Reflecting on Retro, name tags, nursing home ignominy and the hope of the end of ends
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.