Saturday, October 26, 2013


Remember the game?  You call out a word and the other person spontaneously responds with the first thought that comes to mind.  ‘Cake?’ and ‘Birthdays’ is a good example. Another is: ‘Ice cream?’ and ‘Yes Please!!’

We have a new maid.  She stepped in clad from head to foot in a burqa with just her smiling face in view.  She seemed to glide forward, every line graceful – she flowed through the house.  Eventually, she removed the burqa and continued her stay in a very homely salwar kameez.  Somehow, the burqa transformed her into someone graceful, even ethereal.  I have observed many burqa clad women and I am drawn to the ones who wear it with dignity and elegance.

I remarked once to a friend that I would love to try on a burqa and see what it feels like.  He exploded, ‘Why would you ever want to wear a symbol of repression?!!’ Burqas are worn by women of one community and one community only.  You see a burqa and you know that the wearer is a Muslim, just as the Cross identifies the Christian. The association is carved in stone. 

I once saw a program on TV.  The woman was a traveler covering the incense trail which naturally took her through very traditional Muslin territory.  On the way, in certain areas, she had to wear a burqa (no matter your nationality or religion, if you are a woman you are required to be covered!).  When she was finally allowed to remove it, she burst into tears.  She sobbed and sobbed bitterly on camera; her explanation was that she felt that a tremendous burden had been lifted from her.  She truly viewed that burqa as a shackle. And yet some Muslim women I have spoken to say that it makes them feel safe, protected.  Some even view it as freedom because they can wear what they wish underneath it, disrobing only at their destination.  Much as one would wear a coat. One of my college classmates used to wear the deadliest minis.  Coupled with her voluptuous figure, her appearance would certainly have qualified as ‘oopmh!’ and she could never have walked freely down an Indian street.  In her burqa, she was armour clad.

So, will I ever wear a burqa? I do not know.  The associations make it an obstacle.  But the desire lingers.  How does it feel to wear another’s identity? Especially when the garment that defines it is obligatory and not optional? Will it affect the way I think, I feel, I talk, my outlook? How will I be viewed by others? How will they react? Do I really need to know?

In the meantime, there are other associations with happier consequences.  Sunday Mass means music and I still carry the song in my heart – I am free, I am loved and I am blessed.

And our Muslim maid looks after my mother with a devotion that is not confined by associations of any kind.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


My Mother is a recluse.  She loves the four walls of her home and needs no company other than herself.  She is dependent on the maid for her needs and interacts with her.  She also welcomes anyone bearing the Eucharist; for the Lord, there is always a welcome in her heart and home. At 89, she is now on the final leg of her earthly journey.  

Today’s sermon was on gratitude and it set me thinking as to what I should be grateful to my Mother for.  She still is a stickler for correctness and a very strict disciplinarian - she could never be gainsaid.  Her word was law and even my Father obeyed! Though I have reached senior citizen status, whenever I slouch, accidentally mispronounce (given the environment, it happens!) or let out an unladylike wisecrack I experience that ‘ouch’ moment when I remember what Mother would have said!

So what exactly is her legacy?  There are three things that stand out: her faith, her never grow old attitude and her ear for music. And these are best illustrated by the anecdotes that follow.

My Mother has an unshakeable belief that the Lord will provide: the ‘His eye is on the sparrow’ kind of faith.  When my Father passed away, his military pension should have automatically transferred to my Mother.  This did not happen because of a goof up by the bank.  My husband and I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy, corresponding with the powers that be and running from pillar to post (now, I understand what that means!) and finally, the pension came through.  My Mother promptly gave a hefty donation to Don Bosco.  Why? Because he helped her to get her pension.  What about all the running around?  We wouldn’t have been able to do it without His intervention.  Oh well, I guess even saints need human legs!! And of course, in my Mother’s eyes, Don Bosco sits at the right hand of the Lord and is therefore a powerful intercessor.

In her mind, she is still twenty-one!  For her seventy-fifth birthday, my husband and I went shopping for dress material.  I picked up a festive red print, splashed with colour.  My husband promptly remarked, ‘I thought we were shopping for your Mum.  Not for you!”  I replied, ‘This is for Mum.’  ‘She won’t wear that.’ “Yes, she will!’.  To avoid being locked in a battle of tastes, I suggested that my husband pick up another piece.  He did.  A lovely pastel blue with a very subdued print.  We presented the dress pieces to my Mother.  She ooohed and aaahed over the red.  Hubby asked, ‘What about the other dress piece?’  Mother looked it over and said, ‘It’s nice but it’s an old lady’s colour!”  Get what I mean?

Her ear for music? Sharp even to the fraction of a discrepancy in sound.  ‘That’s false!’ often put pause in the middle of what I thought was a tuneful rendition of a popular number. Once, we had choir practice at home and one person was woefully out of tune.  We tried to be polite and rehearsed the hymn again and again.  My Mother was not so accommodating.  Her reaction? ‘What is that noise?!!!’  

I often thank the Lord for my sense of humour.  I have just realised that I also have to thank my Mother for honing it!

Friday, October 11, 2013


We – my husband and I - met him on evening perambulations which ended at the grotto.  The exchange would be humorously peppery – Thomas the Watchman never lacked for repartee. He could be testy and truculent at the best of times, but that often irascible exterior held a dutiful heart.  
In those months that Thomas was on night duty, he signed off at 6 AM, the time that I arrived to set up the keyboard for Sunday morning Mass.  He observed me just once.  From that time on the keyboard was in place ready and waiting, the chairs and mics for the cantors were also set.  All I had to do was switch on and play.  Thomas himself would be sitting in Church, three pews down in silent communion with the Eucharistic presence.  Before leaving, he would come and ask, ‘Everything ok?’  He was and is the only watchman who ever did that service for me.  I cannot forget.

When he received notice of his retirement, he asked if there was any job for him as a watchman.  But his health did not permit heavy duty.  And his attitude was read by many as disrespect.  Thomas, apparently, did not believe in the Carnegie doctrine: he certainly did not go out on a limb to win friends or influence people. And yet his was an unforgettable, instantly recognisable presence. The numbers at his final journey spoke for themselves.  

It is fitting that his funeral oration also bore the mark of his earthy humour: When challenged by St. Peter at the gates of heaven, Thomas is thought to have replied, "I guarded the gates of the Lord’s House for twelve years and any time you need a replacement, I’m willing to do your job!"

St. Peter is not likely to relinquish duty at the pearly gates, but there is no doubt that we’ll meet Thomas within.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Blogs should be bright and breezy.  Entertaining. Easy to read.  And serious ones, like medicine, should be honey coated to make them palatable.
Not this one.

A friend has been targeted by that all too frequently used weapon – the anonymous letter. My friend is not all sweetness and light.  She is no angel singing to tuneful accompaniment upon the harp.  And she knows that getting the job done does make enemies.  She takes that in her stride. But I do not. I am appalled by the cowardice that can accuse and allege but will not acknowledge ownership of such accusation.  I am even more appalled to discover that authority takes cognizance of such content. It is considered ‘feedback’. No smoke without a fire?

Not too long ago, I had the privilege of working with a very pragmatic boss.  If someone approached him with a grievance against a colleague or superior, he would bring accuser and accused together and ask for an open discussion where he served as mediator.  While this invariably sorted out matters, the method caused quite a bit of discomfort!  The anonymous letters commenced.  The boss made a very public announcement.  ‘I have received a number of complaints, all of them unsigned.  Since I am unable to acknowledge these directly, I am pleased to make a general announcement that all said complaints have been seriously, thoroughly and immediately addressed.  They have been consigned to the paper shredder.’  Now, that’s treating the anonymous letter with the contempt it deserves.

There is anonymity and anonymity.  And there is need to understand the difference.  There was a time when women authors would never have been published and so took on male pseudonyms; others did not want to be identified with their published work because of their public persona and used the pen name route, cloaking their own name with another.  Media knows all too well about sources that ‘do not wish to be quoted’.  A classic of its time – All the President’s Men – relied on ‘Deep Throat’ as informant.  But each lead was meticulously followed and checked.  Truth was the objective.  We have seen how courageous whistle blowers are dealt with, making the anonymous route even more desirable.  So, am I making a case for the anonymous complaint or not?

There is a fine line which divides the ethical from the dishonourable and we need to understand the difference. Anonymous letters are written by real people who presumably like to think that they have a conscience.  It would be well to remember that conscience and courage go hand in hand.

It would be a good thing, too, to call to mind yet another breed of people who prefer to remain unnamed: the numerous secret benefactors who do much to make this world better. 

The best time and place to be anonymous is when giving with a generous heart.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Perhaps it’s because they’re ‘Religious’.  Steeped in the word of the Lord, daily prayer and commitment to God’s work, it must come naturally to them that ‘what needs to be done will be done’, even if it takes a miracle to see things through. Times without number I’ve exclaimed, ‘Sister, you’re asking for a miracle!’ and Sister will calmly reply, ‘Yes.’
I’ve also lost count of the innumerable times that I have emphatically stated, ‘It simply cannot be done,’ and Sister has replied, ‘Just do it!’

We have an annual day coming up and, against the odds, we have a program to execute. Limited time, limited resources, limited talent, myriad things to do and it must all come right on the day. Perfection is demanded. Teachers are harried, children are hustled, helpers scurry, suppliers are summoned – there is an air of frantic anticipation and the tension can be cut with a knife.  Schedules overlap, tempers snap, rehearsals are called and cancelled or rearranged, props are lost and found, children are temporarily mislaid (they are on a quick trip to the loo and get ambushed by friends on the return trip), voices are raised in cross-chatter as instructions are called and countermanded, and everywhere there is bustle.  Harness that energy and you could light up a city!

Two days to go before dress rehearsal.  We go through the instructions, the sequence, the words, the actions, the song, one more time.  Will they get it right?  One child is out of sync.  One child stops to ask, ‘Miss, I haven’t got my costume.’ Another, ‘Miss, one girl is absent.  Should we keep her place?’ Another, ‘Miss, I need the bathroom.’ I take a deep breath and let it out. The costume problem is sorted out.  The absent girl is relegated to the back row if at all she turns up for dress rehearsal and the children are given a collective bathroom break. And we start again.  Now, there are two children out of sync.  We stop and practice the actions once again.  Everybody is together.  So, we sing.  They lose their note and do not notice!  (It’s good to remember that ‘sing’ is used more figuratively than literally – our children’s voices are not music to the ears).  I make them revise the tonic sol fa and we start again.  One, two, three, go! We get through the song with more enthusiasm than finesse.  Isn’t that what children are all about? I hope so.  Because, by now I’m limp, wrung out, brain dead.  Never mind.  There’s always tomorrow.  And then the event will be over before you know it.  If I survive till then.

Will everything go right on the day? 

I couldn’t say for sure.  What I do know is that it will take a miracle!