My childhood was based on a healthy mix of stability, support, love and faith. Particularly as a very young child there was no question of having the ability to do anything I set my mind to. It is only as an adult observing my own children that I can see this was not just an environmental influence, it was deeply inherent. There were few limitations put on me as I savoured every opportunity to try something new.
As an adult, I often hear people say that children are too scheduled and are hurried from one thing to another. I recognise that I continue to live this way as an adult as I did as a child. Yet changing that in my life as a child or an adult would be like severing my oxygen supply. It is how I draw energy and motivate myself to learn, discover and understand how the world and myself work.
Obviously not everyone needs or wants this sometimes maniacal level of stimulation to find satisfaction within themselves and solace in the world. Many find this through faith and I find that an enviable way to exist.
Faith is not a question for my parents. It just is. It’s something that gives them perspective on the world and is a reminder that they are each just one part of a bigger picture.
As I discuss my thoughts with my parents, Dad recalls a quote attributed to St Ignatius Loyola and hammered into him during school days, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The fact that he can reel it off decades later reflects that it was a none too subtle way to command that life was not about fame, celebrity or recognition. He bandies around terms like ‘sinners’ and ‘redemption’ that were once spoken about on a daily basis, they are now words of another era.
Mum talks about a ‘false certainty’ that faith created for them. It was easier and widely accepted to play by someone else’s rules than create your own and define your own boundaries. I ask if the control of their faith ever created resentment towards it, my mum scoffs – she has never entertained the thought.
I find it almost incomprehensible that their lives are not measured by self-satisfaction, rather by service. Despite reaching the latter stages of their largely fortunate and fulfilling lives, there is no room for complacency.
Although this is an impromptu discussion, it plays out like well-rehearsed theatre. There is no script, yet the dialogue flawless, the message irrefutable. Even as I scamper around after my youngster, the conversation continues to flow. Although two people are speaking, it could be the thoughts of one person as their words perform a ballet of unity and synchronicity.
It could be that my parents are products of their childhoods or that 40 years of marriage has melded their ideals. Whatever the reason I am left in awe at their ease with the places they take in the world.
They jokingly liken themselves to the 1960s television series Dr Kildare. My paternal grandfather once described my surgeon father as a ‘poor man’s Dr Kildare’ – in his eyes not reaching the charisma or success of the TV persona. Dad’s relaxed smile indicates he is content knowing that he surpassed his parents’ expectations. My mum has her Dr Kildare and she has been living the dream.
I once referred to my parents as the ‘50s couple’, dad would work and mum would take care of the home. A family friend recalled her first impression of us, a family you might see in a magazine with bright smiles and impeccable outfits, lovingly assembled by my mum.
These traditional family roles never featured in my own family ambitions. However I have come to understand their appeal. Mum and Dad were completely comfortable in their assumed roles, it was what they were best at and they formed a perfectly complementary partnership.
It’s easy to see how they view their lives as rich and fulfilling. They didn’t grow up with luxuries now viewed as staples, like television. In the early years my mum’s family in rural Australia lived without today’s basic western necessities of electricity and water in the house. How could you not appreciate the spiritual dividend that hard work, faith and a little luck would pay later in life?
Faith hasn’t been so straightforward for me. It has created more questions than it has answered. The most perplexing being the wedge it can drive between people and the intense emotions of anger, fear and isolation it can stir.
In a complete paradox, I have also seen the unification faith can bring. It has been particularly evident to me in times of grief as people grapple to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. Believing that their soul will endure beyond the physical world can be an immense comfort to the living.
From my experience outside my family, faith is not something readily discussed by believers but is hastily condemned by non-believers. I admire those who are not inhibited to speak about their faith.
Some don’t need to speak about their beliefs, they just convey them through their actions in their daily lives. I cannot help but think of some of the sisters who educated me as a child. Their faith has never faltered nor discriminated. Despite their convictions, they go on undeterred, they do not judge others, instead they dedicate their lives to helping them.