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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

... oh red meat, why has it been so long?

for your reading pleasure (or not), i present a link to a somewhat recent post of the red meat webcomic.


Thursday, March 03, 2016

... moving house again

well, i moved house (again!) yesterday.

this is the seventh(?) place i've lived in since i moved to melbourne. (carnegie; elsternwick; camberwell; camberwell again; balwyn; surrey hills; camberwell this latest time...) moving wasn't too much of a hassle, compared to previous moves. i had planned to use a "pods" or "taxibox" storage unit to move - i would store my stuff while i immediately decamped to a five-week vacation in the united states (my bi-annual treat for myself) - but in the end i had so many offers of help from folk at church that we moved everything in the one day. i had about seventy-five percent of my stuff packed and of course the last twenty-five percent took most of the day to pack up. grrr...

so the new place is super-conveniently located adjacent to church and it has actually seen me make the effort to go to the morning service as well as the usual evening service that i go to. it has also proved very convenient for the Bible study (or "growth group" as we designate them) that i host for some of the young adults in church. (i should blog about that group at some point - we are doing very interesting things in our group!)

one of the interesting things about my new place is the decor. exhibit one:

given that my u.s. trip is from march 3 to april 6, the plan for moving in was to set up my sleeping arrangements, pack my bags for my trip, set up the tv/dvd in the lounge room, and install as much of my food and cooking stuff in the kitchen as possible for my housemate to be able to use while i'm away.

i was up around 07h30 and got to bed around 01h30, a dangerous proposition given my early rise time for getting to the airport. i did manage to get up without snoozing too many times (twice) and got to the airport in good order. and now, five week in the united states, checking four new states off my list of states i've spent the night in. exciting!

Monday, November 02, 2015

... last night wherever i was

i'm in sydney.

it's currently about 22 degrees celsius, with a relative humidity somewhere between 70% and 90%. this is exactly this kind of weather i left sydney and moved to melbourne to get away from.

i was also very surprised to see a street i fully expected to be positively hopping with hipsters and other night creatures enjoying early post-midnight drinkies and munchies effectively lights-out and shuttered... but for the "convenience store"...

that being said, it's been a pretty good trip. i've been able to catch up with a bunch of friends and some family too.

the flight up (with tigerair) went through without a hitch (!!!) and (assuming i don't sleep through my alarm tomorrow morning) i hope the (eleven-hour) train ride should be equally smooth. i am rather excited that i will finally be able to binge (somewhat uninterruptedly) on the npr podcast "serial". looking forward to it.

 Serial: NPR

the downside is that my mother went back into hospital again today. over the past year the combined effects of her stroke and her subsequent sedentary lifestyle has meant she's been admitted to hospital with various infections and what have you, finally having to wrestle with sepsis on her last visit only a month or so ago.

my sister was going to call or txt with an update. i have yet to hear from her. i'm not going to chase her up because i trust her to report when there's something to report. but i'm worried about mum. and i'm prayerful.

and i should probably go to bed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

... my heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today

my father passed away in 1997 and though it's almost twenty years since, i sometimes feel as though he never left. unfortunately, that speaks more to how little we saw of one another and how poorly we stayed in touch. in those last couple of years we talked about hard things - his cancer and what would happen to him when we was dead. he asked me one day what i thought.

"are you a Christian?" i asked.

"i think so," he answered. "i don't know."

"why should you go to heaven?"

he started speaking about how he'd lived his life, how he'd worked hard, had never stolen from anyone, that sure he'd made mistakes but so has everyone and that he was confident that wouldn't disqualify him from going to heaven. then he asked if i agreed. i didn't really want to answer but didn't have an alternative.

"i think there are plenty of good people who are not in heaven because they feel they earned the right. i read in the Bible and know in my heart that it's not a right to be earned but a privilege granted. God offers us forgiveness for our wrongdoing and healing for our brokenness - we simply have to take up that offer and say to any who ask, 'i am forgiven in Christ and when i die i will join him in heaven. not because of anything i have done but all because of what God has done in Jesus for me.' i personally believe that if you cannot say that honestly, then you're probably going to hell."

"you think i'll go to hell when i die?"

"yes, i do."

he was silent for a moment. it was an awkward conversation to be having but one i am still glad that we had. he asked what he should do and i said that he should start by reading the Bible. i gave him mine, set three bookmarks inside where i felt he would most benefit from reading, and asked him to contact me with any questions he had.

six months before he died, he became a Christian, publicly declaring that Jesus Christ was his lord and saviour. he was like a baby in a spiritual onesie, to me. we talked, afterwards, about things. why he continued to feel guilty about some things; the riddle of whether he was always destined to become a Christian or if he chose to on his own; the mystery of knowing he didn't deserve to go to heaven but would go anyway.

then he died. after a while, my memories of those conversations became memories of memories, photographs of thought instead of spools of memory in my head that i relive as i recall them.

since the movie four weddings and a funeral, it's hard to imagine a funeral poem that isn't by w.h. auden. "stop all the clocks" seems to me to have become the go-to poem for loss at a funeral and i almost feel like it's being imposed on my brain by that same part of my consciousness that makes me remember seven lines out of eight in a song and makes it whirl around and around in my head without resolving - auden as earworm.

since my father's death, however, i've come across other poems that i feel now would have far better captured my thoughts and feelings then. dad's funeral was held in the same church that my high-school had used for school chapel services and i think to that point i'd only stood at the lectern out the front barely more than two or three times. to speak the eulogy for my father felt stilted and strange.

i went to boston, massachusetts, on holidays a couple of years ago and while there found a piece of verse on a t-shirt, that came from a tombstone, in one of the oldest colonial cemeteries in the united states: king's chapel crypt and burial ground, boston.
Wait the great teacher Death
DEATH is the good man's FRIEND:
And the day of his death
Is better than the day of his birth.
"Was DEATH deny'd
E'en FOOLS would wish to die".
The hope of death softens our cares,
And heightens every blis.
Then rest in peace for we shall live again.
(Monument to Joseph Barrell)
written in a time when people knew the text of the Bible much better than they do know, the verse echoes passages in job, and the psalms, that reflect on the struggle of life, the hard work and uncertainties of the future. in the face of calamity, some people would say that wombs that had never given birth to children would be blessed, or that children delivered stillborn were better off than they would be were they born healthy.

this verse also reflects on the brokenness of the world and of this life. in this life we will know love but also loss; rest, after much toil; bliss, yet only amidst myriad cares. that there should be an end to life as we know it now is thought of as a good thing - that at the end of a long life, full of struggle and strain, death comes as a relief.

consider how many people we have in the world today. what if we suddenly stopped dying? how fast would the world fill to overflowing and society collapse? what horrible choices would good people make, thinking that they were acting in the best interests of humanity as a whole, let along the choices that the evil and selfish might make!

my father was in much pain, at the end, hallucinating because of the morphine and talking to a girl he could see standing at the end of his bed. i learned later that he was talking to my sister, a baby who had been miscarried between my birth and my sister's; a sister i never knew of. i hope that it ^was^ my sister he was talking to, sent by God as a comfort for dad as his time was winding down.

so i'm thinking about these happy, joyful things because i went to another funeral this week. my friend's mother passed away after a brief and horrible struggle with illness and "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to". this woman has been a Christian for more years than i've been alive and it was a warming and wonderful thing to hear her family and friends talking about her, not merely praising her smiles and good nature and deep love for her family but also sharing the rich depth of her faith in God.

at the conclusion of the service i felt that were i able to ask her, are you happier dying? she would say yes. i believe, however, she would rather stay and not die, because she loved her family and friends and would have wanted, i'm sure, to have seen so much more of their lives, enjoyed their company, shared their joys and sorrows and love. Jesus says that a person's life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions; we must be rich towards God and not merely ourselves. my friends mother was surely rich towards God, as well as those family and friends around her.

wisdom recognises that this life is difficult and the wise person sees that it is not designed to be this way, that it is seriously broken. that same wise person does not wring their hands or raise their fists or turn their back when faced with the God who made the world, however: the wise person respects God, trusts in his will and care, and looks forward to that day when death ushers them into the presence of God and the world as it is truly meant to be.