Earlier this year I attended a weekend camp where the students I teach had been wearing retro. Their retro is fashion of my youth. They look like the characters in Friends. Mules,
floral prints, printed t-shirts and 501’s are back. Perhaps not evidence for the circle of life
but a reminder to me that I am dated by the circle of fashion. I was wearing my own piece
of retro a beautiful old 1960’s scarf – the right red with a touch of green which somehow
avoids descending into the worst of Christmas. What my students do not see is the name tag
caught in the corner of my scarf where it will not show. I see the name on it in my mind’s
eye, as I feel its scratch - “Edith Jones”. The moment draws me back to reflect on a life time
in retro. I am transported back to the black men’s jacket with the most amazing vermillion
lining I once owned. I bought it in the grungy yet vibrant back streets of St Peter’s. I wore it
to university in the 90’s, with the cuffs rolled up like Jennifer Aniston, and my carefully
chosen second hand 501’s. It too had such a name tag.
I had judged that name tag to be the sad ordering of grownups who were bored and
mundane. Today I know far better. It is the note of a great reversal in the line of life. The
reversal moment when the child begins naming their parents clothing. School yard tags are
a parent’s protection against the forgetfulness of children wearing the safe sameness of
uniforms. Whilst, my red scarf’s tag is protection in reverse. It is the work of an adult child
to protect parents from the ignominy of nursing home sameness. My red scarf was a last
bastion of uniqueness, a sign of its owner’s creativity as an image bearer of God. A child’s
protection for their parent against commercial size washers and dryers where not only socks
but personhood can be lost.
The young women I spend my days with as a school Chaplain re-wear my fashion as the
debates of my youth continue – abortion, euthanasia. I sit and gently help, with Socratic
method, their debates concerning the beginning and ends of life. There is, as there has
always been, strong voices on each side. I am thankful for them. Yet these days my life time
in retro helps me notice the bravery of those who sit on the sideline. Who say in not so
many words; “I am not sure. This is too complex to be too sure too quickly.” They invite the
strong voices to a deeper sort of bravery. The bravery to stay sure whilst having soft edges
rounded with complexity. It is these students who teach me the most, because as they fight
for their individuality in their matching uniforms lovingly tagged by their parents, they
somehow intuitively know they must leave space for a day they might be sewing name tags.
And so, I am back to name tags. “Edith Jones” lies printed before me. My sure belief shaped
by Christian hope is that life, unlike fashion, is not a circle. I am one of the strong voices in
life who speaks with surety about beginning and ends. My surety brings the costly freedom
that some things belong to God alone. You see my surety is that beginnings and ends are
the domain of the Alpha and Omega. God’s work. The Alpha and Omega, who being the best
of Christmas, is the God who comes as one who wears a name tag. Jesus final name tag was
not written on a scarf, nor a hospital tag but ahead a cross. His grave unnamed and
replaced instead with his name on the lips of women who believed him raised. His offer to
other name tag wearers is the knowledge of the eternal value of their personhood and the
promise of the end of ends.
“Edith Jones” scratches the back of my neck. I will visit my grandfather tomorrow who has
not left his bed for months. I will hold his hand as he wearies on in death, knowing that my
surety requires that one day I might be call to do as he does. Be a living witness through
bed sores, bed baths, loss of memory, pain and loneliness that the Alpha and Omega
remains his rock. His slow end has not dimmed his surety that he is not nor will ever be
abandoned by his creator and his final end will be an eternity of love. I will hold his hand
and know it is both his comfort and my promise to follow in his footsteps. Our sewing of
name tags demands debates of soft edges rounded with complexity that make my
grandfather and Edith, whatever her beliefs about ends, as valued in our debates as they
were in the hands of those who sew name tags.
In Honour of Herbert Crombie Stoddart – who entered the end of ends on December 3, 2018
– and the original owner of the red scarf whose name has been changed to honour her and
the one who sewed her name tag.
Rev Jenni Stoddart is the Chaplain at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican school for girls. She is an Anglican Deacon who has worked in Sydney Parish's for 20 years focussed on youth, children and families. She loves preaching Gods word whether the hearer is 5, 15, 25 or 75 and even more when the generations are all in together.