The Independent Newsweekly
|July 13, 2004||
Vol. 2, No. 12
Geraldine Hawkes chairs the Commission for Australian Catholic Women. She also coordinates St Paul's City Ministry, an ecumenical centre that works with business people to bring ethics alive in boardrooms and workplaces across South Australia.
As I face the busy-ness of another day at work, with its various demands and competing claims on time and energy, this passing train suggests something of the yearnings that we search for in our daily life -- the more gentle pace, the company of others and the anticipation of reaching our destination.
Trains of thought
By Geraldine Hawkes
SALISBURY DOWNS, Australia -- The Indian Pacific is moving through the station on its journey westward. It's Friday, the end of another work week, just before 7, and I'm awaiting the local suburban train that will take me to my office in Adelaide.
It's cool and fresh and the trees are silhouetted against the light blue sky and the rising sun. People standing on the platform turn to look at the Indian Pacific, its silver coaches shining sleekly against the dawn. As it glides by, you can see some people seated over breakfast, some standing talking, others still asleep in the recliner seats.
The train crosses the breadth of Australia, from Sydney settled in its harbor and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, through the Blue Mountains, over the central plains, alongside the River Murray, across the Nullarbor and the desert spaces, and into Perth, remote from all other cities of Australia, sitting alongside the Indian Ocean.
This train holds a fascination for me and seemingly for those around me. People wave and smile and gaze longingly at the passing carriages.
I'm sitting with my mother-in-law Molly in her room. It's not just her room. She shares it with Mrs N. but I haven't met her yet. This room has been my mother-in-law's home for five weeks now. In the past year she's had a series of mini-strokes, several falls and broken limbs. Her husband, with special domiciliary and family support, managed to care for her at home for a number of months before it became too difficult for both of them. Now she's in a nursing home where she can receive the special care she needs at this stage in her life.
The room is bright and fresh. Through the window she can see trees and hear birds. The sun is shining and making patterns on the blank wall opposite her bed. Molly's face is blank, too, but there is no sign of sunshine there. She sees me looking at her and she smiles. She tries to chat as we used to do, but she can't form the words. So much is locked up inside her head, waiting and wanting to spill out and be listened to.
I point to the flowers on the dresser beside her bed. Her daughter brought them for her birthday. I wheel her chair toward them and I lift the vase to her face and let her smell the remnants of the perfume. Her smile returns. And then fades.
She likes to sit in the courtyard garden below. I guide the wheelchair out of her room and along the corridor. There in the sitting room are lots of "Mollys." It's hard to pick out any distinguishing features: They each look distant and void, some eating or drinking, some trying to communicate with others, some sleeping. When we return half an hour later from the garden, there seems to be no change among the activities of Molly's companions.
We go back to her room, and for the first time the smallness of her new life hits me. Her shared room, her tiny dresser, her narrow wardrobe, holding a few clothes that have been carefully labelled so they don't get mixed up with someone else's. She no longer has her favorite chair. She no longer can go through her photo albums when she chooses, no easy reminders of family and friends through souvenirs from many places. Now she is always waiting: waiting to be fed, to be washed, to be dressed, to be taken into the sitting room, to be put to bed. Everything compact. Very ascetic. No space for the luggage of life.
And the yearnings that were evoked earlier in the day as I gazed at the Indian Pacific -- the desire for a more gentle pace, more time in the company of others and the anticipation that fills us as we approach our destination -- are now the whole focus of Molly's life and yet are the very aspects that she struggles with as her journey of life draws to a conclusion.
© 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
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