’s love. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. This was clearly supernatural. I live with this character and experience the ups and downs, highs and lows and the clean versus messy bedroom. I know he’s not a saint, and yet he is. Somehow, so am I. Yet, I feel incredibly ordinary even if I’m no longer that lost, black sheep drowning in my own tears.
I am incredibly proud of our son for choosing to get baptised now. He turned 15 on Friday, and clearly this is an age group renowned for making other choices. Fantastic!
The other thing I was really stoked about, was that despite the last minute notice, we had a good contingent of family there. That even included Geoff’s sister and her boyfriend from Queensland, who just happened to be down. It was actually a very rare situation where Geoff’s family outnumbered my side. With my Dad being one of seven, that doesn’t happen often. Mister also had a few of his friends along and our Church (Hope Unlimited Church) also has a strong youth group and they were there literally cheering him along. Indeed, four of the youth were baptised yesterday.
Lastly, although it spent the service out in the car, the family Bible made it inside afterwards and I managed to share it with a few people. It was published in 1872/74 in Philadelphia and originally belonged to my grandfather’s grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich who was a blacksmith in Hahndorf, South Australia. His wife’s family included the Hartmann’s and Paech’s who were among the first German immigrants to come to South Australia. They migrated to under Pastor Kavel, because they didn’t believe in changes to the liturgy back home. On one hand, you could say they were very devout and fought to defend their faith (which for Pastor Kavel included going to prison at the time). On the other hand, you could describe them as stubborn and resistant to change.
My grandfather became a Lutheran Pastor. A shepherd in the very meaning of the word, he told stories of driving out through the mud to reach families and connect them with Church and salvation. He and my grandmother worked tirelessly in a ministry capacity, but also as what we’d today would view as social work. While serving in Wollongong in the 1950s, their congregation was mostly made up of European migrants known as “New Australians” who were struggling to adjust to a new country, language and culture and deal with having to start over again with perhaps little more than the shirt on your back. These legendary heroics of migrant Australia, didn’t come without a cost. My grandparents and their kids, lived in a tiny matchbox-sized manse next to the Church where their door was always open and they gave more than really was a good idea. My grandfather would marry a couple. My grandmother would be the bridesmaid and my mother or aunt would play the organ. At the larger weddings, the family would have to leave before the dancing could start. These were interesting time, so different to how I have grown up.
This is just my Christian and spiritual legacy to our son. Meanwhile, Geoff grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist Family in Scottsdale, Tasmania. In his twenties, he moved to Sydney where the home group he attended broke away, becoming Dayspring Church. Going back in time, his family included a Methodist lay preacher and another branch of his family, the Walkers and Brookers were active in the early days of the Salvation Army. Indeed, his grandfather Herbert William Brooker played the cornet in the band which we’ve inherited. Actually, I just found out last night that Herbert William’s cousin, George Walker, was a Lieut.-Colonel in the Salvation Army and was interred by the Japanese during WWII while serving as a missionary in China. Geoff’s Great Great Grandfather, Robert Sleightholm, actually built much of the historic Church of the Good Shepherd at Hadspen in Tasmania. I know that’s different to pastoring a Church, but he was still a Church builder. Incidentally, that’s far better than being a Church seller and wrecker. The Anglican Church has put the Good Shepherd up for sale. Read here. What did I say about the shepherds and the sheep?
While we are very proud of our strong Christian heritage, that is not to discourage people my kids refer to as first generation Christians. While it can be quite encouraging to come from a Christian family and there can be that internal cohesion, it can also be quite different if your Christian walk goes off on a tangent to your family. Christian communities have seemingly become more tolerant in recent years, there are tensions between different expressions and interpretations of faith. This legacy might not always leave you with a blank slate or room for your own faith to grow unimpeded and without perhaps being pruned too harshly. So, whatever your family situation might be, that’s okay. We are all God’s children and valued members of God’s family. Jesus loves us.
Funny I should write all of this, because I usually don’t speak up and it’s been really hard for me to feel an ongoing sense of belonging and commitment to Church. As you’re probably aware since my battle with the hydrocephalus, I was dealt another whammy when I became progressively immobile following the birth of our second child, Miss, and was diagnosed 18 months later with dermatomyositis. For awhile there, I felt like God didn’t love me any more and had channelled his wrath my direction and was zapping me with thunderbolts. I was really angry, hurt and just bereft that I had a second very rare, unpronouncible disease and I hadn’t even turned 40. Of course, I was mad. Mad with God. Mad with life, but mostly petrified of dying and leaving my then three and 18 month old children without their mum, especially when they were too young to even remember their mother or what it was like to have a mum.
My ongoing struggles with chronic health and disability also made it difficult to get to Church regularly and build those ongoing, continuing relationships where I could be a part of things. Me being me, I was also radically overthinking everything. Plus, I was fighting to stay alive, particularly after the dermatomyositis started causing fibrosis in my lungs. I developed bronchitis, pneumonia. I really should wear a mask out in public during fly season, but I am who I am and that isn’t me. I want to be with people, not behind a wall of any sort.
So, life is complicated and as frustrating and exhausting as it might be, I have to keep rising back to the surface and being not only part of community, but being something of a shepherd and caring for the flock from my seat somewhere out the back and not quite out the front. That’s my place. Meantime, Geoff can be found either up the front playing base, setting up and packing up chairs often with our son in tow. Our daughter went to her first meeting of Church dancers last week. That’s quite development compared to when my Mum was growing up.
Well, although this is the extended version of the baptism, it really is very much a fleeting overview of our spiritual journey and we’d love to hear from you. Moreover, if you have written any posts along these lines, please include links in the comments below. I’d love to read them.
Love & God Bless,
Lt-Col George Walker Dies
Lieut.-Colonel ‘George Walker, commander of the Newcastle Division of the Salvation Army, died in Newcastle last night at the age of 61. Lieut.-Colonel Walker became an officer in the Salvation Army’s Burwood Corps 37 years ago, and then joined the China and India mission service. During the Second World War he was interned by the Japanese, and is remembered by many prisoners as welfare officer in a number of internment camps around Peking. After the war, he served as a travelling evangelist in New South Wales and Queensland, before taking up his Newcastle post a year ago. Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Wednesday 16 April 1952, page 3
This is just a brief message to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a Happy, healthy and Wonder-filled New Year.
As you may be aware, I live in Sydney, Australia where it’s looking like we’ll be having a scorchingly hot Christmas and Boxing Day. We’re heading out to Church tonight for Christmas Eve and will be heading to my aunt’s my parents and extended family for Christmas Day. We’ll be catching up with Geoff’s sister from Boxing Day.
I’ve written a few Christmas posts in the last week which may interest you:
We would like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas. Happy Holidays isn’t a phrase we use here in Australia, but I understand it’s used a lot in USA and has its place.
Yet, at the same time, we understand that this time of year is very difficult for many for a variety of reasons and we would also like to acknowledge that. We hear you and I put my hand on your heart and stand alongside you. It’s not easy and while I’ve experienced the most amazing miracles myself, they haven’t come about like clockwork. I haven’t clicked my fingers and hey presto, pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I’ve also found there’s a lot I can do to both improve my lot and also completely shoot myself in the foot and make things worse.
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
Well, that’s a rather large dose of philosophy and reflection for what’s supposed to be a coffee share. However, so much is shared over a cup of tea or coffee in the real world. Why shouldn’t that be a part of our virtual coffees?
“Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”
This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.
PS The photo of me as the elf was taken in the Cancer Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital. I popped down there to pick up some resources for a friend. However, 6 years ago I had a round of chemo (cyclophosphamide) to treat my auto-immune disease, which had started attacking my lungs. Treatment began the week before Christmas with my second dose on Boxing Day, when there was plenty of parking for a change. The treatment worked and I’ve been in remission for 6 years. So, I have much to be thankful for and it’s a reminder not to take the seemingly hum drum and every day for granted.
Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.
This week, we’re heading off to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Somehow, St Mary’s has managed to remain a striking architectural and spiritual beacon, despite the urban jungle’s concerted efforts to smother and suffocate architectural relics beneath with its towering canopy.
With my usual propensity for ending up in seemingly random places, I ended up at St Mary’s on Tuesday afternoon when it became the central point for me to meet up with my Mum and her brother and sister. Mum’s sister was visiting from Fremantle in Western Australia and for a brief moment in time there, all our roads led to St Mary’s Cathedral.
This was strangely more in keeping with my Dad’s family who is Catholic and his parents actually got married there in 1940 during WWII and the first Curtin to arrive in Australia from Cork, County Cork got married in the original St Mary’s Cathedral in 1855. My Great Grandfather’s funeral was also held at St Mary’s in 1936.
However, we are Christian and as far as we’re concerned, those old boundaries don’t matter anymore. We have one faith and being inside St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s incredible stained glass windows and reverence to God, was incredibly spiritual. Of course, you don’t need all of that to hear and talk to God, but it can be like putting on a beautiful dress. It doesn’t change who you are, but it lifts you up.
Our visit to St Mary’s was more of a time of reflective prayer and gratitude, than being there to do the touristy or photographic thing and admire all the architectural details. I did that a few years ago and am currently cursing my photo filing system, because I can’t find the photos anywhere and I wanted to share them with you.
However, what I did find, was the aerial perspective above which was taken from Centrepoint Tower.If you look carefully out the front of St Mary’s you’ll see a funeral cortege and I was reminded that the State funeral for Australia’s most successful and iconic horse trainer, Bart Cummings, was in progress at the time. Our daughter was auditioning for a role as one of the young Von Trapp children in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music in Sydney that day, and I took her up Centrepoint Tower afterwards as a treat. For better or worse, she didn’t make it into the next round but even getting to the audition stage was an experience of a lifetime.
By the way, before we move inside the Cathedral and I do understand that I’m supposed to be showing off a few doors, and not just giving you the grand tour of everything but. However, I’d also like to point out that Sydney’s famous Hyde Park is in the foreground of that photo, and you can also see the striking Archibald Fountain by French sculptor Francois Sicard, which commemorates the association between Australia and France in World War I.
We all arrived in the city a bit early. So, I ended up meeting Mum and my aunt at the Archibald Fountain. We are all renowned for running late, and just when we thought we might be able to sneak in a quick coffee and raspberry tart at a French Cafe at St James Church in Macquarie Street, my uncle was also early and those ambitions were put on hold.
As the Cathedral’s web site explains:
“Today St Mary’s Cathedral is one of Australia’s most beautiful and significant buildings but it did not happen overnight. The Cathedral evolved through a long and patient timeline following a fire which destroyed the first St Mary’s Cathedral in 1865. As Australia’s largest Cathedral building, this English-style Gothic revival building constructed of honey-coloured Sydney sandstone, is regarded as the Mother Church for Australian Catholics. Its central Sydney location ensures a strong and visual presence of the church in Australia’s largest city. Architect William Wardell was commissioned by Archbishop John Polding to design a new St Mary’s following the devastating fire in 1865 razed the original Cathedral. According to Archbishop Polding to Wardell in a letter dated 10 October, 1865: “Any plan, any style, anything that is beautiful and grand. I leave all to you and your own inspiration”. Despite the building’s European origins, Wardell used Australian native flora throughout as a decorative element to ground the Cathedral in its local setting. It took close to 100 years to finally complete St Marys with the first stage constructed between 1866 and 1900 and stage two between 1912 and 1928. However, the original Wardell design was only finally completed in June 2000 when the metal frames of the imposing Southern Spires were lowered into place by helicopter and then sheathed in Gosford sandstone. According to the former Archbishop of Sydney George Pell: “This beautiful Cathedral Church is many things: a historic building, an architectural wonder, a monument to the role which Christianity and especially the Catholic faith has played in Australian life from the first days of European settlement and a magnificent tribute to the faith and commitment of generations of Catholics.” Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, the Cathedral will celebrate its Sesquicentenary in 2018, 150 years since the laying of the foundation stone of the new Cathedral by Archbishop Polding.”
While we were visiting St Mary’s on Tuesday, I spotted the ancient-looking doors to the cathedral and thought they’d make a very respectable contribution to Thursday Doors. Moreover, with only five sleeps til Christmas, it’s quite apt to visit a Church this week and in addition to the Cathedral’s doors, I also wanted to share the nativity scenes and other Christmas decorations.
I also spotted these doors for confession:
Before we leave St Mary’s, I would like to share both the indoor and outdoor nativity scenes out of interest, but also to give our visit a touch of the Christmas spirit.
Lastly, when it comes to Churches, I also think it’s important to talk about them having their doors open and welcoming people in, as well as them being closed for whatever reason. When I was a child, the doors to Catholic Churches were always open. However, that is no longer the case. The doors to St Mary’s Cathedral are open from 6.30am to 6.30pm and longer around Christmas.
For those of you interested in the musical side of things at St Mary’s, here’s a few links:
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to St Mary’s Cathedral. This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.
Before I head off, I’d like to wish you and yours a Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonder-filled and happy New Year.
Once again, I’ve participated in Solveig Werner’s annual Advent Calendar where people from around the world share their different experiences of Christmas and their various traditions. As a proud Australian, I do my bit to share what it’s like to celebrate Christmas Down Under where it is Summer btw and not a snowflake in sight. Indeed, Santa attends our local Christmas festivities onboard a fire truck.
This year I wrote about Silent Night and my mother’s experiences growing up as an Australian within a migrant community where everyone sang Silent Night on Christmas Eve in their native tongue.
By Rowena Curtin
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Two hundred years ago, on a cold Christmas Eve in 1818,Silent Nightwas sung for the very first time at St. Nicholas Catholic Church inOberndorf, Austria. As the daughter of a church organist, I remember how hymn numbers used to arrive at the last minute and Mum would dash off to the piano to practice. However, it never crossed my mind thatSilent Night, one of the world’s greatest Christmas carols, was also thrown together at the last minute. Or, that the words and music were written…
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Tonight, when we went round to my parents’ place for an early Mother’s Day dinner, Mum piped up and said she wanted us to listen to a priest singing on Britain’s Got Talent.
Well, I must admit I was rather taken aback. I don’t know what comes to mind when you think about a singing priest, but I was thinking of something more along the line of Gregorian chants, than something I could relate to. So, while my mother was uncharacteristically excited and really wanted us to see it, I had no interest whatsoever and instinctively wanted to extricate myself and runaway. However, considering it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, I thought I’d better play the dutiful daughter, and avoid being a complete ratbag. Listening to a priest sing for a few minutes, wasn’t going to kill me. Moreover, I am a bit more mature these days.
Then, I see Father Ray Kelly on the stage, and there’s something immediately likeable about him. There’s a sort of brown shoe honesty about him and he is that simple, heart-felt man of God. The sort I’ve come across now and then, but is far from commonplace. He is one of those men of God who is of the people. A shepherd who knows his sheep and responds to their cries. Who knows there are 100 sheep in the flock, and not only knows when one is missing, but also by its name. This type of person is very hard to find.
When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes…
REM: Everybody Hurts
Well, of course, I don’t really know whether all of these impressions are true, but when he sings, I not only believe him, but I also know he’s singing to me. That he personally cares for each one of us and our hurts, and is a reflection of God’s unconditional, personal and intimate love for us. These aren’t phrases I throw around lightly. Father Ray was there in a simple grey suit, his collar and brown shoes and there were no props. No machinations. He simply was, and he was speaking for all those people out there who are desperately hurt, and he’s personally asking them to hold on. It was so clear he cared and was singing straight from the very depths of his heart…his soul. It was just so beautiful and I had to share it with you. Indeed, I hope it touches a chord for you.
What are your thoughts? How did it make you feel?
I could listen to it over and over and over again!
The featured image was drawn by my son.
PS Here’s the wedding song which launched him on You tube Father Ray Kelly singing Alleluia
This was it. I took a deep breath. The 23rd Psalm echoed in my head, and I recited the Lord’s Prayer. Not deeply religious and anything but devout, I still kept a toe in with the man upstairs just in case. However, as I stuffed the heavy stones down my shirt and stared into the lake, I wondered whether he’d accept I was repentant, even if I did commit the ultimate, unforgivable sin. However, it was a done deal. I’d left a note, blown my dosh. I closed my eyes….5,4,3,2,1…Geronimo.
Oops. Next time, I’ll find a deeper pond.
This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s photo prompt comes from © Sandra Crook.
What type of Christmas are you having this year? Perhaps, you haven’t thought about it like that before, but as your life stage changes, so does your take on Christmas. For those of you with a new baby, there’s the Baby in the Manger Christmas. Or, if your kids or grandkids are a little older, there’s the Shepherd and Angel Christmas. I’m sure somebody out there must’ve had the Three Wise Men Christmas, while the Three Wise Monkeys always seem to turn up here. I wonder if they also found gold, frankinscence and myrrhr under their tree instead of socks and undies? It’s Not that I’m ungrateful, but who wouldn’t like to hit the jackpot?!!
Well, this year, our Christmas story is…”No Room At the Inn”.
Firstly, we had to find room for the Christmas Tree. We buy a real one every year, and we put it up originally to keep it safe from the kids, but this Christmas we have puppies in the house. Indeed, we have four puppies in the house and I don’t know if pups can climb Christmas trees quite as deftly as a cat, but I don’t want to find out. Our tree is behind bars.
Speaking of pups, there’s no room left in the kennels anymore. We currently have five dogs…our original dog, Lady, our Border Collie x pups Isaac and Rosie and the micro pups, Dobby and Yoda.
Next, I’ve had to clear the shelves of clutterolly to make room for the Christmas decorations. I don’t know where all this stuff came from, and much of it is related to my research project on the Irish Famine Orphans and I’m concerned that if I put it away, I’ll forget all about my project and move onto something else simply because “out of sight, is out of mind”.
The other thing experiencing “No room at the inn” is my blog. Beyond the Flow is full and I need to upgrade my package, which I’ll do after Christmas. I just need to balance the pennies, and unlike the inn, the bank account is closer to empty. Of course, I swear it was a hacker and not a certain person wanting to spread Christmas cheer a little too far, too enthusiastically and might have got just a little carried away with all that Christmas sparkle. Happiness doesn’t have a price tag, and yet I know I’m not the only one who weaken, crumble and fall into a rising tide of debt just to make everyone and their dog’s dog happy around me. I just can’t help myself. I know each of us
So, the challenge continues…trying to make room for Christmas in a full house.
Are you having any struggles making room for Christmas in your house? I’d love to hear from you.
Before I get started, I thought I’d play Alleluia sung by Ed Sheeran. Get you in the mood. The last week has been deep, dark and philosophical punctuated by blasts of Spring sunlight and tail wags from the dog.
Actually, the last couple of months have been “challenging” after the death of our Border Collie, Bilbo. We’ve had him since our daughter was crawling and he’s seen us through so very much. Moreover, I’ve also had another brush with severe asthmatic coughs and chest infections, which get me every August.
Not unsurprisingly, the kids have been distressed and shaken up. They’ve had questions, and I’ve had to come up with the answers. This included a particularly curly question, which I decided to share. It’s big and it’s important:
Why should we stay alive when life is painful, when we could be in heaven where there’s no pain, no troubles?
I hadn’t quite thought of heaven as the ultimate “grass is greener” before. However, I suppose it is. Otherwise, why would it be called “HEAVEN”? Furthermore, why wouldn’t you, I, want to get there on an express trip? Why do we fight so hard to stay alive, when we could be living up there in the clouds? Even Cloud 9?
While I’ve had my dark moments, and even extended interminable stretches of raw anguish, I haven’t really thought of heaven as my greener pasture. At least, not in the here and now.
I’ve known too many people who’ve lost someone to suicide and am very conscious of the anguish suicide leaves in its wake… an anguish which has no end for the multitude of people who get touched by even one death.
So, I guess for me, particularly when I’m in a level-headed state of mind, knowing that I’d be going to my ulimate happy place when everyone who means anything to me gets to suffer, doesn’t add up.
At the very least, it’s not a very nice thing to do.
However, that’s not something I would share with someone who wasn’t in a particularly level-headed state of mind. That’s something I might now start putting out there on one of my routine drives with my kids, now they’re my son’s 13 and my daughter isn’t far behind him.
As a parent, I’ve been wondering how to talk about sex, dating, periods, condoms, relationships, drugs, but amongst all of that, I’d forgotten all about the other fairly “normal” aspect of puberty…the E-word. EMOTIONS. Thinking back to being a teenager myself, I don’t believe there was any such thing as “an even keel”, being “level-headed”, “grounded” as as for balanced? HA!!
At least speaking for myself, my emotions were extreme, even turbo-charged. Well-intentioned comments like “there’s more fish in the sea” fell flat. My parents meant well, and believe me, I’m getting a better understanding of what it’s like to be a parent scraping the bottom of your psychological and philosophical barrell. When your child is combusting and you’re trying to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Trust me. That whole “bird and the bees stuff” is a veritable piece of cake compared to discussing emotional equilibrium.
How do any of us venture and and carpe diem seize the day and all that entails, without getting hurt? We can’t live our lives in bubble wrap and while you can have safe sex, there is no condom you can quickly wrap around your heart and it’s way too easy to get burned.
I’m not a psychologist. I’m no statistician either. I don’t know what it is which causes one person to take their life, while others persevere. What I do know, is that it’s not straight-forward. I also know that we can’t control someone else. We can’t stop someone else from taking their life. And yet, we sometimes can. Here, I’m speaking about the more collective we, but sometimes, it does come down to the individual. At times, we do become that person staring despair in the face, and it is up to us to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Or, I guess if I was some kind of professional at this, you’d be trying to get the person to find their own reasons for living. Or, at the very least, find a shift in gears.
A friend of my parents used to call the teenage years: “the swirling vortex of pubescence”. He was a very charasmatic gentleman and he’d roll this phrase out like a showman on stage. I always pictured these wild churning seas with the damsel in distress thrashing around in the waves. Never sinking, but not getting out either. I always found that phrase rather entertaining, although on reflection that note of humour, has it’s sting. Tony also put me onto a poet who knew those waves. Knew that intensity of emotion. That was Nan Whitcomb in her “Thoughts of Nanushka” and I’ve since found another kindred spirit in Australian poet and cartoonist, Michael Leunig. Of course, there was also Keats and I’ve always questioned the merits of studying his Ode to Melancholy while studying for our HSC (final school exams = HUGE stress!!)
- “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
- And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 20
- Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
- What thou among the leaves hast never known,
- The weariness, the fever, and the fret
- Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
- Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, 25
- Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
- Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
- And leaden-eyed despairs;
- Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
- Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”
- John Keats, Ode to A Nightingale.
I also remember listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. That song needs no introduction.
The trouble is, that when you’re caught up in the more turbulent passages of that “swirling vortex of pubesence”, you have no idea how the story is going to play out. Speaking of myself, I was so caught up in the immediate present, the current devastating disaster, that I lost all sense of perspective. That it morphed into some kind of hellish bubble, my world. I couldn’t see it was a storm in a tea cup. I couldn’t see, that perhaps being dumped by “the bastard” was the best thing for me. That it really was a case of there being millions of fish in the sea, and I only needed to find one. That I wasn’t trying to catch the one, last surviving fish in an empty sea.
I never saw my life as a novel back then. Indeed, it’s only been this past week, that I’ve appreciated the close parallels between real life and the structure a novel or play where the main character (protagonist) has their difficult person, adversary (antagonist) but after a few rounds, they come through. There’s usually a twist at the end, and more than likely, real life doesn’t turn out quite like you expected either, but you can still live happilly ever after. Well, at least until the next challenge fires up. Bearing this in mind, you have to make the most of those high notes. Carpe diem seize the day. Gobble them up with a cherry on top. Yet, you also have to be prepared for troubles. Expect storms and rainbows, as well as sunny, blue skies.
If I was going to talk to my 13 year old self. Or, in my case, it was more my 16 year old self which was really doing it tough, what would I say?
Firstly, what I would say, wouldn’t be something eloquent, well-written, or an outstanding piece of philosophical writing with all the answers. It would be more of a stuttered, muttered and garbled story about how if I’d pulled the pin then, I wouldn’t have gone on to experience the highs of my life. For me, like so many others, the school days weren’t the best days of my life. However, they were the necessary precursor to getting into university which I loved on so many levels. I went through many relationship ups and downs and had way too many friends run off with the guy that I liked. I also spent all the years from my birth until I was 27, living with undiagnosed hydrocephalus or fluid on my brain, which really did make me “different” in a myriad of ways I am still trying to get my head around. Yes, I wasn’t “unco” and more than likely, the intensity of my emotions weren’t just puberty either. The inside of my brain had been flooded, and I was under an entirely different kind of “pressure”.
So, if I’d pulled the pin at 16, I wouldn’t have known that I had this underlying condition which was greatly relieved through surgery. Yet, even if I hadn’t had that or if there had been no “magic fix” to my problems, I still believe that it’s worth persevering through the very darkest of challenges and fighting hard to find any glimmer of light which will lead us out of the tunnel. Why? Because there just might be something better ahead. That you could well resolve your current troubles through whatever means. a change of curcumstances, meeting someone else. Another door opens.
Indeed, I still remember the night I met my husband. A friend of mine was holding a New Year’s Eve Party in another friend’s apartment in Wollstonecraft, which had a view over the back end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was supposed to going to that party with the boyfriend I’d had throughout the whole brain surgery saga and as you could imagine, things were rocky on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Anyway, he dumped me just before the party and I really didn’t feel like going. However, it was only more of a soiree with only a few of us going and so I went. My husband opened the door. Now, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight. However, we talked a lot that night and he gave me some really good advise and I thought he was wise. Obviously, it was that old thing of crying on someone’s shoulder. I also remember standing out on the balcony together and I would’ve been photographing the fireworks, and he told me that he was also into photography. I clearly remember making a mental tick in my head. He also drove an Austen Healy Sprite, which he described as “English and tempremental”. I remembered that when we were driving through the Tenterfield Ranges in pouring rain to avoid the Grafton floods, and the exhaust pipe fell off on a pot hole. BTW, we’d been wearing raincoats in the car on that trip and had been soaked by the time we’d reached Newcastle. (We had been driving from Wahroonga in Sydney to visit his Mum and sisters family in the Byron Bay hinterland. It’s about a 10 hour drive.)
The ironic thing is that it can be these very worst moments, our greatest disasters, that we turn into our funniest stories. It’s often these moments which we’ll share around a barbeque laughing our heads of and entertaining the crowd, rather than the good times. I am now thinking that part of that is that we later find out these disasters weren’t so bad after all. Indeed, sometimes they proved to be a blessing in disguise. Or, they were a necessary step to get us to a better place, or to our ultimate destination.
So, now I would say that instead of pulling the pin, who have to keep breathing so you can keep living the book. Find out how you’re own story unfolds. Just one point here, too, and that is that you are not a passive player in your story. You are helping to write the script, as well as all the other characters. This is a team effort. You are empowered. However, you are empowered to do the best for yourself, AND the worst. Too often, it’s not the bully or our nemesis we need to watch out for, it’s our own selves. We shoot ourselves in the foot way more often AND we need to own that. Take responsibility. Not necessarily in a guilt way, but in an empowered driver’s seat way. JUst like if you were driving and made a wrong turn, you’d do a U turn and try again. You hopefully wouldn’t just sit in your car hoping it would magically take you where you want to go.
The ironic thing for me these days about people taking their lives, is that I am fighting with all I’ve got to save my own. This July marked 20 years since I had the brain surgery which saved and changed my life. This coming Tuesday, marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with a systemic auto-immune disease, dermatomymyositis which has left me with 60% lung capacity on a good day. I am getting through flu season again this year but again it’s been a battle. Three years ago, I had chemo to knock the disease on its head and fortunately that worked. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve been staring death in the face, and trust me. Not once was I thinking: “Heaven, bring it on!” No, despite being a Christian, all I was thinking about was my kids, my husband, my Mum, Dad, Brother and my friends. Giving them that kind of bad news, is devastating. The fact that I’ve survived, doesn’t negate that. We have lived through it and we continue to live with it.
So, this brings me to the very real need to talk to those we love about those times when the swirling vortex has taken hold, and give them concrete proof that they can get through it. That it’ s not only worth persevering through the hard times, that it’s possible to get there. Achievable. Moreover, they are not alone. Not only in the sense that we are with them now. Not just us as an individual either, but us as a community. The many layers of the onions…family, friends, teachers, pastors, the person you need down the street while walking your dog. But, we also need to make that time available. Leave enough space inbetween the words, the lines, the busyness that someone can sit along side us and be without being rushed, sped up, or brushed off.
I am not someone who has ever professed to have the answers, but I’ve always had the questions and I guess this is where they lead me now. But before I head off, another word just popped in my head. That is gratitude. While it’s not often possible to feel grateful for our let downs at the time, that can change through hindsight…especially with many of those heart breaks, which were the end of the world at the time. I wouldn’t be where I am now and while some of those guys were great people and simply not right for me (or me for them), I’ve been married to Geoff for 16 years now. We’ve survived some extremely hard times and miraculously stayed together. We hae two beauti ful children who can stretch us beyond the very brink at times, but who we love more than life itself. Sometimes, when things have been so hard, it’s hard to comprehend how the sun still rises in the morning and how life goes on. Yet, I’ve often found that very annoying and harsh reality, provides the momentum to keep me moving, which is ultimately a good thing.
I didn’t intend to write about this when I woke up this morning. I haven’t edited more than a couple of words and this is how my thoughts have landed on the page, or to be precise, my laptop screen. All of a sudden, in bright neon signs, I’ve realized that we as a society don’t talk about hard times. The cultural rhetoric is all about making it happen. Being whoever you want to be. It’s almost like you’re expected to find happiness in a fizzy drink…or a pill. Rather, what happens WHEN your journey through life hits the big snake just when you’re about to reach your goal and your sent straight back down to the beginning again? What happens when you’re a marketing executive and you’re diagnosed with hydrocephalus and you end up having brain surgery, getting a blocked shunt and requiring more brain surgery, the person you thought you were going to marry, dumps you because all of that’s too much and you’ve moved back home living with mum and Dad and going to rehab with the elderly at 28? BTW, that was also when I went to my 10 year school reunion. That was two weeks after the second brain surgery and I had no hair under one half of that bob. Indeed, there was a scar. I made it through that reunion and I was triumphant. Despite brain surgery being a much more sensitive embarrassing thing that the bad haircut. I also had friends whose lives were picture perfect either. Some had divorced and one of my class mates had tragically died from cancer, which shook me to the core.
The fact that I’m still here, isn’t because I have some uber-amazing coping mechanism and I’m “Tonka tough”. I’ve had breakdowns. I’ve fallen face down in the mud and refused to get up. I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in bed and wrapped myself up in my doona and refused to get up. I’ve thought about how. I did jab myself with a pair of kindy scissors once when I was struggling to learn how to drive and fighting my brother for access to the car. That’s the closest I’ve come in a physically crossing the line sense, but these lines resonate: “hello darkness my old friend”.
Somehow, the collective “we” needs to have more of these conversations. The “where I was, how I found my way out and some of the joys of life we’ve experienced since” type. Talk about how life is ups AND downs. That we have to keep walking, dancing, flying, dragging out feet, sleeping, talking, dreaming.They’re all part of it. Share and model that there is no magic pill, which will give you perfect, lasting happiness. However, there could well be multiple pills of darkness, which we need to approach with caution. Walk away from jealousy, envy, wanting to be someone we’re not, putting our value on stuff instead of relationships, replacing people with work. The list goes on.
Now, I’m turning it over to you. What has your experience been? I would like to invite you to share as much as you like in the comments below. What would you say to your teenage self about the dark times you’ve experienced? I could even see these becoming a series of posts. It would be truly beneficial to get a swag of letters together on this very important subject.
Love & best wishes,
PS I just had to drop my daughter off at meditation of all things (our dance school is running a session for kids followed by a session for parents so I’ll be heading off next). Funny how walking and driving gets you thinking. Pops something so obvious into your head, which you’d missed entirely while tapping away into the screen.
My other advice to my teenage self, is not to put all my eggs in one basket, and to remain diverse. I had very good friends out of school and I’ve encouraged this with my own kids since dot. However, as someone with a fairly obsessive, driven personality, I’d like to share that focusing all your energies on one thing, isn’t a good idea. If something happens to that one thing, whatever it is, then you’re devastated. You’re left with nothing. There is no “Plan B”. You have no identity left. Naturally, I was devastated when I couldn’t work after the brain surgery. I had grief counselling where I was told “We’re human beings, not human doings”. It’s taken me a long time to get that. In the aftermath of the brain surgery, I turned to photography and although it wasn’t making me any money, I found it was a great topic of conversation. Far more interesting than work. These days, writing is my main thing followed by photography. What you might not know, is that I started learning the violin four years ago, and last year I started dance classes and have made my way through short adult courses in ballet, contemporary, lyrical and tap. I’m not even keeping up in the dance classes, but dance is now part of my psyche. Who I am. It’s added another string to my bow, and exercised more than a few neurofibres as well. It’s very important not to get stuck in what I’ll call “bubble worlds”…becoming “a dancer”, “a lawyer”, “a mother”, a “father”. Rather, ideally, we’d be more of a spangled web or texture, colour, sound, taste and smell stretching somewhere over the rainbow and back again. We must wear many hats, to be fulfilled, and really just to survive.