My mother, 94, never resists an adventure. She loves travel. It is steeped deep in her DNA. She made more than 30 pilgrimages to Lourdes in France, several pilgrimages to Jerusalem, to Rome, as well as Walsingham in England. She has made numerous other journeys including a visit to myself when I was a monk in Thailand in the 1970s.
Her DNA got passed on to my sister and I. My sister, Judy, married a certain Chris Guyler for more than 20 years. He worked for the airline industry so my sister and their children lived in the Middle East, New Guinea, Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia. As an airline employee, Chris Guyler and his family travelled extensively on air ticket concessions. My mother visited my sister, husband and grandchildren most years during the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1998, my mother emigrated to Australia to live close to my sister in a suburb of Brisbane. She was 78 years old when she emigrated. She owned a small house in England. I said to her at the time. “You could rent your house rather than sell it. If you don’t like Australia, you will have a home to come back to. House prices keep going up in the UK. You could return after two or three years but be priced out of the housing market here.”
I appreciated the response of my mother. She said: “If you are going to make a big change in your life, then why do it by half? I am going to live in Australia. That’s it.”
With the daily visits of my sister, my mother could live relatively independently in her flat in Brisbane, until the age of 89. Five years ago, she moved into the Amarina Aged Care Home in Windsor, a suburb of Brisbane. To our surprise, my mother settled in immediately. She didn’t mind giving up her independence because she loves her chats with the wonderful staff and the elderly residents. She frequently tells me over the phone of her appreciation for the daily kindnesses of the staff towards her and the other residents.
Travel for my mother is rather limited these days. The care home takes residents out for the day every couple of weeks or so. My sister takes my mum to the restaurant, the cinema or the RSL Club to play the pokies (one armed bandits). Using her stroller, my mother moves at about the same pace as one of the serious meditators engaged in walking meditation on one of my retreats. Step by step. Moment to moment.
My mum and I usually go to the shopping mall. It is not at the top of my list of my favourite places to visit. I would hardly call the shopping mall one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Australia is hot. It was 40 degrees in Brisbane on the day I flew out. A pale skinned 94 year old great grandmother, engaged in very slow walking meditation, would not last long in the heat. So we go for the air conditioned cool of the shopping mall for a cup of tea and Devon scone. My mother told me that the worst thing about being 94 is knowing she has a 70 year old son.
Over a cuppa, we were talking about the past. Her memory for the distant past is impressive, as is common for those of such an age. There are some gaps in her memory for very recent events, of course. We were talking about The Universe. No, not the cosmos. The Universe is a Roman Catholic newspaper in the UK. I worked for it for five years after I left school aged 15. Not long before I left, my mother joined the staff in the middle 1960’s as the telephonist for the newspaper for eight years. The staff on the newspaper were devoted to service to the Church.
One by one, my mum went through the names of virtually the entire staff from the editor, to the editorial department, the advertising department, the accounts, the circulation department and the front office.
My mother asked: “What happened to Chris Hennessy?”
I replied. “Gone.” (i.e. Died)
“Peter Tynan O’Mahony?”
and so on.
My mother has lived a long life. She has long outlived her husband, brother, her friends in the UK and one or two of her nephews and nieces who succumbed to cancer or an early death. She has outlived nearly all of her work colleagues from her years working for The Universe in London’s Fleet Street.
My sister worked for the same paper in the early 1970s when she was about 20 years of age. She still keeps contact with one of the other young office women from that period of the early 1970s.
The years pass by. It is a short journey through this field of existence. We have experienced challenges and wonders in the past. We remember those we worked with and with whom we shared so many hours in the office, week in and week out.
We will face challenges and wonders in the future until we join the roll call of the past.