Life’s Greatest Gift

I have been ‘off air’ on my blog for sometime but I hope to rectify this very soon. I am a relationship person through and through and this article which I have copied below by the writer Joan Chittister on the gift of friendship really hit the spot for me today.

Joan speaks in this article about acquaintances becoming a lifeline in strange places and that friends are the cement beneath our feet. Having lived overseas in Abu Dhabi for the last 18 months I have experienced  acquaintances being a much needed lifeline and the joy of new friendships evolving that offer some firm ground in unfamiliar places.

I shared this article with a dear friend here in Abu Dhabi yesterday and she enjoyed it so I thought I would share it’s riches on my blog. Its my hope that in some way you might also find this article good soul food so here is the article “Life ‘s Greatest Gift by Joan Chittister:-

Joy of friendship.

Joy of friendship.

Life’s Greatest Gift

Life goes through a good many more stages, I think, than the ones most commonly identified—childhood, youth, adulthood, middle age, old age. I don’t think that life’s stages have much to do with age, with the number of years we’ve spent breathing, at all. I think the parts of life are best described by the kinds of relationships most commonly made in each.

The years and phases of life call for different levels of relationship. We talk, for instance, about playmates, buddies, gangs, schoolmates, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, lovers, soul mates, and then, at the end, friends again. Each of these various types of relationships represents a stage in our own maturity and development. They teach us, a level of the soul at a time, what it means to discover that we are not alone in life, not the center of life, not the standard of value for anyone else’s journey through life.

We learn something valuable from each and every one of them about what it means to be alive, a social being, a companion on the journey.

Playmates provide companionship; buddies give us a sense of security as we begin to learn our way through life; gangs give us a feeling of belonging; schoolmates bring a feeling of camaraderie in the face of the crowd; friends provide the beginning of intimacy; acquaintances become a lifeline in strange places; colleagues provide professional identity; lovers teach us the otherness of life; soul mates bring us home to the self; friends put cement under our feet again just when we begin to realize that our own legs are not as strong as they used to be. It is a lifelong series of coming to understand ourselves through our feelings.

The relationships we form at each stage make every stage that follows both easier to negotiate and more meaningful. It is a precious thing, relationship, meant to be savored and certain to be demanding. It is our relationships that teach us how to be a human being rather than a prima donna, a useful member of the human race rather than a spoiled diva.

Our relationships grow us up and make life possible—all the way to the grave. It is incumbent upon us to make them possible, both for the other’s sake and for our own.

–from The Monastic Way, May 2013, by Joan Chittister

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Celebrating Eid Al Adha

It is the season of Eid al-Adha celebrations here in Abu Dhabi and Phil and I  have joined in the celebrations in true Emirati style – by going to the mall!

Eid al Adha (also called Feast of the Sacrifice) is a major religious  festival observed by Muslims all around the world and has a similar feel to our Christmas celebrations as getting together with family is significant.

I was reminded by Phil’s sister in law Maria, when she was staying with us last week, that this ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’ goes back to ancient Biblical times. It marks and honours the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young first-born son as an act of submission to God’s command as well as his son’s acceptance to being sacrificed, before God intervened to provide Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead. It is these connections between the Hebrew Bible and the Quran that remind me of some of the similarities between the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Yesterday Phil and I drove past the live stock market and it was full of men purchasing mainly live sheep  or goats. The custom is that they sacrifice the animal giving away one-third of the meat to friends and neighbours, and they then  have to donate one-third or more of the meat to the poor. Apparently a cow, buffalo or camel can be offered as a sacrifice but  in the Emirates they love their  camels so I very much doubt that a camel would be offered.

Yesterday I was struggling  with the whole concept of live animals being sacrificed as I saw them being taken   back to vans to go to their fate. I recall that I also had a similar  struggle with animals being sacrificed when we lived in Dhaka in Bangladesh.  As always In these types of situations  I can count on Phil to ground me and  he  quickly reminded me that I enjoy eating turkey on Christmas Day as well as chicken, lamb and beef so that was the end of that!

Yesterday we decided to participate  in the Eid celebrations and joined the crowds at one of the largest malls in the world ‘Dubai Mall’.  It was full of Emiratis  in large family groups shopping together for gifts for each other and expatriates and holiday travellers mingled alongside.  Sometimes I find the malls here to be quite austere places devoid of culture or meaning but yesterday the mall was a place that had a vibe. I enjoyed watching some traditional singing and dancing by Emirati men and their prized Falcons being proudly displayed on the arms of the men.  Emirati women in their abaya’s sat on life size replica camels having photos taken with their children and their was a feeling of joy and celebration at the Mall.

The United Arab Emirates phone company even sent me a text wishing me a ‘blessed eid celebration’ as I did what the Emiratis love to do …………shopping at the Mall!  So in the appropriate customary words of greeting in this cultural season”Eid Mubarak”to all.

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Why am I here?

‘Why am I here ?…there must be some reason’ said Robert (not the patient’s real identity) to me in searching tones with a look of immense frustration as tears gathered in his eyes and he slowly sipped his cup of English tea. For Robert, a middle aged adult, both speaking and mobility have become severely slowed down and compromised as he has an inoperable brain tumour.
Robert and I were having a cup of tea together in the Anniversary Day Centre that he attends at St. Christopher’s Hospice in London. Robert’s question about meaning and purpose in his life then led to him sharing about his professional career and how much he missed contributing and being a part of his work community.
‘Why am I here ?….there must be some reason’ has been an unresolved question that has emerged in certain contexts for me over this last twelve months and in part I think it is a question that arises for many of us when we hit those unexpected road blocks in life.. However, I am most thankful that for me the question has not come out of a place of having a terminal cancer diagnosis as it did for Robert. Palliative care work has often been a place that has grounded me and reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for in my life and this encounter with Robert was no exception.
This year I have accompanied Phil as he travelled for business commitments and consequently have often been away from my “homes” in Abu Dhabi and Melbourne where I have friends and family that shape my life. This led me to think about how I might be able to engage more meaningfully with life as I travelled, especially when I am in the UK. The result of this is that I have just spent a most wonderful week working at St. Christophers Hospice in London on a clinical placement under the guidance  of the Ordained Minister and Spiritual Lead of the Chaplaincy  Department.  Securing the placement took some considerable research and I had a few hurdles to climb before I was accepted as they have multiple enquiries for placements. Significantly I also had the input of some wise mentors that encouraged me in this particular endeavour. I had the privilege of spending time on the wards with patients shadowing both the Head of the Chaplaincy Department and the Senior Social Worker. Another day was spent out on the road with the community nursing team who visit palliative patients at home. I also spent time in the day centre where I assisted with the arts and music therapy programmes (see my photo of the garden pavilion which is where the art and music therapy sessions are held). In the midst of this very full and engaging program I also spent time with various professionals who are in the midst of implementing new projects for St. Christophers (eg .dementia & a cognitive behaviour therapy program). This week reenergised my passion for working in palliative care and I discovered the truth in the words from the wise poet Thich Nhat Hanh that says… ‘when we practice looking deeply, we realise that our home is everywhere’.

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Just Turn Up and Do It !

Recently  I was    watching a movie titled “Joyful Noise” on  the plane  back into Abu Dhabi. As I watched I found myself identifying   with one of the lead actresses Queen Latifah.  She plays   the role of a someone who is going through a few valleys in her life before reaching the top of the mountain. Trying to come to   grips with some challenging changes in her life she  states   that ” change takes  a big chunk out of her arse”.  Unfortuntely the changes in my life and flying around on planes has  had the opposite effect and has sadly “increased a  big chunk to my arse”.

 In sharing  this particular most personal  challenge with   my son Matt  who  flies Saab planes for his profession  he told me at his workplace this problem  is called a “Saab arse”!!

As an Aussie I am quite  a fan of the celebrity  Personal Trainer Michelle Bridges who states that trying to get motivated   to exercise is a total crock. She believes in exercise becoming a habit like cleaning your teeth and that you just need to ‘turn up and do it’ – motivated or not!

I have now enlisted Phil to be the “Michelle Bridges” in my life who makes me just turn up and do exercise no matter where we are in the world. He has taken on this new role with a level of enthusiasm that has me  feeling like I have joined “Phil’s boot camp”!

In the United Kingdom Phil has had us exercising in Regents Park prior to him leaving for the office and in the rain on the weekend in the Lakes District using exercise bands (as pictured). The Crosthwaite church car park was a particular favourite of his where he had us doing  step ups  on the  local parish entrance steps and sprints up the hill in the church car park. The Vicar arrived to witness this particular session and was particularly supportive of our efforts.

We are now in York and this morning  “Phil’s boot camp” in the Musuem Gardens turned into a spectator sport as a group of  elderly visitors decided to cheer me on as I completed  each lap of the circuit we were doing. I wasnt sure whether to be encouraged or embarrassed. So if you are sitting at home reading this dont wait for motivation (or God’s messenger the Vicar or even spectator’s cheering you on) just get up and do it!

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A Sense of Home

As a result of my husband Phil taking a job based outside Australia and requiring regular travel our lives have become punctuated with journeys  to many and varied destinations. So with much of my time literally spent ‘up in the air’ these days I have lots of time on flights to think about where and what makes a ‘ home’ for Phil and I and our family.

Charlotte Wood a home cook of 25 years who has just released a great little cookbook called ‘Love & Hunger’  writes about home as being a place that is grounding & one that offers nourishing routines of ordinary domesticity. We have just returned to Abu Dhabi after having spent  a wonderful month back in Australia. Although  Phil  still  had to spend a considerable chunk of that month still on planes internationally & domestically we  did get to enjoy some of the homely routines that North Carlton offers us.  Catching the 96 tram from home  to the City took on a whole new excitement for me after being in the Middle East.  I found  that I particularly loved listening to the tram ‘bell ringing’ as it came down the tracks and being in winter woollies.  I also enjoyed seeing people in coats and observing little babies and toddlers  with  fabulous colourful winter hats on.

A highlight of this trip home to Melbourne was  catching up with family and friends from Victoria, Hobart and Townsville. We shared food and wine and stories around our families & friends dinner tables in Brunswick, Nhill, Geelong, Hobart & Pakenham. There were also  many coffees and meals shared around our little suburb of North Carlton. (how I love the coffee in Melbourne!!)  It was also music to my ears to hear a key turn in our front door with “Mum it’s  me” being called out down the passage. How I loved those chats around the fire in the back room of our house with the family during those visits.

When we return home to Melbourne we  go to a place where we  have the riches of being  able to connect with those we love and care about. We are now spending time  back in Abu Dhabi in our apartment with the outdoor temperature hovering between 44 & 47 degrees.  Homely nourishing routines in Abu Dhabi consist of catching up on the washing, hitting the Gym, home cooking and catching up with  new Aussie friends we have made.  One newly  formed Abu Dhabi tradition  is watching a selection of DVD’s from our home library given that the local TV and Cable leaving a bit to be desired!!

We are about to  leave for the United Kingdom where Phil will be  working in both the London & York offices before travelling  onto Washington DC  for meetings. While we are  in London  I am planning to attend Jamie Oliver’s cooking school,  soak up some British culture by visiting The Wallace Collection and explore some professional development opportunities in palliative care.

As we travel in the next few weeks it will be our on-going  relationships and routines  (to the extent that we are able to create them) that will create a sense of home and  nourish us. I trust you will enjoy sharing some of the joys and trials of this journey by following this blog of mine which I will be working on “between flights”.

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