Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Death and Life.

Catching up with special friends.  
The CORE Education Community Service day team.
The Mountain top. 
The beautiful Otago Harbour from the top. 
A "Koru" - the young fern frond unwinding.
Josie on the left is a beautiful Sister of Mercy. We have known each other for nearly 30 years.
The Night Shelter Christmas tepee with the special star from a grateful client on top.
Last Wednesday evening we were invited to a friend's place for a surprise birthday party for a mutual friend. They are all people from our last Church. We have generally not mixed with people from the Church out of respect for their current minister, but we do seem to make contact with this group of people every few months. It was a delightful evening, and time seemed to fly as conversation ranged over a number of subjects and we warmly caught up on each other's journey. While there we "skyped" with the host's brother in London, and her mother in India. The ipad got passed around the table as we each said "hello". Friendships are one of the special gifts of life, and these days can span the globe.
Life 2.
There is an organisation called CORE Education in NZ who do "stuff" related to the professional development of teachers. I have a friend who works in the Dunedin team, and last year they had a "Community Work Day" coming to the Night Shelter and to do gardening and building. I got a message early last week that they wanted to come again and tend the garden that they planted last time. They came for half a day after spending the first half assisting another social work agency. Together we hit the gardens and paths of the night shelter like a tornado, weeding, sorting and installing new edging. It is so good and life-giving having such support expressed. They shortened my Night Shelter "to do" list considerably.
Life 3. 
As I began this week I knew it was going to be a busy one, with a workshop to run, an Annual meeting to prepare for and run, and a Church service, along with chaplaincy responsibilities. I was working away on Monday, reading, stewing and preparing, then on a whim decided to take a walk up "my" Mount Cargill. I "work" while walking, I argued, so away I went and puffed my way to the mountain top. It is so life-giving for me getting out in the bush, seeing expansive scenery and yet enjoying the little plant life along the way. I had not done it enough lately, and vowed to do it more often.
On Tuesday morning I was working away in my study for most of the morning, then began to get ready to go to town to do my chaplaincies. My phone rang and it was a policeman I know. He told me that an acquaintance of mine needed somebody to talk with. The man came on the phone and blurted out, "Its my niece, she's killed herself!" and dissolved into tears. I asked where he was and said I would be there in fifteen minutes. I have been drawn into this family's grief. A 19 year old mother of a 3 year old girl, accidentally overdosed on alcohol and pain killers. It is extremely sad. I lead the funeral in a few days time. I was talking to the funeral director who I know well, and said, "Why me? I am meant to be retired?" She grinned and replied, "Because people like being around you and having you around at times like this." I find such involvement stressful, but I also feel deeply the pain of the situation and ache for the people involved.
Death and life together.
That afternoon I went to the hospital to meet members of the family to support them as they visited their loved one in the "city morgue". As I walked through the foyer/reception area of the hospital I saw one of my fire fighters and his wife, obviously going home with their tiny baby. The baby had been born at 24 weeks and I had followed their journey on facebook and whenever I could catch up with the young dad at the fire station. It had been a tough journey as the baby, confined to a special unit in the hospital, went through all sorts of ups and downs, many times failing to breath. Now I rushed up to the couple and celebrated the fact that they could take their child home. The worst (hopefully) had past, and I was simply delighted as I looked at this little human venturing out into the big world of life. Then the irony hit me. I walked down a corridor from this happy encounter to meet the grieving family.  With some family members sobbing deeply, my policeman friend led us down to the room where this nineteen year old lay, cold and very dead. Life and death together in just a few minutes! We have a sad binge drinking problem among young people in New Zealand. 
I wrote the chairman's report for the 2016 Annual meeting of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. As I listed off the things we had done for the year I felt tired. It had been a busy journey restructuring and further improving the work of the Dunedin Night Shelter. I would love to be able to hand over the responsibility. I have been involved on the committee from the very beginning in 2003, and as I wrote the report, then the next night chaired our meeting, I felt the weariness of that long journey. 
The Anglican Cathedral in town had invited us, along with other agencies, to set up a Christmas "tree" depicting our work in some way. So the day after our AGM my wife and I were there with a friend from the Trust setting up our display. We were approached by a very nervous and very pregnant young woman and her husband. She said something like; "I wanted you to know that many years ago I used your service. I stayed at the shelter. " She hesitated, then said, "I would not be here today if it wasn't for you and what you do. Life turned out OK. This is my husband." she said turning and smiling at a very proud and loving husband. She led us to believe that we had saved her life, and she was so genuine in her appreciation. 
I was too dumbfounded to speak. She gave my wife Jean the star which is on the top of our tepee. That experience is about as good as it could ever get!  Nothing could top that moment. I simply floated out of the Cathedral feeling like it was all worth it after all!

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