A fool with a feather

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The older I get and the more I can afford to be honest with myself, the more I find sometimes I have nothing to offer the world but my feather, accompanied by my broken heart and perhaps a few tears.

Following is the second story from Graham Long’s memoir. Graham is the CEO/Pastor of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, and his book is filled with stories both funny and shocking about life by the wayside, walking with the mentally ill, the homeless, the addicted.

This second story is called “The fun of frailty”.

The fun of frailty

Back in my days of social work when I was based in Berri, I remember the very first time I had to help a young woman sign the forms to give her baby up for adoption. I was terrified. I recognised the importance of the moment and I wanted to do the best I could, but I was paralysed with fear. I felt frail and I was frightened that I was not up to doing the job competently. I sat in the office and read and reread the forms to ensure I did not stuff up when I was with the young woman. I had a deep belief that no woman should ever feel like she ought to give her baby up for adoption. Who could ever ask a woman to do such a thing?

For a few years, I spent my high school holidays working as a telegram boy. In the area where I delivered, there were a number of what I was told were “lying-in homes”, places where unwed mothers saw out the end stages of their pregnancies. They delivered their babies and offered them up for adoption and then they returned to life “as normal”. Even though Robyn and I eventually adopted two children, I never thought that anyone should be expected to give up their baby for others to love.

I’ve never met the woman who gave us James, nor the woman who gave us Mandy, but I have loved them both for all these years and would have loved to have been able to show them what fine children they gave birth to and what fine adults these children became. I feel an extraordinary joy being the father of James and Mandy. I owe so much to people I’ve never met.

When I went to meet that young woman at the Berri hospital, I was in conflict. It was my job to listen and help a person think through the options … Mostly, I was worried I would look like a novice in a moment of such importance, one that would affect the lives of the people involved for the rest of time. Surely, I could instil no confidence in this person if I looked how I felt.

I delayed the visit for hours but eventually found myself at the hospital asking for directions to the young woman’s room. On entering the room, I tripped on something that sent the papers in my hands flying and I skidded in there on my face, coming to rest near a large window. I looked at the woman and she looked at me. We both looked at the papers strewn around the room and laughed.

It was the perfect beginning to a desperately sensitive interview.

I had lost all dignity in the fall, so the young woman felt comfortable to speak with me about how she had arrived at this place and what her hopes were for her future and the future of her baby. It was a good lesson.

There have been many times since when I have been thrust into situations I thought might be a bit beyond my skills or experience, and I’ve remembered this dear young woman who taught me to forget my concerns and simply do what needs to be done. Once I had lost the sense of my importance, which seemed so critical on my way to that hospital, a real meeting could take place.

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4 thoughts on “A fool with a feather

  1. A lot of babies weren’t so much ‘offered’ as brutally taken away. There was a lot of stigma attached in Australia in being an unmarried woman with a baby. A dreadful piece of history that lasted till the seventies.

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    • Dreadful indeed. The most charitable thing to say about it is that it was a radical failure of the imagination. To think that a woman would not be riven for the rest of her life by having her newborn child, the flesh of her flesh, taken from her forcibly and a tremendous burden of shame heaped upon her.

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