Miscellaneous thoughts after a holiday in Europe…

Posted by on Nov 27, 2015 in Blog | 7 comments

All good things do indeed come to an end, and I am now back at work after four weeks of holiday, most of them spent on a river cruise through 5 countries in Europe. Lest you think that is the lifestyle to which I am accustomed, think again, but it was wonderful to be in a make believe kind of world for a while. Here are a few miscellaneous thoughts that came to me in the course of the trip.

  1. Seasons are real. In the first instance, that’s a statement about geography. Our trip took place during a Northern Hemisphere Autumn, in countries significantly further North than Australia is South. It leads to seasons which are far more sharply defined. You are sort of aware of the changing of the seasons in Australia – but let’s face it, in Perth we never really have a winter, or not in the sense that Germany and Austria do. I realised why so many of my Northern Hemisphere friends who live in Australia say that the thing they miss most is the distinct change of each season. Certainly on our time away I enjoyed autumn in a way that I never have before. The colours were stunning. The opening few days of our holiday I took as many photographs of leaves as I did of historic buildings. Both were incredibly beautiful, albeit in different ways.
  2. Seasons are real in another kind of way as well. Though our trip was occasioned by a desire to celebrate Rosemary’s 60th birthday and our 35th wedding anniversary, we were amongst the younger members on the cruise. Many were retirees, a fair number recent retirees who were marking this life transition with a river cruise. A few were very positive about their new life stage, but many were, at best, ambivalent. For some it had been forced upon them – a couple by retrenchment at work (I listened to two stories told with significant bitterness), for others, by ill health. I actually felt a little concerned for one – he was on the fourth of four cruises he and his wife had embarked upon to mark their freedom from a salaried post, and he was clearly hating every moment of it. Everything about his demeanour screamed, ‘who am I now that I am no longer required to wake up for any obvious reason.’ It was sobering to observe, and made me realise that being ready for retirement requires far more than simply ticking a few boxes about financial viability. It wasn’t just the season of retirement. For some the trip was about coming to terms with a loss. We befriended a trio where the woman was on the trip to help her reorientate herself after months of nursing her recently deceased husband. Her brother and sister in law were supporting her on the trip, and spun a suitable protective cocoon around her. Loss is another of life’s seasons, and some like her are fortunate to have caring family. A few others were taking this trip now because a few months later might be too late. I chatted to one elderly man who moved with the greatest of difficulty. He said to me wistfully, ‘I really should have taken this trip 6 months ago. I was so much more mobile then.’
  3. My third reflection is that it is dangerous to let your world become too small. You really are pampered on a river cruise. No, I no longer find a chocolate on my pillow before going to bed each night. Nor do I have to decide between 87 breakfast options (or why decide… why not just have 5, 6, or even 15 of them), and no one is rushing to open doors ahead of me. You would think that in such a paradise there would be nothing but contentment and harmony. Think again. The more pampered people are, the more demanding they become. The world very quickly becomes very small. I was stunned at the incredible temper tantrum one passenger threw simply because a meal was not 100% to his liking. The waiter went out of his way to try and meet the passengers request. He would have none of this, and after a very ferocious verbal attack, stormed off to his cabin. I had actually ordered the same meal. Don’t know what the problem with his meal was. Mine was delicious. If you are spoilt for too long, you are at risk of becoming genuinely spoilt…
  4. It is a new world as far as relationships go. There was one obviously gay and one obviously lesbian couple on the cruise. Both fitted in seamlessly. Several couples were not married – or even in a serious relationship. I had to muddle my way through some conversations where I had naively made false assumptions about the status of the relationship. So in one conversation where a couple had told me about their respective children, I asked if the children got along with each other, to have the woman laugh and reply, ‘Good heavens no. They’ve never met. This is just a fling. Neither of us is ready for anything more than that.’
  5. Human kindness is never far from the surface. Somehow an unaccompanied 87 year old in poor health had landed up on the trip. In a wheel chair, and obviously frail, it would have been easy for her to have been tucked away in her cabin and quietly forgotten about. That never happened. People rallied around her. She got to see everything, and people looked out for her and cared for her in a way that showed that underneath sometimes fairly hard exteriors, most people are genuinely kind.
  6. Random thought 6: Drunk people are a tad irritating. There is a definite downside to having an endless supply of free alcohol – some people make full use of it. No, I don’t want to sound prissy or lapse into legalism, but I do think that we have a growing health problem here. And yes, it is annoying to be one of the few sober people on a bus where everyone is roaring with laughter at comments that are not even vaguely funny. That’s my only real gripe about the trip, and I soon learnt to be more careful about my choice of bus.
  7. I need to think more about Roman Catholicism. This might seem a strange comment, and I certainly hope it is not offensive to my Roman Catholic friends. We visited many, many churches on the trip. Most were marvellous, and the vast majority were Roman Catholic. My previous blog post talks about them. I realised that my theological education has emphasised some key differences between Protestant (and especially evangelical) and Roman Catholic theology. And no, I am not likely to be changing my theological position anytime soon. But on this trip I sensed something of the spiritual mantle placed upon the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of the day, this is the version of the Christian faith that 1.25 billion people subscribe to. And so much of it is good… and dare I say it… so much of it can teach evangelicals like myself, so much. Simply spending some quiet moments in a raft of Roman Catholic church buildings reminded me of the depth of God’s love and the significance of Christ’s passion in a way that dozens of sermons on the cross have not done. There is just a much better sense that you have entered a sacred space and should expect to encounter God in it.
  8. Having what you hope won’t happen, happen, is not that bad. Before we left we were told that the water level in the river was low, and that could mean that we would have to change boats along the way. Given that part of the appeal of river cruising is that you only unpack once and your room moves along with you as you explore different sites, we fervently hoped that this would not happen on our trip. But it did… twice. Overall, we were on three boats. Actually, it was fine… made very little difference. Sometimes the things you worry about turn out to be of very little consequence.
  9. Final reflection. I am really not ready to retire. I loved the trip – absolutely fabulous, a real high. But I am genuinely glad to be back at work. It was good to get away – but wonderful to know that there was something to come back to. Thank you for, in whatever way, being part of the community to which I have returned.

Uncharacteristically for me, let me finish with a joke I was told on day one back at work. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Before you criticise anyone, you must walk a mile in their shoes. That way you will be a mile away from them when you do, and you will own their shoes…

I guess I am still in holiday mode.

Good to be back, and as always, nice chatting…

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your stories and theological thoughts on your time away .. refreshing and thought provoking. It is good too that you marked some life milestones together in such a memorable way.

  2. Home safe and sound…….Glad you had en enjoyable and eventful holiday…..take care.

  3. I agree with your thoughts on Roman Catholicism. I just spent two days on a personal retreat at New Norcia Benedictine Monastery. Roman Catholics are also God’s children and, therefore, they are our brothers and sisters.

  4. Memories built forever, so good to have followed the experience with you! Xxx

  5. Thanks for all the kind comments and good wishes. It was good to be away, and it is good to be back.

  6. Love your thoughts about Roman Catholic’s. The Roman Catholic contribution to the arts is extraordinary and I suspect will never be repeated again in history. Did you know they developed live “surround sound ” choirs about 400 yrs ago so people would experience God as they came to church? Or that Pluratach’s music has a build up and bass drop just like trap music? Or that they got bored of sermons and turned them into massive orchestral events? It’s amazing stuff… Good to have you back.

    • Thanks Justin. Can’t say I did know about the surround sound choirs… But we did go to concert of opera arias in one and the acoustics were amazing.

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