CELEBRATING A LIFE
Tom Scott January 23, 2005, 5:02 pm
Can I just extend in return a deep thank you and some of the deep peace this whole experience is bringing not only to my father but, what I am sure now, is also a deep healing at least in my immediate family.
Even now I am finding the last couple of weeks has been perhaps the most spiritually rewarding of my entire life and the funny thing is that I've not been anywhere near an actual church. I even missed Mass last Sunday because we literally thought he was going to make his exit then and I had sat with him throughout last weekend. The funny thing though is that it has been a time that has been almost "supersaturated" in the spiritual dimension of our being and at so many levels within that.
Dad and myself in 1948 or 1949.
When he thought he owned the world, as we all do at some stage
of our lives, and he was standing for Parliament in 1959.
At the purely personal level I've been ploughing through this dissertation
on "Special Divine Action" and the entire question of how we (humankind
and individual human beings) relate to God. It is probably the only
study of its kind that exists in the world and in the Church where
someone has attempted to sit down and try and find some consensus
in what the best theological minds have been finding in their studies
over the last forty years. One of the joys in that is that I have
been finding myself "not alone" in my own thinking and exploration.
It was written by Fr Paul Gwynne OMI and as it turned out the hospital
chaplain who gave Dad the last rites is also an OMI and he knows
Paul. I found out in the course of my conversation with Fr Tony
the other night that Paul has since left the priesthood. In a funny
way I found that a joy because, as I've mentioned before on this
board, I have had some criticisms of Paul even though I think his
contribution to the debate has been extraordinary in putting this
study together. My criticism basically boils down to a feeling I
had that he was trying to bolster the existing order rather than
to sit back and let truth herself be the ultimate arbiter. I don't
know anything about Paul Gwynne other than what I've read of his
thoughts in this study and what Fr Tony told me briefly the other
night. I would hazard a guess though that if there was a deep underlying
reason why he left the priesthood it might be because in the end
he found the pursuit of truth more important than the pursuit or
bolstering of certitude in things that can only ever be seen as
through a glass, darkly.
A photograph of Dad (top of steps) in the late 1940s, taken
with the local "characters" and drunks, when he
"owned the town" in a sense.
When we row our boats out into the deep there we come face to face
with this unfathomable Mystery of God where there are no certitudes
in the popular way in which we seek certitude and security. We find
though certitude in those deep waters has an entirely different
meaning and sense. There is a new sense of security to be found
there that utterly surpasses all the childish games we kid ourselves
with in our temporal quest for certitude and a sense of the Absolute.
As the Pope himself urged on all of us a couple of years ago, Duc
in altum Put out into the deep and one would pray
that he does that himself instead of this constant bolstering around
the shallows with what frankly amounts to spiritual bullshit and
kindergarten games designed to make sure the kiddies don't stroll
out into the deep water and place themselves in danger! ( LOL )
The journey has been shared though with an extraordinary combination
of other communities. There have been two cyber communities whom
I feel privileged to have shared it with and, as always, been taking
much myself from all the reflections and questions that arise in
a place like this. At another level, last week I was supposed to
be "in residence" in the magnificent campus of my alma mater, Aquinas
College on the banks of the Canning River here in Perth. Unfortunately
the events of the last week meant I wasn't able to be "in residence"
but I did manage to spend some time with my colleagues on that journey
which has been deeply rewarding over the past 15 months. Unfortunately
I missed the Mass which was celebrated by a Benedictine, Fr Michael
Leek OSB, on the shores of the river in the late afternoon on Friday.
Thanks to the wonders of mobile phone technology I was able to ring
my colleagues and told them of Dad's situation and so we were able
to be included in that celebration which is at the very core and
summit of our faith. There was even an appropriateness in a sense
that the last Mass Dad was "at" was being celebrated by a Benedictine
as the whole of Benedictine spirituality had had enormous influence
in his life because of his brief education at New Norcia at the
beginning of the 1920s.
As that Mass was ending, Fr Tony Colbert arrived in Dad's room at
the hospital and together the pair of us joined in the sometimes
beautiful prayers of that liturgy. (I even said the "mourning and
weeping in this vale of tears bit" LOL. And that's the second time
I've uttered those words in prayer in a week so I'm beginning to
get scared.) As with my participation in this Sacrament a week earlier
as the one responding on behalf of Dad it was a deeply intimate
and moving moment in my life.
Perhaps the most awesome part of everything though has been what
has been triggered by all of this in the journeys of my immediate
family and in particular the internet dialogue that has literally
been circling the globe between my eldest son in India, my brother
and his sons in Nova Scotia, my youngest son who has been here with
me. As importantly in this "cosmic dance" though has been the women
in my life including my estranged wife, the new love, Amanda, who
has been sent into my life on the other side of this continent and
my daughter and eldest child, Phoebe, who has been finishing up
her role as caretaker of a Buddhist Retreat Centre in the South-West
of this State and this coming Tuesday begins a five week intensive
spirituality and deep ecology live-in program with Joanna Macy at
Denmark in the far South of this State.
Yesterday evening (Saturday) my youngest son and I sat at a beautiful
café actually sitting out on the Swan River. Because of the recent
bushfires there was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever
witnessed. The air was balmy and as we sat there discussing "life,
the universe and everything" all the beautiful people were arriving
arm-in-arm for dinner. By "the beautiful people" I don't mean the
young trendies but most of these people would have been around my
age (mid-fifties) who have recently moved on from those responsibilities
(that we don't appreciate are so onerous at the time) to our children.
They were out on this beautiful Saturday evening rejoicing in their
own company. When I see this going on I simply refuse to believe
that this world is becoming less spiritual, more uncaring or that
we have reason to believe the spiritual sky is about to fall in.
This whole experience we've been through in the last fortnight has
sparked a deeper maturity in my own children. They are no longer
kids. Dad's passing has triggered a very deep re-examination of
all that led to this "purgatory" that was dumped on us twelve years
ago. I am convinced that evil is a very real concept in the world.
It is though not some "thing" that is imposed on us by some malicious
"devil" out there. The "devil", like God, walks within each of us.
This tragedy that engulfed my family in the early 1990s was not
sparked by malevolent forces "out there". It was totally generated
by the forces of fear and insecurity within us. We ended up paying
a terrible price for it that, in many ways, was as "total" as the
devastation that some of the tsunami victims have experienced including,
I would submit, even the death of some of our family members without
the benefit of understanding what had happened to them.
All of us at some time in our lives experience a Tsunami. For most
of us though we have to bear the pain alone and struggle to find
answers without the overwhelming sense of public grief, and charity,
that follows a bushfire, this recent international catastrophe,
or things like a War or a Great Depression where we find some comfort
and solidarity in the sense that everyone is "in the same boat as
Former Federal Government Minister, Fred Chaney AO, who addressed
us at the Qavah Spirituality program on Thursday night, was musing
on how this recent Tsunami has unleashed generosity on a scale hitherto
unknown in our land. What has triggered the response to this tragedy
yet there is not a similar response to the many more (4 million)
who die each year through AIDS, or of the eleven children who are
dying each minute without the benefit of a tsunami simply of hunger?
When our house is the only one burnt down in a town or city and
we have to pick up the pieces alone, in so many ways, the journey
is so much harder. The "hard bit" though is never the material losses.
It is always the emotional and spiritual buffeting that we experience
both as individuals and as a social unit. One often reads where
physical losses such as a bushfire or a business collapse can either
serve as the catalyst for people growing in spiritual and emotional
wholeness or these things can trigger the exact opposite and shatter
families and individuals.
Twice in our recent history my family has experienced the tragedy
that follows fire. In the 1930s when my mother was a little girl
and her father and mother owned a substantial business in the wheat
belt town of Bruce Rock it was burnt to the ground in a fire that
started in a saddlery shop next door. I'll include a photograph
of the building going up in flames. In the early 1950s my own parents
had their first hotel burned to the ground in the remote Murchison
town of Yalgoo. Again the fire was so intense that nobody could
get near it to do anything about it and the townspeople just had
to gather at a distance and watch the fire burn itself out.
The fire that destroyed my maternal grandparent's family business
in 1937 at Bruce Rock as described in the history of the town.
What happened to us in the early 1990s though was not any physical
destruction. It was literally a spiritual and emotional conflagration
that in a sense "destroyed" our family. There was no physical evidence
that one could point to and say "oh woe is me or us!"
All that was left of the Railway Hotel, Yalgoo after the fire
Over the past couple of weeks my two sons have been involved in a deep dialogue
by email only some of which I have been aware of until my discussion on the river in the sunset
last night. He made some incisive observations that I think are coming from both of them that,
at the heart of our "conflagration", and the lack of healing, had been a clash of frames of reference.
In a sense our tragedy had been triggered by patriachial and hierarchical attitudes, personal pride,
and competition to be "the king dick" in our wider family. The road to solution these guys, who have
suddenly grown into real men, are suggesting is for each of us to take responsibility for our own shit.
We do have to apologise to one another and seek forgiveness for our transgressions on and against
one another. Rather than an hierarchical model of family into the future they are suggesting we need
to develop a flattened structure of "nodes of responsibility" where old, and young, male and female
we are all able to share both the responsibilities for the things we collectively seek to achieve
and also the responsibilities when things go wrong as they inevitably do from time to time. It is an
on-going discussion we're having but for both my youngest son, Julian, and myself, last evening was
one of the most beautiful of our shared journey so far.
Finally, the most enduring images I've
taken with me from the last two weeks have in a sense been non-images. It was been the gradual shedding
of interest of my father in all things material. He lost all interest in money and possessions perhaps
a year or more ago. In recent times he literally had no idea of how much he was worth and even had
difficulty managing the ten and twenty dollars that he was spending in pocket money each week or
fortnight. For ages he's been imploring me to get rid of all the stuff in his room, even his clothes.
Perhaps the single most valuable personal asset he had left was a Rolex watch he purchased many, many
years ago when he was a successful businessman. He's worn that through thick and thin and it was some
kind of security symbol to him even though in the last few days he wouldn't have even been able to
tell the time. On Friday afternoon when I went back to the hospital to begin the last vigil the nurses
had taken his watch off and put it in the bedside table drawer. I wasn't aware of this until after he
died and the nurse was collecting up all his possessions for me to take home. In the end he died with
only the dog-eared green scapular around his neck and dressed in a hospital gown. I hope when I die
I'm not even wearing the symbol of a scapula.
I am convinced everything in our lives passes
away but what remains is important. It is the memories, the wisdom and the love we are able to draw
out of our lives, and our death.
Again, thanks to everyone for the thoughts you've been
expressing on the board and in private emails.
"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley