Marking our time, euthanasia, and a eulogy for my gran

This week I inherited a grandfather clock.

I inherited it from my deeply and dearly loved grandmother who died last Friday. It’s now proudly displayed on our lounge room wall, where it marks my own mortality. Every ticking and tocking swing of the pendulum, every cheerful 15 minute chime, marking both the passing of time and the countdown to that day when my body will also draw breath for the last time.

My gran, Cynthia Campbell, was 92; she’d lived a full life which included travelling the world as an adventurous and independent nurse before finding love in perhaps the unlikeliest of places; regional New South Wales with a man, my pa, whose sense of place meant he wanted to put down roots and put them down deep. Pa and Gran, as we called them, had two kids — my dad, and my aunty — and they built a home that served as a base for hospitality but also got as close to self-sufficient as a house in town can get. Their veggie patch was a marvel; pa’s toolshed well stocked; and the house marked by his little innovative ‘fixes’ to little problems that arose through the wear and tear of long life in the one place. All of this marked by the ticking and chiming of this clock.

Inanimate objects don’t really ‘witness’ anything; though we might wish they did, so the clock’s connection to the life of this house is mostly in the imagination. It’s timber has not absorbed the smell of the Anzac biscuits baked fresh for our arrival; the chime does not echo the laughter or words of love spoken around the table or on the telephone that sat next to it; the hands of the clock have not learned to give an embrace that is both warm and safe. But the clock was there for these things and so in some ways it roots me to them; to gran.

One of the nice tactile things about this particular clock (and many like it) is that you have to wind it; its marking of time requires clock work and clockwork. It will run for as long as it is maintained; and were I to stop winding it, one day it too would stop (8 days later, in fact). In this a clock is both like and not like a human body. We cannot perpetually wind our bodies up, nor do we vivify our hands so that we go about our purposes marking time; but there comes a time where the clock stops being wound and we switch off. Gran’s death has been the first real opportunity our kids have had to be confronted with death and mortality; and Soph, 6, when we were talking about how gran died summed it up as ‘her body just switched off’; which it did. At 92, and even with a pacemaker helping her heart keep time, no amount of winding or retuning could keep gran going; and so her breathing, once as regular as a ticking clock, started slowing and becoming irregular. And then it stopped. But while we’re a complex mix of biological cogs and levers, we are not machines. A machine with a careful maintenance schedule and the right parts should be able to run forever; but machines have no soul; no sense of themselves, their purpose, or the lives they touch. Machines do not live and so they cannot die; it’s a curious anthropomorphism that we talk about our machines dying. Machines don’t die; but people do; it’s because our best machines outlive us that we can turn them into family heirlooms and pass them on to new generations. 

It’s interesting to consider the changes wrought on the world and how we see it by the simple clock and its clockwork engineering; the ability to measure time with machine like precision, and our ability to observe an intricately integrated and complex machine and make inferences about the workings of the universe… machines disrupt and change the ecosystems they’re introduced to; but machines do this without intent or a will. I’ve long been fascinated by the Luddite movement; an uprising of humans against sophisticated machines that were taking jobs and changing society. I understand the Luddite impulse but I also wonder about the emotions of the creators of those machines as they saw their handiwork destroyed. Those beautiful machines turned into something ugly and pointless… but I wonder if they were more glad that the Luddites took out their anger on the engines not the engineers… machines don’t take jobs, machinists do. We tend to anthropomorphise machines — to expect them to have human qualities and to talk about them dying, but the flipside is that we increasingly see the cosmos, and people, in machine like terms; with the rise of clockwork we even started to speak of God as the ‘clockmaker’ and to imagine him somewhat distantly winding up the universe and then stepping back to watch time unfold; and this means we talk about death in terms of ‘flicking a switch’ or to see it as a natural end to our life, and the operations or machinations of our body being all there is. We see death as something akin to sand passing through an hour glass, as a natural and normal part of the machine-like universe doing its thing. 

But it isn’t.

We see ourselves as cogs within this machine, or as little machines; operating like clockwork, wound up, and now just waiting for the kinetic energy that is loaded up into our bits and pieces to run out so that we expire.

But we aren’t.

Machines are not people; nor are people machines. If I took a sledgehammer to my beautiful clock and destroyed it the world would lose something beautiful and intricately crafted; how much more has the world lost with the loss of my gran? Or the destruction of every human body, bodies knit together more intricately and beautifully than a clock? Death is the ugly destruction of something much more beautiful than our most beautiful machines. Machines break, people die. 

On the day gran drew breath for the last time, the Victorian government’s lower house passed its euthanasia bill; the word euthanasia is derived from the greek words for good and death, and the pursuit of a ‘good death’ seems noble. And inasmuch as a death can be good, passing away gently in your sleep, with pain managed via the miracles of modern medicine, at 92, and surrounded by family, gran had a good death. A death that made me appreciate what a service palliative care built on the belief that people have a dignity that sets us apart from machinery can be to our world… But as members of my family gathered to say goodbye as we could, and as my folks and aunty were there when gran drew her final breath in as good a death as you might see, I came to realise there is nothing good about death. There gran lay in her room, with this clock on the wall relentlessly beating away like a metronome, while the rhythm of her breathing faltered and the beat of her heart faded away, and there was nothing inherently good about death; which is why we grieve, and this wasn’t simply the mechanical process of a machine being shut down for the last time either. Death stings. We think it’s natural because it happens so much — and will happen to all of us — or is happening to all of us. Death didn’t begin last week for gran, it began 92 years ago with her birth. It’s a lifelong process marked by the passing of time; time which now passes to the rhythmic beating of a second hand on the wall… tick… tock… and if you’re lucky to those cheerful chimes that mark every quarter hour, and peal out some extra notes for each passing hour. If you’re extra lucky you’ll be reminded of your mortality by having to keep winding up that clock every seven days to mark the passing of each week. That’s what clocks, especially grandfather clocks, do; they count down towards our death… and they last beyond it.  

And so I inherit a clock, a clock which hung on the wall still ticking as my gran passed into death, still ticking after her heart stopped, which I can’t help but see as measuring my days. Inheritances are a funny thing, I’ve known my whole life I’d be inheriting ‘the family clock,’ but have not wanted it because to claim it would require the death of the grandparents I loved dearly; first pa, and now gran. A clock that now ticks and tocks, that with careful preservation I too will be able to hand on to another generation of Campbell progeny.

But this clock is not the inheritance I prize most from my gran; the inheritance I most appreciate is one I’ve been enjoying for as long as I remember, it’s more in the realm of the heritage her life (and pa’s) has created for our family, and the things she has been passing on to our family. A heritage of good news about the world and about death. A heritage that has both her son and daughter in vocational church ministry (and a grandson and granddaughter), and that extends beyond her line of her family tree to her siblings, and her nieces and nephews (and their kids).

I love the picture of Timothy in the Bible whose mum and grandma raised him with a heritage so that Paul can say Timothy ‘has known from infancy the Holy Scriptures’ (2 Timothy 3:15), we know it came from his grandma because Paul says earlier: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Tim 1:5). Despite what the euthanasia advocates desires (with good intent), there is no good death, but there is a good word about death. On Friday we’ll say goodbye to my gran at her funeral, and I’ll be part of giving her eulogy; like ‘euthanasia’ the word eulogy has greek roots — ‘good’ ‘word’ — I have many good words to say about my gran. About her love for us; her generosity; her hospitality; her kind and anxious soul; that she sacrificed much out of love for her family… but I’m most thankful for the good words I inherited from her; good words that give me hope in the face of her death; hope that we are more than machines; hope that means the ticking of the clock which counts down my remaining days on this mortal coil is not just a countdown to me being ‘switched off’ in the best death I can hope for… I’m most thankful that in these good words I discover good words from my creator about my gran, and about death. Because in the ‘good words’ found in those Scriptures; in the good news of Jesus; I see that God is not a watchmaker who sees my gran (or us) as wind up toys that will fall over and be discarded. I see that God is a father who looks at my gran as a beloved daughter. I see that God is not distant — that he didn’t step back after making a ‘machine’ but stepped forward into this world, in the coming of Jesus, to destroy death, that he holds all things together (Colossians 1), gives life and breath and everything to each person (Acts 17), and that he promises to step in again — to return and raise the dead — because death is not some natural thing — an end — where we can find a ‘good’ — death is an enemy to be destroyed.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” — 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This is a good word that God speaks into and beyond the grave. This, more than anything, is something my gran wanted her kids and grandkids to inherit — a heritage — a legacy — and while her physical possessions have been divided up amongst our family so that we might remember her — this above all was her desire and prayer for her family.

On Friday I’ll speak some ‘good words’ about my gran, last Thursday as I said my goodbyes I said some good words to her. I kissed her on the forehead for the last time and said “thanks for loving us so well; but more than that, thanks for loving Jesus.” I do not know that I could stand the constant beating rhythm; the tick tock; of my new-but-old clock without this hope. Nor could I face the death of my beloved gran. Or death at all.

 

A new addition…

You may have noticed it’s a little quiet around here.

Here’s why.

This is Xavier Macleay Campbell. He was born on Monday. We think we’ll keep him.


 

Again, for the record, my wife is amazing, and I’m thankful to God for my little family – and I continue to be blown away by the wondrous marvels of modern medicine and Australian health care.

An update…

So, unlike all the other bloggers in Australian Christendom, or whatever sector of the blogosphere I occupy… I’m not taking any time off blogging wise over Christmas. In fact. I suspect a lack of sleep will mean I’ll be blogging more. Because blogging is what I do when I sit in front of the TV…

There are some big things on the horizon though. For Clan Campbell. Changes are afoot. We’re having a baby – any time in the next couple of weeks (or up until Christmas, if he/she really doesn’t want to come out). We’re moving house (not sure where yet). We’re changing churches (and sadly ending our time working for Andrew and Simone). But we’re off to Creek Road. Which will be different. I’m planning to hand in my last couple of pieces of college assessment for the year this week. We’re having a little holiday with family on Stradbroke Island at some stage in the next fortnight. And umm. I’ll be watching lots of cricket. Playing some Assassins Creed: Revelations. And eating banana paddle-pops. Also, my sister and her man became engaged today. So that’s also cool and newsworthy.

I blogged some coffee stuff at thebeanstalker.com this week (and I’ll post this semester’s essays up there when they’re all done and dusted), and some study notes at Venn Theology. And you canorder some roasted coffee with a “Really Useful Gift” kicker through the St. Eutychus Coffee Roastery between now and Christmas…

All in all a pretty busy couple of months in the pipeline – especially if you throw in a little bit of PR consulting (you can check out nathancampbell.com.au too, if you want to sling some work my way/me to sling some PR work your way…).

Off with the birds

One of the reasons my biting election coverage didn’t happen as a liveblog, in fact, the only reason, was that over the weekend Robyn and I took off to the Bunya Mountains for a surprise birthday celebration for her father. Who turned fifty.

Sadly, everybody but caught a violently unpleasant case of gastro. I have a stomach of iron. The upside was that I had the pick of the fridge for 12 hours.

I took the camera. The Bunyas teem with bird life. I’m not a “twitcher” but I do enjoy playing with my camera.


We tried feeding the birds – the others enjoyed more success. But they just weren’t that into me.

Robyn took this photo.

On the other “upside” – I picked up one of those three-in-one DVD collections from Woolworths in Dalby featuring Steven Seagal in his aging best.

Steven Seagal is cooler than Chuck Norris.

Preach or Perish

My grandfather (aka Fafa aka Donald Howard) wrote a book. About preaching. I’m reading it. It has been helpful. When I finish reading it I’ll post a proper review. In the meantime you should know that it did not win the 2009 Australian Christian Book of the Year – but it was an equal joint second prize winner with two others. A little like Townsville’s Rachel Finch in the Miss Universe competition…

It was self published. It features chapters from plenty of well known preachers. You can buy it here.

Keeping Mum

Godfather Vito Corleone taught son Michael one important lesson – keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Without wanting to give anything dramatic away – for those who haven’t seen the Godfather II – Michael was betrayed by a family member. Which must really hurt.

Some public figures are learning a similar lesson about the importance of treating your family – and extended family – well.

Cricketer Mitchell Johnson has copped a public shellacking from his mother – for consorting with his fiancé – and rarely calling home to mum. The apron strings were clearly not as severed as Johnson believed…

"I get a text on Mother’s Day and a text on my birthday.
The last time I actually spoke to him was when the beach cricket was here (and) Dennis Lillee told him he had to ring his mother, so Mitchell rang me that day.
It has been like this since Jess came on the scene.
Up until he met Jessica we were very close . . . but he hasn’t spent a night under my roof since he met Jessica."

Johnson moved from Queensland to Western Australia to get away from his mother be with his lady friend – and it seems his mum wasn’t anticipating the consequences of the move…

"For the wives and the children I think it is great that they support them and send the over there, but who are these girlfriends? They are just girlfriends, Mitch met Jess and since then she has flown off to South Africa, to England and the Bahamas.

She gets all these trips, she gets flown there, accommodation, food and all of that."

It couldn’t possibly be a case of missing the perks could it?

My perennial political whipping woman – Sarah Palin – has also learned a lesson about not biting the hand that feeds your grandchild. Her disenfranchised ex-potential son-in-law – no doubt annoyed that he was thrust in the campaign spotlight for naught – has held a press conference. Yes, that’s right. A press conference. The high school jock who a year ago was heading towards a career hunting bears or something – called a press conference to spill the beans on his jilted almost-mother-in-law’s decision to resign.

Nineteen-year-old Levi Johnston, whose wedding to Bristol Palin was called off earlier this year, says he thinks the governor is resigning over personal finances.

Johnston says he lived with the Palin family from early December to the second week in January. He claims he heard the governor several times say how nice it would be to take advantage of the lucrative deals that were being offered, deals that included a reality show and a book.

Johnston made his comments at a news conference Thursday at his lawyer’s office.

After the McCain campaign paraded this guy around the country he wants a few more minutes of fame. So he’s becoming a Palin pundit.

What possesses people to settle family disputes through the media? It must surely put a permanent strain on the relationship – I can’t imagine Mitchell Johnson waking up feeling positively about his mum and inviting her to join him in England now – can you?

Now coming to you in Wide Screen… at least from my end

Well, well, well… that of course is the answer to the question “what did the oil baron say when three new oil deposits were discovered in Iraq. The US of course simply said “Fire the torpedoes”, which was pretty useless because Iraq only has a very small coastline and there are much more effective ways to blow things up in Iraq. Strapping explosives to your chest seems to be one way… that’s not really funny is it. Not at all PC.

There’s not really much interesting stuff to write about today, owing to the fact that I spent yesterday in Charters Towers. It’s a hole. Or a series of them. Mostly because it contains a lot of tunnels left over from the gold mines. It is however, one of North Queensland’s premiere tourist destinations – attracting history buffs from all over the country. So if you like history it’s worth a visit. Or if you like meat pies. I’m sure it has plenty of redeeming features.

Today I took mum, dad, and Susie along to an Indy car roadshow thing in Townsville that I had to go to for work. There was lots of burning rubber, lots of noise, lots of girls in Indy outfits, and lots of the types of guys who enjoy those sorts of things. Then I went to WOW and bought a new screen for my computer… and more importantly, the new Muse CD. I’m impressed. I was worried at first. But it’s very good. It’s nothing like any of their old stuff. But Matt Bellamy is still the coolest front man strutting his stuff on stages around the globe.

That’s about it for this episode – be sure to check out the thoroughly politically incorrect ramblings at that other blog… http://philnsmiz.blogspot.com

Rubbed out

Like millions (well hundreds and thousands (the number, not the little colourful balls of sugar)) of others I’ve been hotly anticipating the hotly anticipated new Thom Yorke solo album, The Eraser. So today… upon its release… I bought it. And I listened to it. And now, here are my thoughts.

This album is slightly more avant garde than any of Radiohead’s work (for the uninitiated and uninterested, Thom Yorke is the singer from Radiohead). The music is a series of syncopated and sometimes rhythmic noises. With very little musical quality whatsoever. Except, and this is a big exception, for Thom Yorke’s voice. I’ve decided I could happily listen to Thom Yorke sing over any noise in the world. It wouldn’t make me happy, because Thom Yorke is a very melancholy kind of guy. But it would be a pleasurable experience nonetheless. He also writes lyrics with cool words and concepts. And his cover art is good. There’s my in depth analysis and review of the CD. I was also looking forward to the release of Muse’s new album. But it wasn’t available at Wow. I wish Townsville had a JB Hifi. Actually, that would be bad for my bank balance.

Another variation on the rubbed out theme – Steve asked me what I thought the Italian guy said to Zidane in the build up to his send off this morning, and I must confess I did not get up for the World Cup. I set my alarm, but promptly metaphorically threw it at the wall. I actually dropped my phone rather half heartedly on the floor. If Zidane is the typical French creative genius then I imagine it was something along the lines of “Oi, you French poof” which was enough to send my favourite all time player, Eric Cantona into a violent fan directed frenzy (see below) – he’s not my favourite player because he karate kicked a fan in the head. He karate kicked a fan in the head because he’s my favourite player. I’m not sure the logic there worked any better than it did in that trashy teen movie which I won’t admit to viewing. My sisters have a lot to answer for.

My parents, and sister, arrive in Townsville tomorrow – it’s the first time they’ve ever come to stay at “my” house. So I’m inventing all sorts of new house rules… actually I’m tidying my room. Maybe.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMCmHBqRXnQ]

Nicknames – nominal determinism in reverse

There’s a theory that’s been doing the rounds for many years that your name will determine the path your life takes. Thinking about it, this theory has possibly been around since Christ, or even earlier in Genesis, where names are given based on particular characteristics of the person they’re given to – eg Esau, which means Red… funny that these days in Australia’s ironic culture Esau would probably have been called Bluey. There are examples of nominal determinism out there in the real world – in the microcosim of Maclean there were several examples of this determinism in practice, or even in practise. The funeral directors were named Baker, and Dugmore. The electrician was named Watts. It’s not just confined to small country towns where people don’t necessarily think all that hard about their career paths. The head of Steggles Chickens was someone Poulter. A casino chief’s last name was Gamble. It’s been documented in lots of places I couldn’t find in preliminary efforts on the net.

I just saw an ad on TV for “Everybody loves Raymond.” I don’t love Raymond. I never have. He has a whiny, nasally voice that makes me want to do aggressive things and generally be a not very nice person. This goes to show that nominal determinism does not work in naming television shows.

Anyway, someone suggested I should do a “blog by request” on nicknames. I should note at this point that someone has suggested Mattias should start a similar column/regular entry on his blog doing pretty much the same thing. I’m all for competition. Everyone needs more choices for things to do on the internet. There’s really not that much out there once you’ve checked out all the good news sites (or the good, news sites [or the good new’s sites] – what do you reckon grammar nazi? have I got this right?) . Other than a quick dalliance at Homestarrunner or any of the other recommended internet comedy sites there’s just a truckload of unverified tripe, pages of useless wikis and copious amounts of unwholesome “fun” (I use the word fun very loosely).

But on to the topic at hand. Nicknames. According to answers.com nicknames have nothing to do with anyone named Nick.
“Etymology: In Middle English the word was ekename (from the verb to eke, “enlarge”; compare Swedish öknamn). Later, an ekename developed into a nickname when the “n” shifted through junctural metanalysis.”

So there you go. I would argue that nicknames are the procrastinators form of nominal determinism. I do wonder if they also play some part in some form of character development. I would contend that if you’re nickname was “Encyclopedia” you’d be a pretty boring person. The reasoning behind that suspicion is that if your friends are stupid enough to call you “Encyclopedia,” without any irony attached, your friends are likely to be quite boring – and if you were any more interesting you wouldn’t be hanging around with them. With any nickname there’s the danger it’s a chicken v egg question. Were you given the nickname because you’re boring, or are you boring because of your nickname.

And now, let me turn to my own “nickname” and examine whether it has played some role in determining my character or personality. I think nicknames are an important part of life in Queensland – probably more so in southern Queensland. But there are people like Scooter, Beebs, et al up here who would suggest that it’s a cancer that’s spread far, and wide. The week I moved to Brisbane I landed myself a new nickname… and consequentally a new personality. Once upon a time I was a shy, reserved lad who wouldn’t go out of my way to get noticed and most certainly wouldn’t ever think to, let alone dare to, refer to myself in the third person (ok so that was only once, and it was ironic). I arrived at a new school and a new church, and suddenly “Nathan” wasn’t good enough. No. I had to be given a new name, like some missionary moving to a tribe in a remote village. Queenslanders lack the irony, or subtlty of their southern counterparts. There’s no blueys around these parts. It surprises me that there aren’t more bignoses, or fatheads… because in a masterstroke of brilliance I was named after a facial expression… and so Smiley was born. I’ve always been slightly ambivalent to the name Smiley. There are worse nicknames. I’m thankful I wasn’t called “ugly” (although obviously that would have been ironic) or something like that (I originally used a much ruder word but Caitie vetoed it). My family (and particularly my father) have never really liked, or understood, the name. Apparently I’m not always happy afterall. Dad’s main concern is that people won’t take someone named Smiley seriously… and he’s probably got a point. But again – it’s a chicken v egg thing – would I be taken more seriously if I acted more serious? Probably. Would I have been called Smiley if I’d acted more seriously? Probably not. Was I a much more serious person before I got the name? I don’t remember but it’s unlikely. So now when people find it hard to take me seriously – I know who to blame.

Mark also wanted me to talk about people who give themselves nicknames. I think doing that is about on par with talking about yourself in the third person. Pretty sad. Unless absolutely necessary. There’s a funny story about a particularly hard working lawyer I worked with once… in a firm that will remain nameless to protect the guilty… who was not necessarily the most socially able lawyer in the world. He worked long hours and often had conversations with the cleaner… who it turned out took great pleasure passing on information to other members of staff. This lawyer had decided he needed a nickname and decided that henceforth he’d be known as “The Train.” So my rule for giving yourself a nickname is: make sure it’s not lame. That’s the only rule. I’m pretty sure it should be either appropriate, or ironic, and not named after a prominent body part.