Priceless Gifts

Last night it rained for the first time in many weeks. We are in the middle of the bushfire season–the worst in 30 years so the rural fire brigade says. The last time big fires swept through here was in 1971. The local town was threatened and many pineapple farms were lost.

If we had any sense we wouldn’t live here at all. Our house is made of timber and is surrounded on all sides by bush. This means I can look out my kitchen window straight at a grevillea tree and watch the rainbow lorikeets and pale-headed rosellas feeding on the yellow flowers, squabbling noisily. It also means when fire comes the house and everything in it will go. We won’t stay and fight because to do so would be too dangerous. There is only one road out of here; if you decide to go you have to go early and hope there’s something to come back to.

I often wonder what it would be like if we lost everything. Obviously it would be devastating, but I also wonder whether it would be curiously freeing. A family that lost everything in a fire a few years ago decided to move to Uganda and work with the poor there–a decision they say they wouldn’t  otherwise have made. Friends of ours whose house burnt down after a candle caught the curtains in the baby’s room, remain very unattached to material possessions and very much focussed on the importance of each other.

But even if one could take a very Zen approach to it and look on it as a chance for a new start, there would always be pain when you remembered that irreplaceable thing you lost. The thing my mind always goes to is one of those things that are of no value to anyone but me, to whom it is priceless. When I was eight I had to have my tonsils out; this was another attempt to “cure” my asthma, about which little was known compared with now. I woke  up soon after the operation to see two of the nuns from the convent standing by my bed. I don’t remember how I felt about this at the time but I do remember being completely unable to make a sound.

One of them, Sr Brigid, an old retired nun, gave me a small yellow envelope, the kind used to pay people before electronic transfers. I know I would have been unsurprised but not the slightest bit impressed with the contents. Inside it were a holy medal made from a cheap, light metal and a holy picture like a cloth postage stamp. On the outside of the envelope was written, “God bless my darling Rose”, in beautiful flowing handwriting.

I still have this envelope in the drawer next to my bed and it still contains the medal and holy picture. Sr Brigid would be long dead. Only now do I appreciate the time she and the other nun took to come to the hospital and visit me, but also this simple gift she put together and the words on the outside to a child who was one of many at the school and not particularly special.

If our home were about to engulfed by flames I think I would run past my mother’s pearls and engagement ring, fling open the drawer and snatch up that yellow envelope before I ran out the door.

Wherever Sr Brigid is now, I hope she knows how much her gift still means to me.

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