The day after tomorrow will be a big day for me. Every two years I return to visit family and friends in Australia. This is the third time I will be accompanied by a granddaughter and her family, to celebrate her tenth birthday. My first trip home, after an absence of seventeen years, was in 1981. Will this be, at age 80, thirty-six years later, my last ? The question augments the anticipation and excitement for what may be my final flight.
No, I am not afraid of flying. Have had a scare or three in my time, but my job as a trainer of managers in a multinational corporation took me to the U.S., countries all over Europe and some in Asia, so often, that even the long haul Down Under, twenty hours in the air, does not make me wonder whether my plane will crash but what latest movies it is offering.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. “Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure”. The clichés apply. I do wonder whether this trip will live up to my Great Expectations. Biennial family reunions imply encounter with the phenomenon of growing up – and growing older. Some of the younguns will now share the champagne, as we fête the arrival of newborn Arabella, the latest addition to the clan of which I have become patriarch-in-waiting (my brother-in-law is a nicely-preserved nonagenarian). All three of my brothers and one of my sisters, present at previous parousias, will not be attending this one. Equally absent from other gatherings will be schoolmates and confreres no longer available to share nourishment and nostalgia at our Sans Souci luncheons and Franciscan Chapters of Mat(e)s (exegesis on request). Catching up on news from survivors and the Faithful Remnant will involve surprises, pleasant and unpleasant. It will be no surprise for family and friends to discover that I have not improved since last time.
We look forward to events like these. Some others we dread. Anything, we say, could happen and probably will. I will be discovering places I’ve never seen before, like Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, and revisiting places I have known and loved since I was a Kid from Kogarah in the forties and fifties, like N.S.W.’s Blue Mountains and above all the ‘Arbour, the Quai, the Bridge, the ferries and Manly, seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.
For all sorts of reasons, this could be my last trip home (though I have a strong feeling it won’t). It is certain at least that I won’t need all the fingers on one of my hands to count the maximum. I am resigned to the fact of both the end of my career as a traveler – and as a pilgrim and stranger on this earth. When I first left Australia in 1964 to study Theology in Paris, I had no idea what the future would hold. I did know – surprise, surprise ! – that one day I would die. The difference now is that I now know that when I do, that will be it ! I no longer anticipate meeting Peter at the Pearly Gates. I will settle for meeting Arabella at Carss Park on Kogarah Bay.