Saying Good-bye to Grace

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I have been waiting for the news to be announced before writing this entry.  It was confirmed by police that one of my long-time friendships has come to an end in this life.  The body found in Karitane was identified as my friend Grace Gardner.  The police contacted me last Monday to see if I knew anything of her whereabouts.  We had not spoken directly for some months.  I travelled with her regularly to support her at Khamzin Tribe’s haflas.  Then, as far as I can tell, she pulled out of that to start a new relationship.  We passed occasionally on the street, going in opposite directions to our workplaces.  There was never time to stop and talk.

As the week progressed a body was found at Karitane.  I heard through other sources that she was dead.  The final announcement was by the police on Saturday in the local paper.  Her death is unusual and the police are awaiting further tests.  I expect to hear that there will be a memorial service for her.  So ends her life.  I had hoped to meet up with her again.  This is not to be.

I first met Grace at a bible study camp years ago.  She was a convert to Christianity in a country town.  We met years later when we both joined the Otago Mediaeval Society.  By that stage we had both moved into new places in our lives.  I was becoming more broad church; she had left Christianity behind.  I don’t think she could reconcile it with her life and education.  While at university she was introduced into neo-paganism and Islam.  While I did not press on her spiritual life I think maintained a tolerant magical practice to the end.

She worked at the Anatomy Department.  Her life was adventurous.  She married briefly, and after they separated amicably she had partners.  When she could she was consciously created places of sanctuary.  While I’m not a social extrovert I remember attending gothic parties in a big flat on Queen Street with some fondness that she organized.  She was a coeliac and everyday was a blessing for her.

Then she left her belly dancing group and began a new relationship which took her out to winter in Karitane.  I was tolerant of these changes as I knew we would catch up with each other again.  Her life was her own affair.  Indeed her name wasn’t the first one I meet her by.  She valued her privacy.

This makes her death all the more startling.  It turns out we will not catch up with each other again.  I do not understand what happened.  She left a note and disappeared from a relationship.  It sounded too similar to a suicide of another friend of the Archives that took place earlier this year.  Grace was extremely sensitive to the cold.  I accused her once of being an exotherm and she did not deny it.  To disappear without taking anything with her was irregular.  This is not yet a closed case.  I will await further news, and also hope to join with others to honour her memory.

She followed this blog.  There is a good chance that this entry will still arrive in her inbox.  Sadly she will not reply.  Whatever aspect awaits to receive her across the other lands I hope will receive her with kindness.

Manon

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We are nearly at the end of the current season of operas.  Today was a French opera which I only remembered was playing last night.  It was one that I was unfamiliar with.  Manon Lescaut, played by the lovely Anna Netrebko, arrives in Paris.  Her fatal flaw is her high-spirits, which has compelled her family to send her away to a convent.  Almost instantly in Paris she encounters men: her ne’er-do-well cousin Lescaut; the wealthy Guillot who wants to possess her for her own; and the young Chevalier des Grieux, who looks like an accountant, who falls in love with her and they steal away together.  He is played by Piotr Beczala.

Paris is full of tenements and they end up in an attic.  Des Grieux is a poor aristocrat.  While Manon loves Chevalier, when she discovers that his father is going to kidnap her to end this mad affair she does not prevent it.  After that she is courted by the whirlwind of high society with powerful men and mercantile ladies.  She cannot resist when she discovers that Des Grieux has become a Abbé of the church.  They still love each other and when they meet she literally defrocks him.  There is something about a man under holy vows that women find quite irresistable.

Still Manon has a taste for the high-life and they spend his mother’s legacy in a month.  I would have thought that 30 000 francs was a lot of many in nineteenth century France but she manages it.  She convinces Chevalier that he can win against Guillot at the wealthy and unsavoury gambling den The Hotel Transylvania.  It’s not just for vampires any more.  Chevalier shows beginners luck.  Guillot is a sore loser, repeatedly shown in the opera, and calls in the law.  His ally is revealed to be the Count de Grieux and Chevalier cannot prevent Manon being carried off.

Lescaut and Chevalier bribe the prison guards and they free Manon.  Prison life hasn’t been healthy for Manon and she dies in Chevalier’s arms.  Thus ends the life of Manon Lescaut.  That’s all folks!!!

Yet again opera shows this mad love for the woman who must face her own tragedy.  What is with that?

A conversation we need to have: Euthanasia in New Zealand

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This was a mightily attended forum held by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues in the Colquhon Lecture Theatre in the Dunedin Public Hospital.  The theatre was packed nearly full.  I estimate at least 500 people.  As always, what follows is my notes:

What is at stake?  The arguments for euthanasia are based on compassion, dignity or autonomy, and secularism.  I didn’t write down the details of these arguments which were summarised from a thesis done under the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  Instead I noted two questions.  Can we die with meaning?  To die pointlessly and painfully seems to me one of the most horrible fates to end a life.  My second thought was, Is this part of the triumph of the individual over the social contract?  There is no one answer.

Listening to Sean Davison speak I became concerned, Is euthanasia the end of life choice for people who have lived with no regrets.  He described the life of his mother as an ex-doctor, well travelled, well-loved, living in a beautiful home and garden with a view of the harbour from Broad Bay.  I can’t claim to enjoy a life like that.  It belongs to a tax bracket above mine.  The kind of person who came out to support him seemed to be representatives of the same kind of people.  I wondered if classicism is one of the elephants in the room in the discussion about euthanasia.

At the same time I did keep vigil with a dying aunt.  It marked out several long days and when she was awake I did not find her coherent.  If I was in the similar situation I would willingly consider the option to accept the pill to end my life.

The decision is made in the moment.  At the same time the decision made in the moment is not objective.  The person making the decision can make a mistake.  Human life has a value.  Putting down a life is a tragedy.

This will be a conscience vote for parliament.  The first time a euthanasia bill was put before parliament the vote was two to one against.  The most recent time a similar bill was put before parliament it was almost balanced.  Whether it passes this time is speculation.

The quality and funding for palliative care in New Zealand is not consistant, and it needs to be before such a bill can be passed by parliament.  Safeguards need to be ensured.  If euthanasia is provided for the terminally ill will it be provided eventually for the non-terminally ill, or for disabled dependents?  There are troubling questions that follow on passing such a law.

Euthanasia is not a crime in New Zealand.  Instead we have laws for taking a human life: homocide, manslaughter, and assisted suicide.

I always look forward to question time after a lecture.  It is like ice cream after a meal.  Sadly this time I felt disappointed.  The questions did not provide me with more insight.

Stuff has its own report on the debate, which I found selective in what it reports.  It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything in the news.  The Otago Daily Times has its report here.  The forum itself will  available as a podcast from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues website.

Anzac Day musings

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It’s Anzac Day.  I’m spending the day at home.  For those who attended dawn services and other services to honour Australia and New Zealand’s war dead then I hope that Father Anzac brings you lots of presents.  I did not attend a service for the day.  It feels like ancestor worship to me, to honour the fallen in battle, those who went out on life’s great adventure, to secure their place in empire, and came back changed men and women.  New Zealand was not born as a nation in those fields of battle.  I am ambivalent to that debt.

In the meantime I am waiting for the news report that will officially confirm the death of a friend in unusual circumstances at Karitane.  I expect to write on that at length in the next few days.

I’m interested to see that there have been a couple of hits looking for my Lamborough project.  I was keeping the details of that to myself at the moment.  I hope to spend some time today continuing my documentation on the city.  Leave a comment, or contact me, if you want to hear more on that project.

Happy 80th Birthday, Mum

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Despite asking for no presents people gave generously to mum at her celebration at the weekend.  I found a couple of neckchains with silver and paua pendants at the Art Gallery and gave them to her.  The Phantom gave her a digital picture frame.  I had the CD that a former flatmate had made of our photo slides so we put those on the frame along with other photos provided by the families.

She invited so many people to come to her celebration at Knox Church she didn’t get to speak to them all.  It was a successful occasion for her.

There and back again: a hobbit’s weekend in six meals

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Two events on over the weekend the first was the meeting of the Presbyterian Synod of Otago and Southland at Highgate Church.  After the opening service on Friday night we proceded along Highgate to Columba College where the evening meal was put on for us.

The Synod meeting continued onto the next day.  I had to leave after the morning’s first session to join one of the other commissioners to travel down to Invercargill for the second event of the weekend: my mother’s 80th birthday party.  I made sure to enjoy the morning tea, which was well catered for.  The hall was arrayed like it was a country parish tea.

I was dropped off at my brother’s house where he lives with his partnerclan.  A generous tea was provided again with pork and beef chops, chicken and salad.  Happy birthday, mum.

And for breakfast there were bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs and mushrooms.  Usually I have a bowl of porridge and a cup of hot chocolate, and a hot cross bun when they are available.

Then there was potluck lunch at mum’s church for the members to celebrate her 80th birthday.  By this stage I am rather full and not looking to eat again before I return to Dunedin.

I spent the afternoon with my friend Southern Dave and joined with his parents for a small meal together.

After all that Dave took me to the bus back to Dunedin and I rested.

More on Not Doing God

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At yesterday’s forum I felt I could not formulate the question that I would have put to the panel, that is the Churches have disengaged from being good citizens.  The popular model of church I’m seeing, at least among Presbyterians, is to withdraw from being a national or regional bodies; the perfect Christian community is based on the local church.  This doesn’t allow for a perspective for public issues outside the immediate boundary.  The space for discussing public issues is within the regional and national body.  Unfortunately the incentive for discussing these issues is in the progressive arm of the church, and the progressive voice is being drowned out by a growing conservative religious voice.  It may take a generation before the Church can speak on public issues in a way that I will find productive.  At the same time there is an emergence of voices like the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, and the New Zealand Christian Network, which are seen as speaking for the silent voice.  They may prove to be part of the problem.

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