By Brother Damien Price
For some time, I was on the Eddie’s Van team, which met with the homeless on the streets of Brisbane.
It was a Friday night, it was bucketing down rain and I was in a grumpy mood. I turned up at the place where the van was parked and the boys in the team were busy boiling water, getting tea and coffee and soup ready. “Let’s not go out lads – it is bucketing down rain and there won’t be anyone there” says Br Damien.
“Sir” came the immediate and quite passionate response, “we have to go out, we told them we’d be there!”
So out we went, Damien’s dark mood only darker. We arrived and despite the rain now only being a steady drizzle, we set up our coffee and tea. They came from everywhere – about 30 homeless men and women crowded into the bus shelter and then taking their coffee to a nearby shelter. Two minutes later, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle one of the homeless men turns to the other and says, “See, I told you they would come!”
This was an example of fidelity.
Fidelity of itself says, “You are worth walking beside!” “You are worth my time and attention.” We may not say a word – we do not need to. We turn up – that is what matters.
It was our fidelity that mattered to homeless men and women who too often had been let down, abandoned, gifted with empty promises and become statistics in some media release. Our fidelity said, “You are important to us!” Our presence on a rainy night with home-brand coffee in donated cups said more than any words.
Fidelity is many things. Getting up in the middle of the night, patiently hearing a story for the hundredth time, gently setting and resetting the teenage boundaries and patiently entering into some form of dialogue with a moody teenager and more – all of these say: “You are lovable!”
And the recipient hears! Not with the ears but with the ears of the heart. Like the proverbial piggy bank, each of these actions of fidelity puts a coin into the piggy bank of belief, of love and acceptance. Through fidelity they hear beyond hearing.
The hearing and its message may not register for some time. Verbal words can be lost or compromised through the lens of adolescence or anger or preoccupation with my own ‘stuff’. But actions of love and acceptance and forgiveness gently chisel away at the masterpiece within.
Ruffle and its friends: Working with or living with teenage children can be challenging. They can be so enthusiastic, passionate about changing the world or they can be Neanderthal-resembling primates that grunt their way through life. All the “I love you son” and “I love you daughter” frequently repeated mantras can be like an opera sonata wasted on the desert air. Caught up in the mood swings of their adolescent journey, seeking identity and meaning, they often cannot and will not ‘hear’ our affirmations.
But walk along the side of the footy field and ruffle your son’s hair (for 0.3 seconds) and keep on walking. BE THERE in the midst of the debating crowd, pick them up from the dance, waste time on holiday with them, teach them to body surf or braid … whatever. People will often hear the messages of love and acceptance, forgiveness and healing through the language of action. How many times have I listened as youth have shared with me the adventures of their family holidays, how they (and dad) learnt to surf, how they (and mum) went bungie jumping and more. Never have I heard them complain that they did not have a 4th TV in their house, a 3rd car in the driveway or servants to clean up after them.
Recently I had the privilege of being dragged away from my garden and Saturday morning shuffling about to watch a volleyball game. Three dads I knew – past students from too long ago – had their sons all playing in the same team. I loved watching the dads just ‘be there’ for their teenage lads. I loved it when one of the dads yelled out his son’s nickname attached to a “well done”: in the midst of the noise of the stadium if it was physically heard it was heard by the ears and then by the ears that matter – the ears of the heart.
For myriad reasons – some known, some unknown – the heart hearing may not be immediately responded to. But like the seed beneath the winter snow, it will one day grow. We all need the fragile gift of trust and faith to believe that and there are rainy days and cloudy days when it all seems a bridge too far. But trust we must and believe we dare.
We hear love through the way people have walked with us and we walked with them. We hear love through sitting with in silence. We hear love when our growing awareness becomes aware of the ego whisper and replaces it with unconditional love and giving. We hear acceptance through eyes that do not judge. We hear unconditional love when the fault is acknowledged and then goes through to the keeper (cricket analogy). We hear pride through the gentle pat on the back, the high five or the walk together to the car. We hear all of these and the hearing whispers dignity and worth in ways that the heart longs to hear.
Nothing in all of this is fancy and that is the whole point. Love and fidelity are not movie sets where we film several takes, the makeup artist fluffs around us and the Hollywood background score wins an Oscar. True love and true fidelity are no lying reality television show with plastic overpainted models and chiselled male bimbos forgetting their lines in drama script written commitment ceremonies whose authors have almost certainly never changed a nappy, pounded the corridor with a crying child in the wee hours, sat by hospital beds for eons or fallen asleep on a loved one’s shoulder in a hospital emergency waiting room.
Love and fidelity are so ordinary and yet extraordinary, simple and yet profound, apparently of little worth in the eyes of the plastic and the shallow and yet priceless to the searching heart.
To the day I die I will never forget my wonderful mother Zena shuffling along next to the stretcher as the ambulance officers took my father Frank to the hospital when he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Zena shuffling. Zena holding his hand. Zena – oh so ordinary and Dad – hearing with the heart every single word of her love!
Christian Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe; and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.