Tuesday, 24 February 2009


One of the most profound experiences of my life was to hold my son, my first child, when he was about 5 minutes old. He'd had a bit of a struggle to arrive. Quite liked it where he was, actually, and didn't fancy the delivery room of St. George's hospital in comparison. He'd needed a bit of assistance to make the two foot journey and he got here blue and exhausted. After the professionals had checked him over they wrapped him in a blanket and gave him to me. I held him and looked at his eyes and couldn't believe how blue they were. I looked at him and another consciousness looked intelligently back. He didn't have those random unfocused wandering eyes of other newborns, such as the two sisters who followed over the course of the next few years. He was focused, quizzical, enquiring, not quite understanding who I was, where he was or what he was doing there. One of the two midwives present said knowingly,"this one's been here before...". It was not a sentiment a conventional Christian such as myself could go along with at the time, but I could see exactly why she said it.

That was twenty nine years ago and he's now one of those people who gets paid to fiddle with computers. He lives and works and London, and over the Christmas holidays he got engaged to Chramayne (link here), a beautiful young Australian woman whom he works with. A couple of weeks ago, his younger sister Bridget, not to be outdone, followed suit. Bridget is a lawyer and works for Vodafone in Auckland and she and Scott have been an item for I can't remember how many years. They took a holiday to Fiji and there was an episode with a chunky diamond glistening in the tropical sunset. So it's two weddings for 2010, and though Catherine our youngest has shown no signs of engagement yet, she has finally and completely left the nest. She's in Wellington looking for work that will pay the bills while she follows her true vocation: pretending to be someone else while other people watch, clap and, hopefully, pay for the privilege.

The time between that first startled encounter and waving the last of the 737s off from Dunedin airport seems ridiculously short and yet it is three lifetimes long. They are all of them making their way in the world, all on the very brink of things which will shape them and form them for the rest of their lives. All of them, despite the emailing and texting and skyping and the trips back South, are making their own way now and doing a pretty good job of it. It's what the task of parenting is about: letting go; doing your best to ensure that they are strong enough to live apart from you; knowing that the relationship is primarily about them, not about you. Perhaps that's what all love is about. Surrender, giving up. Which I've been thinking a bit about as Lent rolls around, and which I'll try and write about tomorrow.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

A New Day

Yesterday I lay under the machine and counted the buzzes for last time. I took off my baggy hospital shorts , put them in the laundry bin and didn't choose a new pair from the pile. Then I drove home and sat in the drivers seat of the car for a long time, not quite sure if I had the energy to walk from the garage into the house. Then inside, sleep for a while and go gently into that good day.

Because I had been remarkably OK for the past few weeks, it was a bit surprising to be so tired yesterday. I guess that when the whole process was finished by mind was able to let go of the effort required to maintain equilibrium and gave my body permission to zonk out. I keep forgetting how body and mind and spirit are an integrated whole, and are not three separate things sitting inside each other like Russian dolls. I am a trinity, not a tiumvirate.

Now it's wait and see. On March 25 I'll see the oncologist and he'll examine the entrails - my entrails - and tell me whether all the xrays have actually done anything useful. It's going to be a fairly clear cut divergence of roads in a yellow wood on March 25. Either I still have cancer or I don't. Either I walk out of his office as a comparatively well man or as a cancer patient waiting for the inevitable, albeit very slow, falling of Damocles' sword. Either way though, life is not the same from this point on. My body has told me that changes must be made in the way I exist within it. And because I am a trinity, changes to my body must imply changes to my mind and spirit.

Something else happened yesterday. Our Eurail passes arrived, complete with a book of instructions and a dinky wee map. In two months we're going to travel the length of Italy staying in monsatic guesthouses. We'll be tourists, sure, but night times will be regulated by the sounds and rhythms of monastic life and day times by the clacking of iron wheels on rails. Then we'll be with strong conservatively Christian friends in Switzerland before spending a week at Taize. Then we'll walk the Camino in Northern Spain. Then we go to London where I hope to spend some time with Laurence Freeman.It'll be a retreat. A moving retreat, I hope in more ways than one. It will be a retreat which seems to be providentially timed no matter what Mr North tells me on March 25.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Rust Never Sleeps

Some people have nasty jobs. The nurse who works for my GP for example, who had to perform some minor surgery on me today. I have had a small cyst in my upper arm for about twenty years. All of the medical people I've shown it to over the years have been underwhelmed by it, so I've never much bothered about it. All that time it just sat around doing its cystly thing until last Friday when it took advantage of the general decline in my immune system and did what it had longed to do for ages: it had a much delayed bout of adolescent pique and went feral. By Sunday, despite being dosed with antibiotics the thing was the size of a golf ball and was really starting to get my attention, not that anybody much would want to look at it. I am reluctant to condemn anything on such superficial grounds, but it was not, to put too fine a point of things, pretty. Hence today's minor surgery. The nurse is a pleasant woman a few years younger than me. She asked me to sit down and remove my shirt. She unrolled a toolkit that you could restore a Model T Ford with and began to deconstruct the recently self assertive lump. The nurse chatted about Waimate, where we have both lived and gave an interesting running commentary on what she was doing. She slashed, sliced, poked, prodded, scoured, pulled, pushed and scraped. She stitched me up and put on a patch. The table where she had done the deed looked like someone had just performed brain surgery on a rat. She cleaned it up and got herself ready for the next customer. I arranged to meet her tomorrow so she can do whatever it is that she is going to do next. This is her job, and I am very very glad that someone does it even as I rejoice that it isn't me.

I don't know what it would be like to deal with putrescence all day and every day but obviously people get used to it; even perhaps they find it interesting. You look at the rotten stuff for long enough and see it for what it is: the inevitable by product of a material system that is imperfect and fallible. You get familiar enough with it and it loses all its horror. For twenty years this little piece of corruption has squirmed away in the darkness, waiting its opportunity. Left alone, it might have caused me serious and long standing damage but against someone who faced it without fear and brought it into the light, it didn't last ten minutes.

That was the one on my arm. There are one or two others in deeper, darker, less material places that the nurse's example has prompted me to take notice of.

Friday, 6 February 2009


I had my little brother to stay this week, and didn't get time for things like blog writing. There were other things to be done: motorcycle shops to be visited and sofas to be sat on and words to be spoken. Lots and lots of words. Since I have been ill, all my brothers have come to see me, and my sister too for that matter, and all in their own way have brought me something to move me along the path of wholeness. I'm not sure that it was planned that way, but all my familial visits seemed to bring the right person to me at the right time. Now, the radiotherapy has only another week to run: I am nearly out the other side of this process and am feeling ridiculously fit and well. In about two months time there will be another blood test and it will tell me whether the deep fryer has dealt to this thing for good or whether there are several more exciting chapters in the cancer story to unfold over the next few years. Either way, I'm not unduly worried and it was helpful to see Murray as I move back out of the shadows and into the light again.

Guhyavajra (Murray) is two years younger than me, and as we shared most closely the experiences of childhood, we have a deeply and finely honed mutual understanding. He has been living in the UK for years now, so he's a fund of useful information about travelling there and to Europe. More importantly, over the years there has been a strange parallelism in our spiritual lives. He is Buddhist and has spent most of his adult life serving in and with a spiritual community.It's interesting how similarly churches and Buddhist men's communities operate. Over many years of conversation we have tested out the boundaries of Christianity and Buddhism, and we know where we agree and where we differ with equal clarity. Consequently, I find him far safer to talk to than most Christians. About ten minutes into a conversation with Christians, and most are either treating me as some sort of guru or are wanting to correct and/or save me. In Christian company I usually have to measure what I say; with Guhyavajra I can say what I bloody well like and know it will be thoughfully and honestly and intelligently reflected back to me without fear and without judgement. So we spoke of our shared childhood and the adolescence where our paths began to markedly differ. We spoke of the challenging but joyous present and the uncertain future. We pontificated about the nature of reality and the meaning of the universe. And then, too soon, he was gone.

I'll see him in June when we will stay with him in Norwich and where the conversation no doubt will pick up where it left off, as it has done so many times in the last few decades. And for him, and for Alistair and Val and Stuart I return thanks to the Father from whom every family on heaven and on earth takes its name.