Dear Inner Circle,
I'm at the fountain cafe enjoying the extraordinary light that such a day brings.
The world looks crisper to me in the morning. A well dressed man sitting next
to me is just finishing the pint of beer that he's having for breakfast.
A woman opposite me is reading the paper and chain smoking.
There is a skinny girl wearing next to nothing, using the reflection
that she can see in the telephone booth to make herself beautiful and ready
for the day. The few clothes that she is wearing are all black and against her pale,
sickly looking skin and gaunt figure, it looks a bit sad. I expect she will wander
off shortly looking for customers. If the man next to me has another beer for breakfast,
she might be in luck.
One the worst drunks I know asked me to bury his mum. I told him that I'd be
honoured to stand with him in this moment, provided that he could stand.
He arrived at Wayside, very drunk but still able to stand. "Stand" isn't quite
the right word; "dignified wobble" might describe his best effort. On the way
to the graveside he begged me to stop at every pub we passed for a quick drink.
I refused his requests and when we arrived at the graveside, the undertaker was
already waiting for us. Before I could say a prayer, my friend burst into a
drunken rage. He thought the nursing home probably switched bodies and it probably
wasn't the body of his mother in the coffin. The undertaker was more than mildly
annoyed and refused to open the coffin to settle the matter. There is no such thing
as reasoning with a drunk and so eventually the undertaker opened the coffin so
the man could see that it was his mother and not some interloper in the coffin.
From this rough beginning to proceedings, I gave this dear old lady the most
dignified funeral that I could. I understand that she'd lived a remarkable life.
Indeed my drunken friend is fluent in three languages and travelled the world
with a successful career many years ago and in his own way and from his drunken fog,
he loved his mum.
Yesterday, I did a funeral for a lady that has been part of Kings Cross for over 30 years.
Her son told me that his Mum had the capacity to be angry, sad and funny in the
same moment. Someone else told me that she thrived on Kings Cross gossip and that
she was the master of disseminating information, confidentially. There is no doubt that
she was a woman who loved people and our Chapel filled yesterday with people
she had loved. It is an unspeakable honour to be invited by people to step into
their lives at a time like this. I see my role as helping people find words that are right
for them in this moment of parting. Tears are right and appropriate. Cheers are
right and appropriate. There are no rules for saying good bye and it seems like families
learn the lesson that "love lets go" in their own way. Yesterday was an open coffin
and I was surprised by how many people kissed the deceased person on the lips.
I make no judgement but it's not what I would do.
I must have lacked oxygen at birth because I have never understood anything
about sport and yet all my brothers and my sister seemed to be interested and
able to speak that language. In Adelaide once, one of my brothers dragged
me to a baseball match. I was keen not to go but that never made much difference
to any of my brothers when we embarked on any activity. At one stage the guy
on the field, hitting a ball with a toothpick, slammed a ball right out of the ground.
Everyone around leapt in the air with joy and astonishingly, I leapt into the air with joy.
While in the air I learned that the bloke with the toothpick was on our team and
somehow this home run had covered us all in glory. The achievement of this one
person had somehow made us all look good and he walked off the playing field
to standing ovations. This moment has remained with me at every funeral that I've
done since. That dear lady yesterday had lived a life that packed in a lot of care
and love for people. This week she hit a home run and in the process, covered
a lot of us in glory. There were tears by the bucket load yesterday but there were
also plenty of cheers as this lady walked off the playing field to a standing ovation
at our Chapel.
The Wayside Warrior of the Week Award ...(drum roll)... goes to the four young people
who ran a fundraiser last night as part of the challenge to climb Mount Kilimanjaro
for Wayside next year and raise money for our work. What an awesome night as so
many people worked together to generate some money for Wayside. I sat next to
David Wenham who is a genuinely humble man as well as a giant talent. Someone
paid $4,000 to have lunch with me and David. On the way out, someone suggested
that the price might have climbed if I'd offered not to come! Someone also paid
big money to have lunch with me and Claudia Karvan. While money was flowing
impressively, the most amazing thing was to behold how many people were prepared
to make an effort to make this world a better place. Indira Naidoo spoke beautifully
and said amongst other things that, "No one says 'no' to Graham". I was sitting
between my wife and my daughter at the time and not game to utter a word.
There is so much to be thankful for, not least that you are part of our inner circle,
PS. I'll be speaking at a Sydney Open talk next Tuesday, 11 September on the
role of worship in the life of our city. We'd love to see you there.
It's at the Historic Houses Trust from 6pm. More details here.
Rev Graham Long
Pastor and CEO
The Wayside Chapel