Before Good Friday

A few years ago, just before Easter, I pulled into the supermarket carpark. It was mid-afternoon on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. I had been stuck in a one-way back street behind a truck revving impatiently. It was not the ideal lead-up to my observance of Easter.

Through my car radio came the mellifluous tones of Lucky Oceans’ afternoon show on Radio National. Lucky introduced an album by Sam Baker called Pretty World. The back-story is that Baker was in Peru in 1986 on a train blown up by the Shining Path Maoist group. He was forced to witness the death of a 14-year-old boy beside him. His own permanent injuries meant re-learning the guitar, so he could fret with his right hand. Brain damage resulting from the injuries meant he had to ‘go picking for words like you’d pick fruit in an orchard’.

All of this is present in his song ‘Broken Fingers’. There is a certain heaviness in the emphasis and pronunciation, the words don’t come easily. You can tell they are sung by a man who has to hunt for words. Sam Baker was surrounded by a crew of supporting artists, friends willing him into making his music again. The album is his tribute. It invokes the memory of the boy and names Baker’s own loss. The lyrics are simple and eloquent:

These broken fingers
some things don’t heal
you can’t wake up from the dream
when you know the dream is real.

Sam Baker’s song takes hold of me. Suddenly I am weeping in the supermarket carpark. Some things don’t heal. There is a respectful knowing that doesn’t try to force healing or hope on people. I do the shopping slowly, with a new sense of gratitude.

In my childhood, I periodically heard preachers insisting on a kind of victorious Christianity. As if barracking for Jesus put you on the winning team where nothing could touch you. It felt like denial.

In the evening, I participate in the foot-washing ritual our church holds every Maundy Thursday. The night recalls the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Later that same night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, they abandoned him.

Prayers are spoken by candlelight in the darkened church. I am offered water for my feet, and fragrant oils, then towels to enfold them. I am offered wine to drink and bread to eat. In the quiet darkness I remember people who carry wounds that don’t heal.

This story is one of 60 collected in Tender: Stories that Lean into Kindnessby Julie Perrin and forthcoming by MediaCom Education. Previously published in The Sunday Age faith column and Spinifex Blessing.

You are also invited to the book launch:

Tender invite.jpg

℘℘℘℘

JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Mary at Christmas

When Mary came to our house on Christmas Day she smelled of smoke and found it hard to walk. She had a croaky voice and a deep laugh. Our young children circled shyly around this strange new person as she sat on our loungeroom sofa. Mary kept saying thank you for inviting her and apologized for being emotional when tears came to her eyes.

I had not wanted Mary to come. My husband was her Volunteer Guardian and was resolute about inviting her for lunch before we went off to our big shebang with the extended family. He said living in a Special Accommodation Rooming House was lousy at the best of times, worse on Christmas Day. I did not feel a corresponding sense of grace. I said the children would not cope, I said Christmas was a family day, I claimed it was too complicated. My husband said it was simple – she had nowhere else to go. I got angry, I said I couldn’t bear it. He said it was only for lunchtime and he would do whatever it took – he wasn’t giving in.

We ate on our laps in the loungeroom because Mary couldn’t come to the table. Once I could see the kids were okay I let myself sit near her. I was cautious and curious to be near an adult who would speak with the honesty of a child. There was a strange magnetism about her acute directness; she was straight up. The children stayed close by her and held out their toys to show her. ‘Thankyou for having me,’ she said again. I felt like blushing.

When Mary said ‘I gotta go,’ I showed her to the loo. But still she didn’t stay long. ‘I need a lie down, I have to go back.’ Mary wanted to say goodbye to the kids, ‘Can we come in the car?’ they asked. My husband drove Mary back to her Rooming House in St Kilda. On the way home she asked to stop in at her local Milk Bar – they’d let her borrow two dollars and she wanted to pay it back.

Mary died later that year. She never made fifty. She’d had a life full of hardship and been ripped off and abused in more ways than I could begin to imagine. My husband keeps a framed photo of her – she’s wearing a pink cardigan and smoking. I always think of her at Christmas; Mary, so unlike the Christmas card version of her namesake. She was not young or beautiful, she did not gaze heavenward with her hand on her heart. I think of her as a gravelly voiced angel messenger announcing, ‘Do not be afraid.’

℘℘℘℘

JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.