Joy and sadness. Labour and rest.

We sat at our usual spot at church yesterday. Seated next to Tress was AC. As the service progressed, I could hear AC sobbing. Across the blocks I see Kiera too was wiping away tears. Both AC and Kiera were close to Elena and the sadness was palpable. I too was quite saddened. Tress wiped away a few tears too.

Later that night, Susan sent an email to all in the group, suggesting a meal later in the week to remember Elena. That was a good idea and even as the fog of yet another very warm night enveloped my mind, I found myself wondering why someone we knew quite little, touched us that much. Maybe it was her tireless advocacy work, especially for the deaf. She has this roundish face with large round eyes. I’d say she even glows – often – and she was just a very lovely person. She warms up to anyone she spoke to and her very gentle demeanor belies the steely strength that saw her labor long and hard for the causes she held dear.

She’s at rest now from her labor and her battles against a world that is often not attuned to the needs of those less able bodied.

Rest was the resonant theme yesterday. Both David Williams (leader) and Mike McNamara (sermon), had messages along that focus. It was what I needed to think about.

I had been saying to Tress lately, that I’m tired. Even at the footy at the G on Saturday night, as we saw a sluggish Hawks side labor hard against a pumped Bombers team, I felt tired. At half time, as Hawthorn was unbelievably in the lead, Tress and I decided to leave early. It was a night game and if we stayed till the end it might have been close to midnight when we got home. It was the first time we left the G at half time. I was glad we did however as we were able to have a wonderfully relaxed night at home and slept earlier than had we stayed on till the end.

And yet the tiredness lingered. Maybe it’s just the never ending warm weather. It’s the end of March and it should have been cooler now but it remained warm. An overnight over-20deg always makes sleep more fitful and though I didn’t wake till the alarm went off, that fogginess lingered to ward off any sense of being refreshed. Even a clean home – Tress and I had spent the better part of Saturday cleaning, vacuuming, wiping and dusting – did not appear to have brought us rest. Rest remained elusive and as we contemplate the next two weekends remaining before we head up to Canberra again, the weary fog stubbornly remains, un-lifted.

Even as we feel the sadness of Elena’s departure, she is probably – at rest now – the one feeling sad for us as she looks down from wherever her Elysium may be. She is no longer tired and as the rest of us labor on, I wonder if we should be joyful for her and sad for ourselves.


Elena, Hipos, Lessons

Tress and I were milling around at the end of the service yesterday and just before we left we had a chat with Peter, the Senior Minister. We talked a little bit before he mentioned he heard a terrible news the night before. He asked if we knew Elena and to our horror he said Elena died on the way to Geneva, sometime the night before. She was on her way to Geneva for a conference.

Of course we know Elena. Knew Elena. She was one of the first people we came to know in St Alf’s. Sue Bazanna, a person we sat next to for a few weeks when we first visited, had invited us to her home for lunch one day. The only other guest was Elena. Sue had left Melbourne to take up a role with UNSW in Sydney a few years ago. We had also become part of a small group who meet in the Maury’s home and both Sue and Elena were members of that group.

We missed the small group meeting on Thursday because after we returned from Canberra on Monday, work kept me busy and I was very tired and a little bit under the weather. Elena was rostered to lead the discussion on Thursday. It would have been the last time we heard her lead.

Elena had a hearing disability. She was almost completely deaf. Much of her work is advocacy for the disabled, especially the deaf. She was a lawyer with the government, presumably doing policy work (including with the Human Rights Commission), for a number of years before leaving to join CBM to continue her policy and advocacy work. She was always engaging and often sought our Theresa and I to have a chat. We will miss her.

Yesterday, as members of the small group exchanged emails on our experience with Elena and what we could do to remember her, I found myself searching within me. Tress had chided me for again being short and disagreeable for much of Saturday. I had taken that on board and reflected on Elena, her life and how fleeting life can tend to be and often is. We went to the oval late in the evening, as the cricket finished and the dog owners came streaming on with their little friends. As I walked amongst the dogs and talked to some of their owners, my mind drifted amongst Elena, the ongoing wedding plans Kiddo has been bathing herself in, my work, Tress and our own little LBJ. At some point I decided to switch them all off and just engage with the dogs, and soak in the atmosphere. It was warm, the sprinklers had come on and many kids were soaking themselves underneath the sprays. Dogs were darting across to and from everywhere, owners were talking and exchanging barbed banters with the cricketers who were having a drink – they all combine to create an atmosphere that was uniquely Australian suburbia.

It was not my kind of Saturday. We were to babysit a couple of little girls – Gerry and Jesslyn’s little darlings – and Tress had been exchanging text messages the night before with the parents as to what time they could drop the girls off. Their investment property – as the crow flies from our little abode – was to be auctioned off that morning and Gerry had been anxious. They had wanted to drop the girls off nearly a couple of hours before the scheduled auction. After a busy and tiring week – having been at Canberra the week before – I was just unsettled by having this silly notion that my Saturday morning was being invaded yet again. My lawn could not be cut and the outside of the house could not be cleaned or organized, for the second week running. I didn’t know better for much of Saturday but they were of course, just little things. I was being an idiot and Elena’s life and passing was a punch in between my eyes.

It turned out we had a great time with the girls. I read to Sheryl (the younger one) – and reading a book with a little girl evoked poignant memories – and we went to the oval and playground to play and walk. Sheanne walked along the boundaries of the oval a few times and as I walked with her, we engaged in a wonderful conversation and again I’m reminded what a glorious chatterbox a little girl can be. After they were picked up around noon – it was a successful auction – we went out to lunch. Madam K was jam packed and we ended up at Honey Thief on Canterbury Road. After grocery shopping we went home and it was close to 4pm when I finally started on essential chores. The car needed to be washed badly as each drive up or down the Hume to and from Canberra ends up with dozens of bugs stuck to the front of the car. After nearly a week, they were near impossible to be cleaned properly. As I scrubbed with a large but ineffective carwash sponge, my frustrations mounted. I thought about how the car was earmarked to be the bridal car and I wondered how presentable I could get the car when it mattered.

When both cars were eventually washed – with still visible bug guts etched on the front of one of them – I felt hot, bothered and frustrated. We were to meet up with Gerry and his girls again for dinner that night so I had to clean up quickly, which I did after a quick beer. We went to this tiny little Thai place in Mitcham Road. The food was delicious and it was good to just talk to this young family. They had bought another investment property a couple of years ago and with a growing family which attracts all of the financial burdens like childcare, school fees and the likes, they decided to sell the property which was auctioned off earlier in the day. As we were driving home, I said to Tress this typical Asian family has demonstrated enterprise, restrain and all the fiscal and financial responsibility which we have come to expect, instead of stretching out their hands to demand handouts as many other migrants have done. That sentiment and opinion required some tampering the very next day.

Elena and others in that small group have been strong on seeking more government funding for a range of social justice causes. I had often wondered to Tress, if we were, ideologically at least, in “wrong” company. Yet, mingling with this group has heightened my sensitivities to the marginalized and disadvantaged, even amongst an apparently opulent community. I guess with ruddy financial health arising from fiscal and financial responsibility, one has to then be generous in looking after the more vulnerable in society.

God puts all sorts of people in our lives to continually shape us to be more like him. We are I hope, also people he puts in others’ lives for the same purpose and function. Rest well, Elena.

Grumpily tired

It was another hot and uncomfortable Canberra weekend for Tress, LBJ and I. The last time we were there was probably not more than 10 weeks ago. It was even hotter then. While driving on the interminable Hume Highway yesterday arvo, I said to Tress – again – that I’m tired. The very thought of making this drive again in about 4 weeks, was in itself, draining.

There’s a bright side to most things. It’s God’s small mercy to those who are weighted down with one form of weariness or another. I guess the bright side of this impending long drive – yet again – up and down the Hume, is that it would be the last of a series of involuntary act of this episode. I no longer have to do this, when that sojourn is complete. I may choose to do it voluntarily but I no longer have to do it.

This sense of compelled action is the wearying source I guess. I hope, in a couple of days, when the balm of familiar routine – one which ends with happy slumber in one’s own bed each night – applies to rejuvenate body and soul, the creeping bitterness will ebb to be replaced with joyful anticipation.

We went up principally to check out the venues involved and to do a recci of sorts. Tress wanted to check out the hotel our relos will be staying, and to gauge the distance to the NPG and the Canberra Baptist Church in Kingston. To complete the recci exercise and experience, Tress suggested we attend the Sunday service in that church. That service turned out to be more like an activists’ get together to rant, chest beat and plan. Like many Canberran inner city churches, the cries of the progressive bend far overrides any biblical exposition one finds in churches planted in other demography. When Tress suggested we leave as the offertory prayer was uttered, I couldn’t be happier.

In between checking out venues, we ate, Kiddo shopped, and we tried to talk about their plans. I don’t know when weddings began taking on the importance they do now – the myriads of plans, programs, schedulings, etc – they have long ceased to be a mere mark of two people deciding to start a family.

Strangely, few moan against the grotesque takeover of the commercialised arts scene so that couples spend an exhausting amount of time and money to plan a day which need only be a simple celebration of two becoming one. If it was completely up to me, 25 years ago I would have simply asked that my family and friends come to witness Tress and I exchange vows and rings in a church, followed by a simple dinner in a quiet restaurant nearby. Minus all the lights and sounds.

Alas, the tide of an ever growing bridal party, the conquest of the fashion designers and photographers, the rule of the caterer and the creeping reign of social expectations, have not ebbed one inch since Tress and I were subjected to their forces. They have grown their tentacles and their grip continue to suck the joy out of the occasion.

It was a sultry 18 deg at 5.30am this morning. Maybe that’s why I continue to feel tired.

3 Cornered Bottle

Balance. It is illusive and elusive. One simply know when it isn’t there. Like now. At this point in time.

I leave for work just after 5.35 in the morning. I’m in the office maybe 10 to 7. After a quick smoothie brekky I’d start working and would leave a bit after 5. I walk back in through my front door a bit after 6. So a bit over half of my 24 hour allotted time is spent on work and work commute. I do this 5 days a week.

Back in the day when we were living and working in Malaysia such a pattern would not have warranted a second thought. Here in Melbourne, and at my age, this is often in my thoughts.

Sometimes a weekend provide good reprieve. Certainly on Friday night when Tress and I were at a long table at Via Matta, seated with the Hippos and Chews, it felt the weekend was starting and the week’s labour could be forgotten. At some time around noon on Saturday it felt, at times, that the weekend wasn’t going to provide any meaningful rest. I had started my work maintaining the lawn and hedges, from just after 9. Tress did the laundry earlier and had also started vacuuming.

By the time she left home for a catch-up lunch with some friends in the city, I was soaking in sweat, caked and dusted with clippings from the James Sterling hedges. In these warmer months they grow quickly and will easily breach the 2meter mark if not clipped regularly. Regularly now means once a month. The Ryobi hedge sweeper feels like Thor’s hammer after the first hour. Thankfully the whole side fence can be done in a bit under one and one half hour and the back fence maybe another twenty minutes so by the time my arm could no longer lift Thor’s hammer up a step ladder anymore, the job’s done and I move on to the lawn mower.

By the time I finally moved on to the broom to start sweeping down the deck and driveway, it was almost 1pm. I felt so drained my earlier thoughts of going to the local deli to pick up some cold cuts to fix a nice sanger had taken flight. After a long shower all I could do was a quick instant noodle lunch. The fridge had only a solitary bottle and it wasn’t beer. Cider isn’t my go to beverage but it had to do.

After lunch I thought about continuing with the vacuuming but abandoned the idea as I was in no mood to lift anymore appliances. I headed to the local library as I had finished my book on the train on the way back on Friday arvo. Ann Henderson’s book on Menzies had been on my list but the sheer size of that book – given my arm’s weary state – scared me. I returned home, empty handed, and continued with the vacuuming.

Tress then came home with some ribs which I marinated for the week’s cook on Sunday arvo and we went out for some grocery shopping and the day’s gone.

Madam K was a little different after church – we didn’t meet our usual old friends and Rose was extraordinarily generous with her serving and added goodies. After lunch we went to pick up my suit, got more paraphernalia for the wedding and when we sat down for a coffee and watched the Sunday arvo crowd milling through the arcade’s outdoor dining strip, I finally felt the weekend reprieve. We later got home and I started cooking. We then took the little guy to the oval for his walk, which he enjoyed. Just looking at him – a sightless wonder – bouncing around with a smile on his face, made me feel, at long last, a true sense of having rested. Even as we went for a short walk past the oval across an adjoining field.

This morning as I lumbered through Melbourne’s suburban rail, I felt the imbalanced nature of my weeks starting again. It feels as elusive as ever.

Sunday cook 

We’ve been cooking on Sunday arvo’s for a while now. A five spice pork ribs rice dish is a recent favourite. We’d cook enough for maybe 4 days’ lunch and pack them daily for work.

Trinity for a kick

The ribs would be marinated overnight in a special five spice soy and garlic marinate.

The secret weapon, if you like, is the pressure cooker which lets you sauté and brown meat. So we’d sauté some onions, brown the ribs, then add rice and some chunky veges before finishing with some coriander, roots and all.

Usually the resulting serves are quite satisfying. Today is sort of there, maybe meatier (yummies!) …

Lunch should be pretty good this week.