When family members are separated by aeons as well as oceans it is easy to lose touch. Also, in a day and age when the snail has been overtaken by the ‘e’, the art of correspondence has been lost and we now limit ourselves to brief computerised grunts to indicate our interest or perhaps our continued existence. The social media with its hand wave across the street of the internet provides an unsatisfactory link.
There have been times when we have been asked whether we would return to South Africa, to which the only reply we have is: “If the Lord directs.” Of course, He would also have to make available the means! These are the times when I have envied the prophet Ezekiel, even if his trip to the temple in Jerusalem was made hanging by a lock of his hair!
It was through the tedium of Facebook, via a daughter-in-law who keeps in touch around the globe that we were made aware of the death of Bill’s older brother John, on the other side of the world. While this was not altogether unexpected, it highlighted the angst of being thirty-three years out of touch and far away. First we phoned our sister-in-law and a younger brother in South Africa. Then we contacted our younger sons in Australia. And we prayed for the families concerned.
That Sunday evening we fielded a call from our youngest son.
“Dad, do you and Mum have passports?”
“Go on line and complete the application forms. We have talked this through and we want you to fly over to represent the family in Australia and to support Uncle John’s family at this time.”
“Just do it. We’ll take care of the bookings and cover the cost.”
Passports overnight? We live in the Australian outback, and everything takes time. On Monday the phones ran hot while we sorted paperwork, photographs, signatures, rescheduled appointments and volunteer duties.
By midday we knew that passports would not be available before the end of the week. Not good enough, said the youngest son. A short time later he called again: he had made an appointment for us to be at the passport office in Canberra at 9 a.m. the following morning. We would need to be on the road by 4.30 a.m. to arrive on time. There were still arrangements to be finalised and a suitcase to be packed. It was well past midnight before we fell asleep, exhausted – and overslept.
We were on the doorstep of the passport office at five minutes to nine o’clock, shivering in the Canberra cold, hungry because we’d no time for breakfast; apprehensive because we were asking for an attention they had every right to refuse. We met with nothing but consideration.
Shortly after ten o’clock we broke our fast and updated our son with what was happening. We strolled the streets around the passport office, not venturing too far afield, waiting for their call. It came shortly after midday. Our passports were ready.
We flew on Wednesday morning and were met by a family member at the Johannesburg airport on Wednesday evening. Half-remembered names grew form and flesh; we touched and talked with love and laughter, conscious of the empty chair – the reason we were there. Bill, having previously officiated at the funerals of his mother and father, now played a part in the farewelling of his brother.
Time, that strict keeper of our days, returned us to the silver wings that carried us across the seas. Can pigs really fly? Did Ezekiel, hanging by the lock of his hair, really visit the temple at Jerusalem in the flesh, or was it only a visit in the spirit?
Photographs fix memory to one dimensional technicoloured paper without the tactile satisfaction of touch and sound. Memory fades to dreams interrupted now and then by a soundless email grunt. Loss and longing take the place of love and laughter.
For an encapsulated time God gave us what the years had swallowed and memory has no way of knowing: a restored personal relationship with people who are a part of us. Will these pigs ever fly again? Only the Lord knows that. We thank Him for the gift of His undertaking and provision, and gratefully share with Him the pleasure – and the pain – of the flight we did not expect to make.
God’s provision is always timely, always complete. God’s grace is eternal.
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