Sunday, June 03, 2018

... still we get older

my niece's birthday is at the end of may and my nephew's is at the end of june. there's a great, a really helpful (to me) progression of birthdays in my sister's family with the oldest having their birthday first, then the next oldest is next, then the next oldest, then the youngest. my sister and brother-in-law aren't mad keen on having a big thing made of their birthdays but they're okay with the kids having a big thing made of theirs! i'm okay with that too but my memory is terrible at the best of times. i try very hard to keep track of everyone's birthdays.

so yesterday, on june 2nd, i dropped into my sister's family's house to pass along birthday gifts to my niece and nephew. i gave my niece a jigsaw puzzle with flags of the world on it, a 500-piece puzzle with fairly large pieces, given the size of the puzzle, and that went over pretty well. she turned seven and when my sister and i were that age, we were well-used to having a jigsaw puzzle inhabiting the dining table in our house, covered with a tablecloth when we were eating as a family and then removed when dinner was over. if there was a jigsaw puzzle on the table, anyone in the house, family or friend, was welcome to set a piece or several into the puzzle. it was something we as a family shared with all who visited us.

it was a good thing to see the reaction to opening the gift and revealing a puzzle. she seemed excited and i hope that excitement was genuine. here is a family tradition i'm keen to see carried on. (i'll teach my niece and nephew how to play canasta later...)

for my nephew's birthday i gave him a card game based around rudyard kipling's the jungle book. it took us a few minutes to work out how to play it but once we got the hang of it, we had lots of fun playing - my sister and i both sitting on the lounge room floor; my niece and nephew, rolling around on the carpet and patently unable to keep still while playing; my brother_in-law, sitting above us all on the lounge, smiling sleepily like some lean ginger-headed bodhisattva at the mortals entertaining themselves before him. the game is fun.

i felt very young, playing with my sister and her children. it almost felt like playing with young cousins, not niece and nephew, and when i had to climb up the couch to get up off the floor, my age was palpably present in my thoughts and feelings. it takes longer to get up off the floor these days and it's funny - weird funny, not ha-ha funny, though i do chuckle to myself about it - that fellow youth leaders have taken to asking me to serve less active parts in the large games with play during our youth group nights, roles like scoring friendly contests; being an information point in some scavenger hunt; such... low-energy-requirement roles. it's nice to be taken into account like that.

i suspect that i will always be "old" to my niece and nephew. though i no longer think of my aunts or uncles as "old" (i think of them as simply being "them"), i've often felt that i was already kind of old on the inside and i've been waiting for my outsides to catch up. at my twenty-year high school reunion, one classmate indicated her surprise that i'm still single and without children. i echoed her surprise and asked what she meant; she thought that i was ready right out of school to be married and having a family and assumed that i'd find someone who wanted the same. (thirteen kids, apparently. i felt that was maybe overly generous an estimate...)

having been involved in youth ministry for so many years has paradoxically kept me feeling young and old at the same time. high-schoolers will generation-gap the unwary in as little as six months, though i find the life cycle of a high school cultural epoch (? not the word i was looking for but as good a placeholder as any) is closer to about two years. music, television show, language and slang, social mores, all seem to me to evolve and coalesce on a roughly two- to three-year cycle. i wonder if we were the same for our youth leaders when i was at high school but i suspect we weren't - social media today allows for a far more rapid change of culture than our lines of communication when i was in high school; we were still writing letters on paper to send through the mail and recording mixtapes using the top 40 broadcasts on the radio on a sunday night on actual audio cassettes!

so my niece and nephew are reconnecting me to a younger sense of self than my involvement in youth ministry does, i have to say, but they're already so old so fast! no matter how young we are, or merely feel, still we get older.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

... Easter at the alfred

so i ended up having Easter at the alfred hospital.

my stay feels like it was a procession of staff taking my blood pressure, adjusting my drip, not sleeping fantastically well, thoroughly enjoying the hospital mashed potato, waiting to leave. i enjoy hospital mashed potato but that's really all i like about being in hospital.

i spent a lot of time listening to stuff on my phone, either youtube or podcasts or radio of some kind, reading the one book i had in my bag when i'd been admitted that morning, or doing sudoku from a book that friends from church brought when they visited.

at the end of all that, however, i spent a lot of time thinking about what i've been doing with my life. up until now i've been content - largely - with living a quiet life, working a job i enjoy (or enjoying the job i work, which is mostly the same thing), keeping involved in youth ministry and Bible study groups ministry at church.

in the last ten years i've been blessed to see my sister get married and i now also have a niece and nephew that i'm able to dote on in similar ways to how my sister and i were treated by our aunts and uncles. when i'm lucky, i get to babysit them. they get a lot of books from me; yes, i work in a bookshop but anyone who knows me knows that i'd probably be getting them books anyway.

i've also had the terrible burden of seeing my mother deal with the aftermath of a stroke that left her without the use of her left arm or leg, along with other linked internal issues. after seeing her dealing with a cardiac double-bypass over thirty years ago and seeing my father die from cancer over twenty years ago, i've been waiting for a shoe like this to drop for some time. not because i think i'm particularly unhealthy - i think i'm about as unhealthy as the next guy - it's just that the average australian male in my age bracket is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit unhealthy.

no, i've been waiting for this because i'm naturally a pessimist. i've become an optimist by demeanour but i am a pessimist by nature. it gives me a healthy appreciation for the grace shown me in Christ and an ongoing distrust of my own self-righteousness.

so after my time in hospital and my time since, i've been asking myself, "what do i do now?"

Friday, June 01, 2018

... nine weeks and counting

i had plans for the day before Good Friday. the whole of the Easter weekend is always busy, from the friday morning to sunday evening. every year i hope to go to a tenebrae service on the thursday night, contemplating the gathering darkness that preceded the sham trial early on the first Good Friday morning and the crucifixion that followed.

there was a large delivery, three cartons, and hundreds of greeting cards to scan and verify against the accompanying invoice. to that point i hadn't managed to carve out the time to make a good run at the task. it was first thing in the morning and i'd made coffee in the french press at the sink. i gave my boss her coffee and when she turned around and asked a question about something unrelated to what i was about to do, i completely blanked on the answer. it was as if i were looking at a piece of paper with the answer printed on it in a sentence, but with the key information cut out with some kind of precision knife. i apologised for not being able to answer her question and went to the kitchenette to get my coffee.

i was sprawling on a gurney, being examined by ambulance officer, when i came to, barely realising that i'd been unconscious moments earlier. "where am i?" -- my boss "you're in the laneway behind the shop. how do you feel?" -- "woozy. what's... what happened?" -- ambo #1 "you passed out at work mate. do you remember your name?" -- yes. date, yes. where we are, yes - laneway behind work, name of shop, street, suburb.

en route to the hospital once i'd been manhandled into the ambulance, i learned more about what had happened. my boss had her back turned to the kitchenette working on her computer while i'd been sorting out my own coffee when she heard a thud; when she turned, i was collapsed against the bookshelves that back onto the back wall of the shop, my arms crossed in front of me and teeth clenched, in the throes of what looked for all the world like a profound seizure.

by noon i was in the emergency department at a nearby hospital, being lined up for a ct scan and mri; with staff trying to work out whether the seizure i'd been admitted for was correlated with the high blood pressure that was now being observed. (even now it's uncertain whether or not the seizure was caused by the hypertension, caused the subsequently observed hypertension, or simply revealed underlying hypertension.) i was eventually moved to the neurology ward of the hospital and it wasn't for another three days that i was eventually discharged.

i had friends at church praying for me, my Bible study group praying, friends from church visiting, and my sister and her family visiting too. i was only in hospital for three nights but the outpouring of care from my friends and family, both at work and church, was palpable and very encouraging.

from the day of my seizure until my return to work, it was five weeks almost to the hour. i was ready to go back to work. another four weeks and one more day and here i am.

more thoughts to follow this month. i'm hoping to write each day. that's the plan.