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.