I once flew into Melbourne from Singapore. I had been working with our Brothers in the Philippines. It had been a long day; Cebu to Singapore, a lay over, Singapore to Melbourne. I was grumpy, tired and just wanted to get home and have a hot shower.
Little did I know but the twenty major airlines in the world had decided to use that morning to test the baggage handling capabilities of Melbourne airport at the one period of time. Little did they know that at that same period of time Australia’s Border Force had decided to take half of their staff off site to do an in-service on the correct form of name badges.
So you can imagine my reaction when I turned the corner after 45 minutes lining up at Passport Control to see literally thousands of people crammed into the baggage hall and customs control area. Even my baggage belt – Belt 7 at the far end of the hall – had the baggage from three different flights coming on to it. My middle name is actually not FAUST but MURPHY because of course, my bag adorned with both Qantas and Virgin Australia Gold Frequent flyer tags resplendent came out third last of the 163 pieces of luggage the flight was carrying.
Baggage trolley in hand I turned to the queue which by now resembled the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Frustrated, tired, (have I already mentioned grumpy), sweaty, annoyed – pick a word, any word.
Then for some unexplained reason from deep within me came a whisper, “How lucky are you!” Lucky that I had a home to come home to. Lucky that I had friends to welcome me home and a meal to savour. Lucky that I had joy and meaning and purpose in my life. Lucky that I know I am loved and lovable. Lucky that I had eyes to see the small child in the next line of the long snaking queue adorned in monkey labelled pyjamas clutching a soft toy dog. Lucky that I could hear the babble of voices all around me (admittedly tired) from every continent on the planet. Lucky that I could smile!
So, again, for some unexplained reason I began to recall and name all the people and things in my life that I am grateful for. Slowly (which was not hard to do for we weren’t going anywhere fast), every time we inched forward I named (quietly to myself just in case the federal police came and took me away) another person who had walked with me on the journey called life or something on that journey I am grateful for.
Zena who gave me my love of nature, Fitzy who went on my first long hike in the New Zealand alps with me, Greg who told me that my dad knew I loved him, Kate who taught me the value of process in community living, Frank who chose to live with some of our most vulnerable men in community, Sister Leo who was kind to me in Year 3, Susan who sent me into ecstasy at age 14 with my first real kiss, Brian who sat with me when I was frozen in fear with anxiety attacks, Dad who gave me my love of reading and of the poor!
I ‘almost’ began to enjoy and value the queue; I certainly became less aware of it.
Living in a mixed community – my love of hiking – the privilege of teaching – trusting my dream and helping found a hospitality van with the homeless – the privileged space of counselling and professional supervision – growing up in Proserpine – long beach walks – mind numbing novels during the summer holidays – the view from Table Mountain – hot porridge on a cold morning on the Isle of Mull – seeing Les Misérables – walking with my Brothers through Kibera slum and hearing the joy filled greetings of the poor!
As 2021 draws to a close I would like to invite you into a couple of small practices – but do them YOUR way. Recently I have begun the practice of sitting with my coffee in our prayer space and before I start my centring prayer and while I sip my coffee I recall ten things I am grateful for. Each morning I try (but not too hard) to recall someone or something different to the previous morning. On the back of my door I have stuck a piece of paper with the question, “Damien, what are you grateful for?” and next to my shaving mirror another piece of paper, “Be grateful!”
I don’t know much but I am 99.99% certain that if you do your version of this you WILL be happier. If you do your version of this you will gain perspective. If you do your version of this you will get a bounce in your step and the sparkle in your eye a fresh shine. If you do your version of this you will grow a grateful heart!
Now back to my queue. Isn’t this story nice and Damien got to the top of the queue singing Kum Ba Yah or rattling his tambourine like some of his Hari Krishna friends! No – sadly no. Yes, I did get to the top of the queue and yes I did have a smile on my face and yes I did not feel anywhere near as tired or frustrated and yes, I had some crazy warm glow within me. But no, just to test my new found Yoda persona the tired customs control lady sent the poor monk Damien with his immigration ‘no’ ticked card in hard to the side room to have all the contents of his bags spilled onto a desk and to be examined. God help that poor lady as she, with gloved hand went through hastily packed bags full of unwashed jocks and socks, shirts and shorts after ten days in the sweaty slums of the Philippines! She may still well be in therapy!
I eventually did get home – and yes, the welcome was warm and the brotherhood real! Be grateful!