Perth (Photo: George Bakos/Unsplash)

Perth: The gift of tenderness

Lockdown in Australia. At home with his daughters and grandchildren, an apparently ideal situation. Yet it was not easy: “I was forced to take steps”, until his daughter washed his feet on Holy Thursday.

If I look at my experience of these past months – we were in lockdown in Australia as well - I think that I was among the privileged. I have a permanent job at the university and the lockdown period coincided with my sabbatical semester. I have been at home with my wife, my daughters Emilia, 19, and Elena, 34, who has Down’s Syndrome. My other children, when needed, brought us our grandchildren to take care of. It was an ideal situation in itself, that after 40 years of marriage you have the possibility to spend all your time with the people you love. A dream. Yet, it was not easy at all, and I was forced to take steps.

The first difficulty was to live, in the same physical place, the two dimensions that usually remain separate in normal everyday life. The boundaries between work and family life were blurred and it was difficult for me, but also for my grandchildren, to keep the two separate. So I came up with a shoe gimmick: "When grandpa has his shoes on, it means he is working and cannot be disturbed. When he has his slippers on, it means that he is free.” It was one of my attempts, slightly comical, to help me fix an order, because I perceived the risk of losing myself as well as getting lost in things.

But it is clear that the biggest challenge was the relationship with my wife. The experience of these months has shown us that we are not enough for each other. How did we come to realize this? We lived in what might have seemed like a beautiful conjugal oasis, yet sometimes we got on each other's nerves. Let me give you an example. In January, we went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a gesture to mark our forty years of marriage. An extraordinary and unforgettable experience. A few weeks later, some friends asked us to tell them about those days. We began to prepare the evening in which we would explain what had happened to us and show the photographs of the trip. What happened was that we argued. And I asked myself: "But after all that we have lived and seen together, how can we now quarrel about how to recount that wonderful experience?”

Looking at these limits of mine, a great tenderness arose in me. A tenderness towards myself, my humanity, and towards my wife and family. We are who we are, unable to give ourselves happiness. I lived this tenderness as a clearer form of strength. A strength that must be conquered. I once heard Pope Francis say that God shows His omnipotence through His mercy, which is the form of His tenderness.

Here in Australia, religious celebrations with a congregation were also suspended. Easter Mass is usually the occasion to invite our daughters, who have stopped going to Church. It is a gesture that they accept, as a sign of unity with us. This year, however, we knew that such a proposal could not apply to a celebration followed via streaming. So we decided to propose to our daughters to live the Easter Triduum not via internet, but in our own home, through prayer in common, reading the texts and repeating the gestures of the liturgy. It was a way to be in communion with the universal Church, but also with our family. We lit the fire of the Easter Vigil, with which we fed our little Easter candle. And we repeated the gesture of washing our feet on Holy Thursday. So we had our daughter Elena wash our feet. She knew that gesture, because a few years ago our parish priest had done the same thing to her. And she knew what it meant to us. I had to get off all my pedestals to accept that gesture. Like Peter who, reluctantly at first, accepted to be served by Christ. It will be difficult to forget the smile on my daughter's face as she washed my feet.

Read also – A companionship “on the road”

Now everything is slowly returning to normal. It would be trivial to say that I am now more able to appreciate the things of everyday life. But I see that the capacity for silence and tenderness towards my humanity is not something temporary. It is a gift, because I would not have been able to produce this change within me. And now that I am back teaching in the university, and I have a direct relationship with colleagues (even the more difficult ones), I see that this tenderness that has arisen towards myself begins to be a new gaze towards those around me.

John, Perth, Australia