A harvest of friends


23 Apr 2023

Our lives are enhanced by the friends we make and the contacts we keep.

While visiting a friend, Nancy, some years ago, we went to Mass at Holy Trinity Church, Port Huron, Michigan. It was Harvest Sunday and the sanctuary was resplendent with orange pumpkins, sheaves of wheat, and baskets of produce.

It was a day when the parish celebrated the many ministries it supported. Young and old spoke of the ways the parish had enriched their lives. One young woman told of the spiritual direction and guidance she had received during the RCIA program. Nancy, sitting beside me, is the spiritual director available to anyone in the parish.

From the balcony of Nancy’s small apartment in Marysville, near the St Clair River which divides Michigan from Canada, huge tankers glide by, moving from the St Lawrence Seaway to Lake Huron and the ocean. Nancy and I had met in 2001 while making the six-week Spiritual Exercises Institute at Loyola House in Guelph, Canada. It was amazing the bond that developed between people who spent 30 days together in silence.

For me, the communion of saints is a lived reality. There is now a growing number of beloved friends and mentors from all over the world who have died. I feel their presence and support.

From the Isle of Butte, off Glasgow, come emails from Colin, a poet and his wife Jude, an artist. Colin worked as social researcher to our St Vincent de Paul mental health committee from 1993 to 2001. One of his powerful social justice statements provoked an Upper House Inquiry into Mental Health in NSW. I think of them as the original hippies, as they own little. Living in a small flat in Rothesay, they enjoy being part of an island community.

In 1974, I taught with Mary Ellen from New Jersey, who had answered a call for teachers and had recently married Peter, an Australian. Over the years, I have seen them on visits to the US and when they, in turn, visit Australia.

I have seen their twin daughters, Elizabeth and Victoria grow, study, then work in domestic violence law and as a legal librarian. Now their children are growing up. Elizabeth’s and Bob’s daughter, Lillian Myree, now aged 8, is my namesake. Victoria and Odesh have daughters Elizabeth and Ciara. I provide books for birthdays and Christmas.

Back home in Australia, friendships with former students have endured for decades. Some women, now aged 67, have been in contact since they were aged 12. From that class in Fairfield, friendship groups have supported each other across the years. Sometimes, near Christmas, as I try to write Christmas cards, I realise I know far too many people.

In 1981, returning from study in Chicago, I met up with Mum in London. Through a friend, we stayed in Nottingham with Sheila and Mick. We have remained in contact as their daughter married and grandchildren grew up, one visiting me while passing through Sydney. Mick died some years ago and Sheila moved into supported living. We share the year’s news each Christmas.

In 1954, I and two others joined Fourth Class at St Brigid’s Primary in Cowra. In 1957, there were more than 50 of us. Some left after the Intermediate in 1959 and there were 13 in our co-ed Leaving Certificate class at St Raphael’s in 1961. All these years later, the wider group remain friends, stay in contact and have bi-annual class reunions, back at Cowra. It is a joy to reconnect with people we have known for most of our lives.

Leonie and I played together before starting kindergarten in Dubbo. At her children’s weddings, I met the children and grandchildren of her siblings. At her brother Kevin’s funeral, after 50 years, I met up with her older sister, Therese. When asked if she knew who I was, she said, ‘Of course I do. You have the same face you had as a kid’. She proceeded to remind me of the way we acted out Enid Blyton stories and tried to capture crooks.

Judy and I sang together in the massed choir for Sydney Sings Messiah for 18 years. Rehearsals were strictly enforced, with sign-ins required. On two occasions, Judy simply could not be there. It was nerve-wracking hanging around the sign-in desk so that I could forge her signature without being challenged. Judy now travels from Morisset so that we can have lunch together. A master quilter, she has made beautiful quilts for me and others at Gethsemane.

Makiko, a young doctor from Japan mentioned she would love to visit Cowra. Happy to return home, we drove there. Next morning, we visited the breakout site, the Japanese war cemetery, Japanese garden and avenues of cherry blossoms. We saw the Peace Bell, awarded to Cowra for its building of friendship with Japan. When we exchange calendars each year, Makiko reminds me how much she enjoyed that experience.

Friends can make our day and enrich our lives.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2023 edition of Madonna magazine.

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