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Essential or important? The answer will liberate you.

I have recalled often in my blog the question my mentor, Br Denis Hernon, used to often challenge us with. “Can you leave that which is essential and attend to the important?”

The difficulty of course, is that there are so many ‘essential’ things in our lives. Our lives are full of lists of ‘essential things to be done’! Recently I had a morning at Kurrawa beach with my niece, her husband and their two beautiful children. At first the weather was not kind but armed with bucket and spade we set out to a section close by the flags to make THE greatest sandcastle of all time. Now I have to admit defeat. My niece’s husband who played one day cricket for Australia is also an expert ‘castle turret’ maker. I’m not sure what they did in all those Australian player training camps but I have my suspicions.

Sure enough, my turret was not quite perfect with a small section at the top falling away while my opponent’s was close to perfect. Between us were our two little helpers giggling and passionately filling buckets with sand or water for the moat. The incoming tide quickly dashed our magnificent architectural and engineering efforts (much to my joy) and we retreated to the edge of the water.

Now, forget about inflation, the polls, the tests V the West Indies or how Cameron Bancroft was ripped off by the Australian selectors, the water’s edge proved to be true bliss. My niece’s little boy quickly reached for my hand and then for the next forty plus small waves we played good old ‘lift me high, swing me high’ above the wave – an activity that may have been in the original Olympics in Ancient Greece. My little friend giggled with delight and I have to admit, poor old Uncle Damien, despite tiring arms and aching lower back, was in his zone too. As we walked back up the beach a little voice from deep within whispered, “How good was that!”

What we were doing was important – really important. Quality time with loved ones. No expensive toys, no eyes glued to a video screen, no canned music – just sand and buckets and waves and fun. After saying goodbye with a promise to repeat the exercise next time we are at the beach, Uncle Damien almost skipped his way to the car with a Frodo like smile after he had thrown that cursed ring into the flames of Mordor!

My life experience tells me that the things we remember are the important things. The things we value are the important things. The things that hold us when life bowls a curved ball at us are the important things. What is important? Family, friends, courage, honesty, loyalty, adventure, risk, trust, hugs, holding hands …!

But how do you know that something is important? What is the litmus test? St Paul in his letter to the people of Galatia says, “What the Spirit brings is joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. In short, when my underlying feeling is one of peace or joy or when my responses to people and life’s situations are patience or kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control – you know you are a living a life focussed on what is truly important.

I was once working with an Edmund Rice school in New Zealand. I had heard from a friend that one of my past students was in a jail at Kaikohe about three hours from Auckland. I listened to my ‘gut’ and made the decision to fly to New Zealand a day earlier. I got a hire car and drove through the late afternoon and into the night to a dingy one star motel. The next morning I found myself in the visitors centre with about 60 other visitors. I think I was the only European, surrounded by the laughter and hugs, tears and smiles of an assortment of Pacifica peoples. When we finally got ‘in-side’ the prisoners came out dressed in the brightest orange jump suits I have ever seen: my old boy stood out, he was the only Aussie. He gave me a hug and then with tears in his eyes said, “I could not believe you would come, I have let you and my family down!”

We sat and shared story. We sat and recalled my poor attempts to teach and coach. We laughed at memories of some of the characters we shared school with. But most of all I sat in silence listening to his pain at being separated from his family back in Australia and his sense of shame and letting them and himself down. All I could do was place a gentle old hand on to his shoulder and admire his honesty. As the time drew close to leave, three muscle bound lads in jump suits came over, for my old boy was quite popular among them and said, “Hey bro, who is this old man?” “My teacher” my old boy said! “Shit,” replied the three of them in close to unison. “No feckin teacher of mine ever came to visit me!”

My old boy is long back with his family and is kicking life goals, wiser and more gentle for his time among those ‘bros’ in New Zealand.

As I drove away that day to Auckland and my Professional Development commitments and as I walked from Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast I had that sense of ‘peace’. I had engaged in what was truly important. Like my last blog said, “Just another small starfish on life’s journey!”

During 2024, gain some small reflective practices – ones that suit you and your personality. Use this quiet, reflective time to go inside and listen to your spirit. From this space – you will gain the compass that will point you to, whisper to you, what is truly important! When you do this – freedom, true inner freedom, will creep up on you, wrap its arms around you and gift you with a sparkle in the eye! No amount of money can buy that.

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