1 December 2020

You beaut, Summer is here

You beaut, summer is here
Kate Moriarty

Kate Moriarty

Kate is a writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Australian Catholics magazine

If I were to describe my experience in lockdown with my husband and six children in a not overly large house, I would call it “crowded isolation”. So much of 2020 has been spent negotiating space. Space to play and space to study. Space to be noisy and space to keep quiet (daddy’s on the phone). Do you want to build with Lego or play a boardgame? Clear a space. Want me to sit with you on the couch? Budge up! Make some space. Want to wrestle? Go outside. There’s no space for that here.

As this year has progressed, Summer has sparkled like a pinprick of light at the end of a very long tunnel. Summer will be different. Summer will be special. Summer means freedom and sunshine and travelling further than five kilometres and being together at the end of a difficult year.

And, for all the hidden joys, things have been difficult. Our dishwasher is broken. It’s a small tragedy. Have you noticed how many extra dishes are created when everyone is at home? My teenage son is supposed to be in charge of the dinner dishes. He was very good at loading a dishwasher, but handwashing is a job he detests. For some reason, when my children don’t like to do something, they prefer to make the task last forever rather than just GETTING IT DONE.

I think Christopher finds the sight of several towers of unwashed plates so overwhelming that he needs to spend forty minutes summoning the inner strength just to look at them. Recently I’ve confiscated all surplus dishes (anything beyond eight plates, eight bowls, eight glasses, and, well, fifteen coffee mugs) and hidden them in the linen cupboard. If you want a clean bowl, you’ll just have to wash the one you used five minutes ago. It’s under your bed.

My eldest daughter Matilda is fifteen. At the beginning of the year, she shared a small bedroom with her eight-year-old sister Annie and our then-four-year-old twins, Pippi and Penny. It’s one of those realities of home life that doesn’t sound quite so unreasonable until you have to write it down on paper. I’d always had a vague idea that Matilda would move into the study when she was older, but 2020 had turned the study into an essential home office for her dad. Besides, Matilda had other plans.

I don’t know if it was her longtime fascination for Harry Potter or her yearning for a space that was hidden away and single purpose, but Matilda started sizing up the cupboard under the stairs. Hours were spent with a measuring tape and torch, finding new locations for the vacuum cleaner, DVD collection, suitcases and 34,209 other random items. 

A lot of these ended up in my laundry. I am merely stating a fact. Matilda taped an extension cord along the edge of the floor and into her new room. The final result could feature in a tiny homes lifestyle special. My ever-inventive daughter has made use of every inch of space in that cupboard (and its ceiling and walls) to fit a bed, desk, her beloved Melways wall map, even storage for her clothes. Her next task is to figure out how to keep her fascinated little sisters from invading this tiny haven. Matilda loves it, and, while I no longer have a room to stash clothes baskets full of clutter in a panic tidy before guests arrive, I also no longer have any guests arriving, so I guess it all works out.

While I’ve been spending lots of extra time with my immediate family, I’ve barely seen my parents, three brothers, and two sisters – at least not in person. While our Saturday morning zooms (Friday night Michigan time) have become an institution, I really miss just breathing the same air as them. One of my sisters lives 10kms away from me, and, just at the point where our 5km circles overlap, there is a park with a picnic table. Meeting Emily in person to do the Friday crossword together has become one of the great joys of my life. As for the rest of my family, I’ll just have to wait a little longer.

But Summer creeps ever closer. By the time this is published, Summer will be here! I am dreaming of a big house by the beach with my husband and kids, my parents and my siblings. My parents splurged on a large house to fit everyone (sixteen in all, not counting my brother and his wife, who live in America). Can you imagine it? We’d all be together! We could cook together! We could chat and hug and do the crossword and maybe play some boardgames (I’ve got REALLY good at them this year. I’ve had so much practice). We could go for a walk outside for no reason at all. But I don’t dare think of this too often. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is set in stone. To be honest, I would settle for a hug each from my mum and dad. It’s been a very long time.

I can’t predict what Summer will bring this year, but I do know this: there will always be a Summer. For every season of sorrow there is a season of rejoicing. Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday. Today I might stare bleakly at the wall while my five-year-old twins clamber over me. Tomorrow I might gaze serenely at the breaking waves while my five-year-old twins clamber over me.

My beach bag’s all packed. Bring on Summer!

The book Joy to the World – Advent Activities for Your Family is available from the Majellan Bookshop for $13.95, postage included. See page 48.

All those years ago, Elton John and Tim Rice wrote these lyrics for the film The Lion King:

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
‘Til we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life…

More than a few years earlier, the reputed writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, wrote:

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.

A time to be born and a time to die…

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn and a time to dance…

a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces…” (Eccles 3:1-2,4-5).

Amidst the privations and revelations of the year that’s been 2020, these words – from vastly different times – are a helpful reminder of the bigger picture. Whatever restrictions remain as Advent approaches, it will bring a renewed hunger for the connection and warmth the season promises. For those separated from loved ones – across the nation or across the globe – the pain will be sharper, made even more acute by the uncertainty around when travel will be possible.

Mary and Joseph were separated from loved ones as the birth of Jesus drew near, and while his arrival brought joy, it also raised more questions than it answered – as does the birth of any child.

Families, households and parishes preparing to celebrate Christmas may like to recast the ancient symbol of the Advent wreath, or circle, to acknowledge the character of this year and the absences, as well as presences, that will be felt. Instead of an unbroken circle of greenery, why not assemble a circle with gaps? You could use clusters of greenery, or even small green potted plants, to represent each week of Advent, alternating pots and candles in an open circle. 

Why? To signal that while the eternal realities remain, this year is different. The gaps created evoke what is missing – those loved ones who can’t gather this year, the anticipated experiences and events that didn’t occur in 2020, and those who have died during 2020 (whether or not from Covid-19). The following Advent wreath prayer could accompany the lighting of a candle on each of the four Sundays of Advent, perhaps with a special meal or treat, and music that speaks to your family or community. 

 

First Sunday: Hope for all God’s people

We light this candle for all God’s people,

struggling to be bearers of hope in a time of pandemic,

and to look forward to a safer time for our troubled world.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

 

Second Sunday: The prophets

We light this candle for all God’s prophets,

Especially those whose skills in research and healing promise

a new world of freedom and peace.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

 

Third Sunday: John the Baptist 

We light this candle for all God’s messengers,

leaders, health professionals, caring neighbours

preparing the way for change, guiding us forward

and pointing to a new age to come.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

 

Fourth Sunday: Mary

We light this candle for all God-bearers,

saying ‘yes’ to God’s challenge,

pastoral ministers and carers, women and men of faith,

accepting the pain and joy of an unknown future.

 

All: God, as we wait for your promise, give light, give hope.

 

Christmas Day: The birth of Christ

We light this candle for the newborn Christ,

reawakening hope and faith –

the Word embodied for our time.

We invoke the hope of a Covid-free world and ask your blessing on 2021.

 

All: God, as we receive your promise, you are light, you are hope.

 

Adapted from Jan Berry’s “Give Light, Give Hope” in Ruth Burgess (ed) Candles & Conifers, Wild Goose Publications 2005.

 

Perhaps after each candle ritual, members of the group could share something of their experience of 2020. Helpful questions might be:

 

  • What was the most challenging aspect of the year?
  • What will you remember fondly?
  • For what do you give thanks?
  • Do you have any regrets you would like to share?
  • What is your deepest hope for 2021?

 

And whatever your experience of 2020 has been, remember, “life is changed, not ended”. (Preface of Christian Death I).

 

“It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all…”

These simple and random acts of kindness had such power to improve the quality of my day. This year has been challenging for many people because of the pandemic but, thankfully, we still hear of people’s kind gestures toward others.  

For a Christian, the scriptures tell us that kindness is at the heart of what it means to love one another. According to the gospels, the mark of a Christian is that “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So being a Christian means that these “acts of kindness” aren’t random acts at all but are a result of our understanding of Jesus’s love for us and our desire to share that love with others.

Erin Jones, a wife and mother of six children aged between five and 21, speaks of the kindness and generosity of her children’s teachers in supporting the parents while they were home schooling. She was also on the receiving end of kindness when her husband’s workplace gave them a financial bonus to assist with the cost of their increased internet usage during lockdown.

But what’s most striking about Erin’s family is their desire to help others. “We have an elderly widow who normally sits with us in church and has done so for years,” said Erin. “During the pandemic my two youngest children, Rachel and Isaac, have been writing letters and sending drawings to her.” One can only imagine the comfort this lady received from these children’s simple gesture.

Praying for those who were affected by COVID-19 was at the heart of Kay Orbell’s response to the pandemic. As the number of global deaths mounted, and as a mother and grandmother herself, Kay couldn’t get past the fact that these were real people with real lives. And so she prayed continuously. She prayed for the nurses, the doctors, the fire brigade – everyone she could think of.

“All those people were mums, dads, uncles, aunties and grandparents,” Kay said. “In my heart I couldn’t just let the numbers go. The reports of thousands of people dying. I didn’t know anyone who died personally, but it didn’t matter, I just cried out for them.”

In talking about how we might recover kindness as a way of living in our world today, Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), speaks of how easy it is to see other people as an annoyance or an obstacle to our own existence. (#222). ‘This is even more the case in times of crisis, catastrophe and hardship, when we are tempted to think in terms of the old saying, “every man for himself”.’ Pope Francis goes on to say, “Yet even then, we can choose to cultivate kindness. Those who do so become stars shining in the midst of darkness.”

One of the most striking stories of love and kindness I’ve heard came from a friend whose uncle recently died. Two of her uncles had been living together and supporting each other but following the uncle’s death, my friend’s family rallied around the remaining uncle and took him into their home.

It was a simple enough gesture, but the implications of this move meant there was no longer enough room for the eldest 20-something year old grandniece to stay in her home as well, so she moved in with her aunt. This story is a beautiful lived example of kindness cultivated in an entire family. Their thankfulness for their uncle’s presence in their lives and their capacity to put their own desires and comfortable existence on hold to care for him struck me deeply.

Felicity Chan was deeply touched by the story of a mum at her children’s school whose family’s village in Fiji was struck by Cyclone Harold in April this year. The category five cyclone decimated the village, levelling many houses and community buildings. Since then the mum has been collecting food and clothing to send back to Fiji to help her family and other local villagers. On top of the cyclone recovery, the village then felt the impacts of COVID-19 and this further devastated Fiji’s local economy.

Felicity was so moved by this woman’s story that she reached out to help the small community herself. “One of the many ways this mum has helped her village is by sending them parcels of clothing and bedding,” Felicity said. “I was able to contribute too by clearing unwanted sheets and towels from my linen cupboard and donating unused school equipment, stationery and early learning materials for the children.”

Pope Francis reflects on our unwillingness to stop and be kind to others and forget to do the simple things such as say, “excuse me”, “pardon me” and “thank you”. ‘Yet every now and then,’ he goes on to say, ‘miraculously, a kind person appears and is willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled. Kindness ought to be cultivated.’ (#224)

I’ve lost count of the kindnesses I’ve been at the receiving end of this year. The parishioner who dropped around a large box of children’s books for my boys to use in the early weeks of home schooling because she knew I was worried about teaching my kindergarten child how to read. The friend who gave our boys clothing and toys that still had plenty of wear and use left. And the weekly Saturday ‘check in’ phone calls from another friend because we were both home and had more time to touch base with each other.

It is so easy to simply list examples of kindness. Seen like this, acts of kindness can become another checklist of things to do. But seen as the mark of a Christian, as the way followers of Jesus bring love, life and hope to a hurting world, and kindness can become the very thing that heals people, that transforms lives and relationships, and that helps others to see that it’s worth putting our hope in Jesus, especially at this time.

As Pope Francis encourages us, we pray we may become for one another, “stars shining in the midst of darkness”.

The book To Love Kindness is available from Majellan Bookshop for $12.95 (postage included). See page 48.

 

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