From the 1990s
My dear friend and mentor Fr. Ted Kennedy gave the eulogy for Mum Shirl Smith at St. Mary’s Cathedral last week. His farewell words for this very special lady were most apt ” May the Black angels lead her into paradise” The eulogy for his close and precious friend was enriching and made the rest of us not merely sit back and listen but drew us into the sanctuary of our own being. This was not for us to seek comfort and security but to reflect and act upon what we have to offer the world of the deprived and needy in the way that Mum Shirl offered who she was, especially to her own people.
I, like many thousands of Australians, was privileged to have known Mum Shirl. What did she do that effected my life and the many who she met in life? I am not too sure that I can answer this. What did she do that can make an effect on our lives at S.A.C? I guess though that we need to ask a more menacing and threatening question, one that if answered honestly will move us so far out of our comfit zone that we will have difficulty in seeking it again with a conscience. How do we put ourselves into the skin of a black person and see things from their perspective.? You see we are being told that ‘ the black armband’ sentiment is not for us. We are told that the indigenous people should be grateful. But for what? We have only got to look at their plight to realize there are issues still to be dealt with.
When Ted Kennedy spoke in a cathedral that he did not feel at home in and spoke so movingly from the heart it was all to do with the issue of justice in our society. I recall the words of the Russian novelist and poet Boris Pasternak who once wrote “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is no louder than the breathing of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it”. We readily hope for these great moments but when they come we can refuse to hear, moreso through deafness of spirit than through spite and meanness. Perhaps we have not prepared ourselves to hear. You know real beauty can be camouflaged in earthiness.
Great moments surround us but in grappling with them we can succumb to the struggle to take them on board. Black is beautiful, but so is white. There is commonality that cuts through differences whether they be culture, colour, religion or whatever else can so easily create distinctions. We in a sense are privileged in that we work within a zone that can enrich our lives and those of our sons. Education and a decent standard of living are a gateways to freedom. But the reverse is also true, they can be the pathway to damnation.
What I observe in our young men is a potential strength, sensitivity and conviction that if utilized can develop in them and in the society of which they are part a much fairer world where economic rationalism and the level playing field mentality will give way to genuine justice based on the gospel principles. There need not be the world of the haves and the have nots. Utopian? For the cynic yes. For the realist no. Education becomes the foundation stone for freedom or subservience. Ultimately everyone makes his or her own choice.
Ennui is very dangerous and destructive. If you have some time observe the interaction between the young people at the Interchange at Chatswood after a school day. Our young are vulnerable.
If they do not have a challenge in life [and I do not mean making the quick dollar or some other narcissistic pursuit] then they will look elsewhere. Drugs in their various forms and alcohol are easy enticements from boredom, at least on a short term basis. Those from inner city and inner west environs who lacked educational opportunities readily sell their wares to all and sundry especially the seemingly more affluent on the North Shore. They have nothing to lose. Drugs are a big problem in the private as well as the public school system on the North Shore. The perception is that this is where money is at. Our young people are not too street wise and that doesn’t help, particularly if we are looking for kicks and that quick fix.
What has all this got to do with my introduction? I believe it is crucial to it. Unless our young have a reason to be then they will make other choices that will not give them the satisfaction they long for in their hearts. The heart of the young is rich in creativity and basic honesty. Yet they can so easily have this bankrupted by a system that is concerned with self interest and material gain, based purely on social Darwinism. In the human agenda there is no such thing as survival of the fittest. If there was then we have the slow and inevitable destruction of the zenith point of God’s creation, our humanity.
That moving tribute to Mum Shirl is a reminder or even a lesson for us to realize that choices have to be made and that by delaying them we are moving into reverse and acquiescing in a form of institutional violence. And if we are to dwell on those words ” may black angels lead you into paradise” we may become aware in our gentle way that the eternal paradise we want for ourselves and our sons is achieved when we too can take on board the reality of people like Mum Shirl and the prophetic words of a Father Ted Kennedy of Redfern. It will be then that those who congregate around the Chatswoods of the North Shore and elsewhere instead of looking from the outside at the superficial will find what is truly enriching in themselves by the way they assess and act upon a world in need of their basic goodness. Perhaps we as their parents will join in their joy of such a discovery.