Posts tagged ‘christmas’

December 26, 2014

Everything in its place

You would think that the description ‘Anglican L, Row 17, Lot 66’ would be a relatively straightforward place to find to visit long gone, but not forgotten, relatives at Waikumete Cemetery. Before we knew it we were doing a lap of servicemen (and possibly women I’m not sure) who had fought in World War 1, World War 2 and ‘Korea’.  I wonder what they’d think if they knew the Korea war may have entered a new phase. There’s a sandbag setup at the entrance to this area and Dad noted that the hessian on one of the bags had deteriorated, making me wonder what use it might have been against machine gun fire. None I suspect. I pointed out VC recipient Reginald Judson which my oldest (longest) friend Nigel Hughes had researched for me and we’d visited on leadership development programmes. There had been some powerful insights and reflections on those sessions.

Then it was the Jewish quarter, very ordered looking and almost a loop of the Pasifika section going the wrong way around the one way road until at the last minute realising that the people mover was, well moving, and towards us. The colour is extraordinary and although they’re well segregated from ‘Anglican L’ or, later as we were to discover ‘Roman Catholic’ and ‘Wesleyan’, everyone seemed pretty relaxed we were in the wrong place, but it was Christmas day so it was the right time.

Back to the Jewish Quarter and I introduced Dad to the grave of my late friend Dr Lloyd Gavin Lang who died in 2011 and had had a few visitors, judging by the stones placed on his headstone, in Jewish tradition. Lloyd did the 10k at Rotorua one year. Telling the kids after dinner at Rotorua that “you know what happens when you don’t clean your teeth don’t you?”, then smiling to reveal fake rotten teeth that for some obscure reason he’d carried with him for that moment. Even though it was completely unplanned. It still makes me laugh thinking about it.

It was back to the starting blocks, or for new arrivals, the chapel and a map before heading off again. You see, Waikumete is no simple place. It’s got its own roading network and on Christmas day is quite busy, so you do need to be prepared. Soon we had found ‘Anglican L’, next to ‘Anglican K’ and I glanced up a bit to see ‘Roman Catholic’ which seemed more of a warning than a notice, so we stayed put.Christmas with relatives long gone

Before long Mum had disappeared, in amongst the tall weeds and headstones. She was certain the gravesite was white in colour. It took about 45 minutes before we worked out the system and located her grandparents, my great grandparents. Mum and Dad are great-grandparents, six times over, thanks to muesli and fertile offspring. But I never knew mine. Both died in their 60s in 1950 I learned.

The great-grandparents have a northerly outlook and we cleaned up the grave with spray, removing the Lichen and posed for photographs. They’ll be good for the family tree I’m sure. There’s a five-studded cross which looks like an insert and we assumed that is where the ashes of Aunty Kitty and Aunty Frances (who shares my middle name) must be. If you don’t have your own family, then being put next to your parents in death is probably not a bad thing. Seems kind of resting in their hearts together. My memory of Aunty Kitty was a happy lady, who worked at an IGA or New World on a corner in Dominion or Mt Eden Road. I assumed she was elderly when she died. Fifty-seven she was.

We laid our second posy of lavender from my garden, borrowing a long disused flower holder from the grave next door to set them for photographs. The first posy had been left at Mum’s parents, a much easier find from more regular visits. It was lovely to see someone else had also been and left flowers.

Conscious of the two large birds in the oven we thought it time to go and sometimes you don’t need to hear your mother, you just know what she wants. Which means that’s what you want. So a search on the iPhone and we found the site of her paternal grandparents. ‘Anglican H’. An easier find, now that we more or less knew the numbering system. If there’s ever a call for mail deliveries, I might be able to help.

It was Dad’s turn for a quick march, he remembered clearly the general outlook from a visit many moons ago. South facing, looking over a stand of trees, swaying in the summer breeze, the long grass starting to dry. “I’m sure it’s got roses on the grave” he said. I suspect they may have dried out and gone, I thought. But they were there, a ring of roses, more Presbyterian than Anglican, save your pennies, we’ve bought the flowers that last forever.

Mum wasn’t convinced at first. The inscription battered by the southerly rains was barely readable. Some letters of the stonemason remained reasonably clear – perhaps we should seek a re-do of the job I wondered.

He died on the same day of the year as my birthday, this great-grandfather, a spring passing. She died first though, in 1918, aged 38 years. More cleaning and we discovered two of their children also buried there – including Aunty Rewa – after whom Mum was named. Mum had never known her burial-place so it was special to find and see. And to take photographs of what will not be readable in the near future.Ready for today's relatives

We could smell the birds cooking from outside when we arrived home. It was a lot to do to prepare for one meal but we found a place for everyone, whether Anglican, Atheist or just simply an Aunty. Together.

It was the first Christmas day in Auckland in 62 years for Mum and Dad and we lived every minute of it with family here now and some long gone. Blessed.

Stephen

December 24, 2011

Tolerating Christmas

It’s a special time of the year especially if you’re a child or a grown-up with lovely memories of Christmas. Might be a really big stack of presents around the tree if you had a big family. Might be stories from older siblings about “hearing” noises in the night. New things. Special meal. Visiting Dad’s boss as a ritual. Everyone in a good mood it seemed!

For some, the Christmas lunch with disconnected relatives is a chore to survive. The only time the trust bank gets a chance to be exercised. That’s not everyone’s experience. Some families are filled with trust, companionship and mutual respect built on doing things – making an effort. And tolerating.

Shortly I’m off to sing carols at St Matthew-in-the-City. St Matthew’s who asked us to reflect on Mary’s discovery that she was pregnant. I only go there once a year. I love the carols and I like the tolerance. Seems to me if there is one thing that I can take from a church it’s tolerance. I’ve previously blogged about having no tolerance for intolerance.

When we sit down for Christmas Lunch that might be something worth reflecting on. Practicing tolerance to those less equipped for the rigours of an annual catch-up. While you’re at it try a little presence and make this one of the good old days!

Share your Christmas’ of the past and have a very happy Christmas day!

Stephen

December 23, 2010

Can’t it be Christmas already?

Today, my friend Mahvash asked me if I had bought all the pressies I intended to. I responded that I had one left to purchase and asked her the same question. She explained that as a Muslim she doesn’t do Christmas, so I figured that actually the answer was, yes, she had done all the gifts she was intending, like none. Well she did ask me!

I’ve got a big list on my whiteboard, most of which have been completed enough for this year, and what’s not done, isn’t going to be and the sky won’t fall in come 2011 if they haven’t (lucky I don’t work in an ED).

When I blogged recently I commented on the traffic and today it’s even more manic.  Hot, humid, busy and a strong feeling of  rushing to complete. Completion can be satisfying and I’m sure my boys wouldn’t be too impressed if come the 25th I hadn’t got around to getting their gifts yet! But the sense that prevails at this moment is counter to happiness.  No, you don’t need to spend all your life in reflection, things need to be done of course, but how we react to the so-called Christmas rush can be telling of our balance and perspective.

The unnecessary purchases (Help! the shops will be closed on one whole day), the patience or otherwise in the store or carpark, the reckless abandonment of agreed purchasing limits! Yes I’ve been there, but this year I promised myself – only use the EFTPOS, no credit card and don’t buy anything for myself. It’ll be there on the 26th still.

These are only small nothings in the scheme of things and might not even be relevant to others, but what I’ve been trying to do is keep myself centered and authentic. I’m really looking forward to time for reading, running and resting.

And Christmas needn’t come too soon or too late. It’ll come whether you’re ready or not.  So don’t wish Christmas to be either delayed or here already. It’s an annual opportunity to be yourself and embrace a day with those that matter in a mindful, peaceful, but not too full I hope, way. Like Mahvash, some people don’t do it. And for them I wish them the same – a mindful day with loved ones.

Merry Christmas.

Stephen

December 21, 2010

Polish the headstone

On Christmas morning I’ll visit the grave of my maternal grandparents at Waikumete Cemetery. They won’t know I’ve been and actually, I hardly knew my grandfather who died when I was 5 years old. I have one only memory of him  – going up the escalators at Farmers – I think!. Christmas day as a boy felt like a very special day, in fact it felt so special that when we went out in the car to visit (usually Dad’s boss Huia Gilpin who lived in the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch), I would look at other people in their cars with some sort of reverence, almost amazement, that here we had arrived on this most special of days. Surely today we were a united community with clean cars, best clothes and only good things to say and do. And new stuff from under the tree. The whole world must be amazing today.

I re-live that feeling in part by listening to ridiculously cliche-ridden carols and cleaning the car (I only just realised that! ah the power of blogging). And by visiting Mum’s parents’ grave at Waikumete. Grandma was a pretty no-nonsense sort of person. I remember after a holiday in Auckland in January, all piling in the car to leave with her on the steps of her three-bedroom unit in Haverstock Road, Sandringham.  “Lovely to see you arrive, lovely to see you go” she declared. I was crushed. How could she say such a thing? How could the nine of us squeezed into her flat in Sandringham for three weeks with a week or so in the middle at Stanmore Bay, have been anything other than a joyous experience?

Later, when I boarded with her as a 21 year-old, she reprimanded me for inappropriate sarcasm to some door-to-door religious salesmen in white shirts and black name tags. No nonsense, but tolerant at the same time.

For some reason, time is the excuse, I haven’t put up a Christmas Tree this year. I might tonight. I might not. Somehow, it doesn’t seem important. The mind feels clear and at peace after a big year both professionally and personally and the tree seems not necessary for the experience of Christmas peace.

The man who lived 2000 years ago and was executed by the government of the day in a pretty routine method at that time, spoke, or at least had recorded about him, of tolerance. If he were around today, he’d be pretty shocked at the lack of tolerance by many of the establishments built up in his name. He’d be impressed by some, sure.

I feel very grateful that in my world there’s a lot of tolerance about race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, ability, wants. But unlike the visit to the Botanic Gardens in the 70s I realise that much or even most of the world is not so fortunate. Some people can’t choose what they wear, or eat, or days they work, because of intolerance based supposedly on the words of men who spoke primarily of such a thing. Strange.

None of this is going to change anytime soon, but every step of Authenticity and Tolerance as leaders we make to our teams and communities, it’s a step that will, with many other steps, ripple eventually across the oceans to maybe some poor kid in Africa infected by AIDS at birth from her mother.

So when I polish up the headstone, I’ll remember Grandma’s tolerance, at least on that one day that I got told off. But I’ll continue to be intolerant of one thing though: Intolerance. Make a stand for it. You won’t just lead a great team. Take how we lead at work as authentic leaders into all of the world and don’t put up with intolerance. We could save more lives that way than ever before.

That’s a Christmas worth having. Same one as a boy I thought the world was having.

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