Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Soldier

As an avid fan of Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, I have no illusions about the glory of war. Having never served (I was studying and by the time I finished, conscription had been abolished), I suppose I am fortunate not to have been put in the position. I do wish to remember those that are still out there in Afghanistan and Iraq that are fighting for freedom as well as the peacekeepers throughout our continent and the world. They are normal guys like you and me faced with a task no human should ever have to be asked to do. We who enjoy the fruits of freedom should not forget them:

It is the soldier, not the poet, who gives us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us freedom to protest.
It is the soldier who serves beneath the flag, who salutes the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives the demonstrator the right to burn the flag.
(USMC chaplain)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The look

Just when I thought I had covered all manner of incidents like crushes, and LIT moments, etc. I happened upon another one. I don't know if there is a name for them? You are stuck in traffic or at an airport and you exchange a glance with a stranger - it's just a look, but - you smile, he /she smiles. You get that warm and fuzzy feeling and it makes your day. Another time... another place ... maybe.. who knows? But she dissappears into the crowd and life moves on.
Many years ago, I had one of these, although in this particular case, it lasted about an hour and a half. My folks had timeshare at a lakeside resort near Sedgefield, a beautiful little town near Knysna. I went away with them on holiday. I was probably around 18 or 19 at the time and the one evening my dad took the family out to dinner at the Holiday Inn at Wilderness. The hotel restaurant was quiet and warmly lit - it was in winter and just after we sat down, another family arrived and were seated about 3 or 4 tables away.It was a couple with their little son and a teenage daughter, about my age. The restaurant was very quiet and nobody was sitting at the intermediate tables. I looked up and met the eyes of the daughter. Neither of us smiled:I think she was as shy as I was, but the glance took a second too long and it was unmistakeable. My heart jumped into my throat. Throughout the evening, our eyes would meet occasionally and I would quickly look away and then back - each of us catching the other stealing glances. Only once did I see the beginnings of a smile, but it was too late: they had finished their meal and she gave one last backward glance as they were leaving. I cannot remember what she looked like, to be honest. Just that wonderful feeling of butterflies and nausea and the wistful afterglow of what could have been...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Crush -1

I have written about some LIT moments in the past that are not quite relationships, but where somebody comes into your life and has an effect on your life quite disproportionate to the time you spent with them. Somebody you never forget. But that, in my view, is quite different from a crush. I don't know if you remember those, but my very first one was in Sub B (now called Grade 2, I think.) I must have been 6 years old and in Mrs Steer's class. Her name was Laura Mayor. Long brown hair, big brown eyes and sat in the middle row at the front of the class next to Stephen Meyer (no relation). Always immaculately groomed. I didn't know yet what puppy love or a crush was and don't remember much else except the feeling - like a tummy ache whenever I looked at her. And the feeling of confused excitement, fear and anxiety, all rolled into one, whenever she came near me - in case she somehow found out that I thought she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. The following year in Std 1, we were assigned to sit next to each other (heaven!) but I hardly spoke a word to her the entire year. I was so shy just being in her presence. :-)

In my defense

I interrupt my usual blogging to write in my defence.
My sister-in-law sometimes reads my blog and regularly moans at me about my propensity to include quotes. There are a couple of reasons I suppose. I am fanatical about not plagiarising and I feel that if somebody's idea was even a seed for something that I perhaps would not have thought of, it should be acknowledged. But it is also because when I read a really good phrase or quote, it encapsulates so succintly what may have taken me many paragraphs to communicate, that I have the feeling of: 'I wish I'd said that!' So even if people would be confused or bored by my ramblings, they may understand it in the context of the quote. Finally, if somebody has bothered to plough through my waffle and perchance feel aggrieved that they cannot get those 5 minutes back - at least I would have shared with them a useful passage from a real writer, which they might not have seen before, that made their trip worthwhile. And thereby endear myself to them anyway. The defence rests, Your Honours.

Friday, 13 March 2009

On not working

They say that work is anything you do when you would rather be doing something else. I posted the other day about what it must be like to do what you ultimately love to do as a job. To be totally honest, I am living my dream - even if it is only for two months. Between resigning from my job and when we actually leave for Aus, I have this time to write. I am now about halfway through the novel I have always wanted to write. Somebody asked me how it felt initially, and having expected it would be freedom and elation, I was surprised when my initial feeling was one of guilt. I don't know if it is just the good old Catholic in me, but I sort of felt this cannot be work! I guess since I'm not getting paid for it, strictly speaking, it isn't, but you get my point. Anyway, now that the guilt is fading, it is being replaced by a certain contentment. When I sit down to write, 2 or 3 hours just disappear. I know that I am not a real writer, before you think I have any delusions of grandeur, but even somebody who sings badly, may relish the freedom of singing at the top of their lungs in the shower or car - so let me have these moments! I am so very grateful for the privilege of having this time. :-)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Fr Lionel Sham RIP

Two priests were killed this week as a result of the continuous violence that infests this country. The latest victim, Fr Lionel Sham, whom I had the privilege of meeting some years back, though I didn't know him well, was abducted and killed in a robbery on Saturday. I have a deep respect and admiration for these selfless men who have, and continue to pay the price for love and in love. Perhaps it really is a battle of good vs. evil and they are the soldiers that stand guard on the wall so that the rest of us may live under the protection of and within the castle of Grace. But the cost is high. It is the cost borne by those, like Lionel Sham who freely and even eagerly lay down their lives for us. I honour their memory:

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their all for us, loved, too, the sun and the rain?

A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings –
But we, how shall we turn to little things
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
(Lament by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson)

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ora et Labora

The monks of the order of St Benedict have this motto which means pray and work. I am not sure if they still do, but the restaurant group here, Primi Piatti used to wear a motto on their overalls from the writings of Kahlil Gibran: Work is love made visible. I have blogged before about the meaninglessness of my work and was told by somebody who has kids that that will change when I have children of my own. Maybe. Leaving aside meaning for a moment and just considering enjoyment, there are two people who I really admire: A guy who was our neighbour some years back and a friend of mine, Ian. The neighbour (we'll call him Frank) used to come home on a Friday evening after working late and haul his boat out and head off only to return late Sunday evening. He spent the entire weekend scuba diving. Ian, on the other hand spends all of his spare time sailing his yacht - he loves the sea. So? Well Frank's job was that he is a commercial diver. And Ian works in the yachting industry and races regularly as part of his job. To do what you love as your job must be the most awesome gift - I dream often of doing it, but to actually do!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Girl on a beach

Excuse the pretentious title of this post, but I couldn't think of another one. This morning the sea was almost eerily flat and peaceful. There was a girl / woman sitting on the beach alone, staring out into the ocean. I don't know how old she was - it was too far to see. I don't know if you have ever had the experience where you see someone on their own and you briefly wonder about them but put the thought aside as you get on with your own busy life. I never wanted to post photos on my blog - ostensibly I have wanted my writing to tell the story (in truth I'm just a lousy photographer!) but I found the image so evocative, I thought I would share it. I just wondered about her. Had she recently lost someone? Been through a breakup? Maybe as mundane a reason as an exhausting week at work? Perhaps a tourist marvelling at the beauty of the ocean? Or a business woman out from overseas who knows nobody here and is killing time until Monday? Or a run-down mom who left the husband with the kids and took a 'time-out' for a couple of hours to recharge? Just wondered...


Some years ago, I read a perspective by Walter Brueggemann, who wrote about the dehumanising effects on someone who is unemployed. His observations in this current economic climate ring even more true, when so many families have been decimated by the loss of work of their breadwinner. I am, by nature, a pretty conservative guy. Call me old fashioned, but I like order and structure. So I had always felt that police should take a firm, if not hard line, against those who feel that causing a large disturbance in a city centre is the way to to further their agenda - by marching and chanting and dancing or whatever. Brueggemann, using the example of an unemployed person, wrote that somehow people equate capitalism with a good moral work ethic, and accordingly supposed that if you worked hard, you would prosper. So the unemployed person now believed the loss of his job and his inability to feed his family was unmistakably his fault. We all know now - even more starkly than we did before - that this is untrue. Larger global economic forces can cause an economy to shed jobs irrespective of how hard an individual works. Brueggemann relates that feeling of numbness that anybody who has ever been unemployed can relate to -that utter frustration, humiliation, helplessness and resentment. And how this man went to these marches of the unemployed and marginalized just to be in a crowd, to break the isolation and not to feel so utterly alone in his despair - if only for a few hours.
His writing really shamed my previous attitude.
(The book was Biblical perspectives on Evangelism by W Brueggemann)


Yesterday was 8 months since Kirstin's death. I still find myself questioning the sense of it all. I know she is at peace, but I still can't shake the question, not of: 'Why?', because we all have to die, but 'Why then?' There really seem to be no answers - or any that I can understand. When so many people seem to live oblivious and unexamined lives, and she sought to discover life and its meaning with such ferocity, she seemed more 'worthy' of this life than many who are granted longer lives - and I include myself in that. 'Worthy' in the sense that she really lived. The priest at her funeral, Fr Robert Bissel, was absolutely correct when he remarked that if we are people of faith – ultimately we won’t need answers, but if we are people without faith – no answer will ever be enough.
I always seem to be waiting for my faith to catch up with my conviction / intellectual assent - if that makes any sense. If I was really holy, it would be the other way around. Anyway.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


Carmen and I are really hoping that this year is going to be the year when we will be blessed with kids. If not, well that's not something that is ultimately our decision... But whenever we chat to friends and relatives of ours who are already parents, and I hold forth all the theories about how I am going to raise my kids, there is always this polite pause on their part, a nod and knowing smiles as they exchange glances. I don't mind admitting that their thinly veiled disdain for my plans is scaring the heck out of me. It's almost like people who are parents know.... and whatever it is they know, they aren't telling. They're a cliquey bunch. (Of sadists I suspect.)
Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories. (John Wilmot)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


I recently left the company I had been with for almost 11 years and saying 'goodbye' to clients I had known for most or all of those years was hard. Some I had a genuine affection for and knew it, but I only realised afterwards in hindsight, what effect my knowing others, had had on my life. This, in part, because they never openly shared their lives, not out of aloofness, but I think in order to make sure that I really cared in a sense: I think people want others to see through the necessary barriers they erect in what is often a harsh world. And they know - as we do - that only if somebody actually cares will they take the time and effort to overcome those barriers because they believe the journey will be worth it. It is just my opinion, but if we have even the smallest sense of our own worth, then when somebody affirms that worth by mounting a sustained attack to breach our walls in order to know us deeply on an intimate level, it reaffirms us and the value of the gift that we are to the world. Not valuable only and merely for who and what we are, but because we were given and because of the nature of the One who has given us. Nobody should be bought cheaply. I remember reading years ago part of a passage from a letter by Roy Croft that has now been quoted almost ad nauseum, but it still illustrates what a real gift of love it is to another to invest in getting to really know them:

I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.