Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cathartic rant about life.

A notice board I made for the local Church. 
My wife working with me on adding legs and repairing an old pool table. 
My special friend Cyril. 
The Devil Incarnate
Let's be clear I do not believe in a literal Devil. I have been astounded by the fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the USA. He sounded horrible during his campaign. He was over the top, with untruths, showmanship, and divisive language.  I was sure there would be enough "sane" people to out vote those who did not see the emptiness in him. But he became President. But then I thought and hoped he would modify his behaviour and actions. I also kind of hoped that the people in the Republican party would help him see some sense, and modify the outcomes. So far I am disappointed. Every time the TV or Internet shows him signing some new executive order with his arrogant comments, I see "the Devil Incarnate." The directions he is leading the USA are winding back the clock of progress by decades. He is like a vicious flat earth person, dragging people back to primitive outlooks and divisive behaviour. He is evil, but he is not the source of the problem. I think the superficial lifestyle and values we have increasingly accepted as "normal" are the source. In an interview I just watched, Al Gore was discussing the rise of Trump and the problems we face. He said something like,"An important part of the problem is the way we share information. ... The line between news and entertainment has almost dissolved and the ratings have a big impact on what stories are covered and how they are covered." These days in NZ after the "news" we have a choice between "Seven Sharp" the superficial rantings of Mike Hosking, or "The Project" - extremely brief superficial- semi humorous looks at the stories of the day with lots of giggles. (or Shortland Street - God help us!) Gore is right! Compared to the real interviews and discussions of the past from the likes of Ian Fraser, Brian Edwards, Bill Ralston and even more recently Paul Holmes and John Campbell, these are like weak, dumbed down, poor excuses of journalism. John Key got away with too many "I can't remembers" and nobody really digs deeper than superficial, immediate and entertaining causes for issues.
I am surprised by sadness. A 96 year old friend died last Wednesday. I had known of Cyril since I was a boy, he was in my parents' wider circle of friends. I know old men die and I am sure he was OK with it, but in my life he became important. He has been a fine example for me, and over the last 30 years he has been a tremendously supportive friend and often a listening ear. I knew whenever the going got tough he was there with quiet loyal support. Since my "retirement" we have not had as much contact, but in these last two days I have been surprised by deep feelings of loss. Cyril was an accountant and treasurer for a couple of charitable Trusts and would come into my office to get his balance sheets photocopied. They were all beautifully handwritten with such neat handwriting. They were like works of art.  On these occasions I would sometimes offer him a cup of tea and we would discuss life. He was a deeply religious man, but his "Jesus" led him to have a liberal, progressive outlook. My father died when I was a young teenager, so in some ways he became a surrogate dad over the last thirty years. We once had a difference of opinion. He phoned me during a busy day, and one of my "low" days in my love hate/relationship with Church. He phoned me at the office to complain. This was not like him at all, so I knew it must have been a serious issue for him. From time to time we had been using an Australian colloquial language paraphrase of the New Testament readings. Cyril thought they were a little too colloquial, and wanted to register his distaste. He commented that in all the changes I brought I should remember to be "mindful of the older people in the congregation." I recall debating with myself. Would I just lamely say "thank you for the feedback" and leave it at that, or would I discuss it. I decided that I knew Cyril well enough to be honest. So I explained why I used that paraphrase. (to make people sit up and listen in a new and different way)  I also commented that in my years of ministry at the Church, I felt that one of my faults had been that I was too mindful of the "older people" and too cautious to make changes. That I had neglected the preferences of younger people in order to avoid conflict. So we entered into an intense, but respectful discussion. Cyril always was careful to choose the right words in conversation and was very wise. He was a master of the English language and so there were lots of pauses as he thought carefully about what I had said and how he would respond. We came to a point where we sort of "agreed to differ" but knew that each had heard the other. He had worn some of my angst and frustration of ministry, and I had been a little unfair to bounce at him. Then he said, "There is one more thing before I go." I wondered what else was coming. There was one of his pauses as he searched for the right words.  "I admire your work. .... I really appreciate your ministry..... I enjoy your emphases. I have enormous respect for you.... (he hesitated) .. no its more, .... I love you like one of my own. You need to know that there has been nothing in this conversation that changes that. You will always have my support and love." I was stunned, and assured him the feelings were mutual. When I hung up all I wanted to do was drive to his house and hug him.... but I didn't. He was a lovely man. He had been an officer in  the Royal Navy during the war and still carried himself like an officer and gentleman. Beautifully spoken, caring, but he loved watching sport. He never missed going to a rugby test in Dunedin in 70 years!  I remember interviewing him in a Remembrance day Church Parade about his experience of being away during the war years. He answered with depth, humility and wisdom. He was in fact a bit of a pacifist at heart. His wife died 15 years ago and on the night she died when I arrived at the hospital he wrapped his arms around me, cried on my shoulder and just said, "Oh David, she's gone. Joan's gone!" My wife and I and he and his family gathered, holding hands around her bed and he asked me to pray. I could barely express myself.  On the day of my final service at the Church when I came to say goodbye to him in the morning tea room, we both choked up and hugged each other tightly.  He simply choked out the words, "Enough said." patted me on the shoulder and went out the door, I am sure with a tear in his eye, because there was certainly a tear in mine.  We live our lives, but underneath like the piles or foundation stones of a house, we have people who are supportive of us, who show an example, who love us. Well for the first day or so after his death I felt like one of my supports had gone. Well lived Cyril. We were different generations, and I have lived a very different life with some different outlooks than you, but you, and the way you lived, were so so important to me. 
Neighbours' Day
Last weekend it was Neighbours Day in NZ and people were encouraged to get to know their neighbours. My wife had the great idea for the little local Church to host a Neighbours day afternoon tea for the locals. She worked hard toward it. The afternoon tea at the local Church was a success, in spite of a cool rainy day! I did a heap of work getting a table tennis table, fuzzball table and a pool table repaired and ready. My wife letterbox dropped every house in Sawyers Bay and did a heap of baking. With me running the morning Church service and then us hosting the afternoon, I was totally exhausted at the end of the day.  I wish I had taken photos, it was great seeing kids enjoying the hall, and neighbours learning about each other and sharing stories and phone numbers.
Maybe a bit of grief. Maybe with Night Shelter, chaplaincy and Church responsibilities I am a bit too stressed and busy. Maybe the uncertainty of waiting for a prostate biopsy also contributes. It can be too that my loner, introvert personality contributes to it. The last week or so I have struggled with sadness, or depression. I have felt like telling the world to get stuffed.  There are quite a few uncertain and pressure things I am dealing with on my "to do" list. But I will emerge out the end and keep going. I visited a firefighter yesterday who is battling terminal cancer and coping with pain. I went on to call on two other friends in their 90's who recognise the end of their life is near. I know that the things I do make a difference and in the midst of depression, and when my end comes I can look back with satisfaction. That is something I have found is a powerful motivator to keep me going in spite of the way I feel. Money can't buy that.

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