This day, the 20th of November, is my very last day on this fair earth at the age of sixty. “Such a shame!” As my father would have said.
I felt that the age of 60 had a ring of accomplishment, a birthday in which one might take a little pride, but 61 is just pedestrian. Perambulation of the worst kind: downhill.
Despite the approaching gloom I have spent the The Last Day of the Last Good Year wonderfully well. We began with the customary cup of tea which I make for my Favourite Wife and I each morning. Then off to church. In an increasingly secular age church attendance sounds quaint to some and absurd to many more; but it remains the cornerstone of our life. Faith is everything. To my mind the truly absurd idea is life without faith. CS Lewis considered the reality of God and wrote,
The position of the question, then is like this. We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, it if exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality with makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely or own case. And in that one case we find there is. (Mere Christianity)
Rather wordy, I know, but this resonates so deeply. I find it impossible to imagine life in this world without the real presence of God. How can anyone live with all of this strife and not believe? The opposite position is of course widely held: How can anyone live with all of this strife and still believe? But I believe; and I hear in every human expression from literature to music to the superheroes of the big screen one hope: a Saviour. Well, enough proselytising – I don’t much like being proselytised and ought not impose that on you.
The second highlight of the The Last Day of the Last Good Year was a marvellous concert in our local theatre in which I performed! I rehearse every week with a Baroque Recorder Consort, and this afternoon we took to the stage alongside other students and teachers from the Murray Conservatorium. Music making is sheer joy. The thrill of playing the right note, at the right time, has not grown dim. It is a pleasure that reminds me of childhood somehow: a true and beautiful chord played together is like a fresh discovery in innocence that never seems to grow old.
This Last Day of the Last Good Year has one more resonance. It was on this day one year ago that I arrived at my ageing father’s bedside, having caught the first train north that I could after the endless months of pandemic lockdown. My father had gone through truly awful times with several hospital admissions during which none of us were allowed to visit; culminating in fall in his room, a broken hip, a hip replacement, two more falls in hospital, a second broken hip and a second hip replacement one week after the first. A dreadful, horrid trial during which he was quite alone. But on this very day one year ago a miracle occurred. The aged care home rang on the same morning that I had arrived in the early hours at Sydney’s Central Station telling us that our father was in pain and needed either hospital or palliative care. A stark decision, but Dad had made his thoughts on this abundantly clear to us. When the call came through from my brother, and we had made our decision, I happened to be in a car with a school friend just a suburb away from my father. After so many months of forced separation I was at his bedside well before the doctor arrived, and there I stayed for the last eight days of his life. A harrowing and beautiful week. Since the day of his passing I never think of my father without a dawning sense of his presence somewhere near me. I was utterly unprepared for this experience, and had been inwardly (alas, probably outwardly) dismissive when I had heard similar accounts. To this day at every moment that I expect to feel great grief at my father’s death I feel instead something almost opposite: a sense of his whole and ageless person nearby. He is, after all, among the “cloud of witnesses” which surround us; or in the words of my father’s great friend, “They are nearer than we think”.
My father lived to the age of 88. For more than a decade I have been unable to imagine myself reaching remotely that age; in fact I rarely see more than a couple of years into the future. This veiled horizon began with a Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis more than 13 years ago and I’ve still not shaken it off: if I look three years ahead, I’m just not there. Perhaps that sounds bleak, or worse perhaps is sounds like a thought one shouldn’t entertain. Personally, though, I am glad to have had the illusion of immortality dispelled. Having brushed past my own death, for now at least, there is something delicious in every new day. Look at me, I am alive again!
The Last Day of the Last Good Year? Hardly!