Turning Eighty – Parties and Questions and Insights

Turning Eighty – Parties and Questions and Insights


stan_pic2It appears to me that Drag Queens (men dressed up as women to perform dance shows) are very hard of hearing.  I assume they hear by feeling the vibrations of music and beat through their surrounds – wood and concrete.  I have reached this conclusion through staying five nights in the ZEST hotel in Legian, Bali. Our room is directly opposite the Sendak Emas restaurant where Drag Queens perform a nightly show. In Bali there is music everywhere but it is only the music of the Drag Queens that makes our room tremble.

We (my wife Pauline and I) are in Bali as part of the celebrations for my 80th birthday. This is the home of our daughter in law Effie, her son and our grandson Logan and her family. Over the last 9 years we have visited Bali 5 times to be with Walker our son, and his wife and our grandson, Logan. Just a month ago Walker moved to Brisbane to set up home permanently, where we will shortly visit him and Pauline’s mother Eileen and her family.

Bali stays the same As always Aussie accents are to be heard everywhere. I think it must  be one of the smoking epicenters of the world. I suspect that many who don’t smoke at home come here for low-cost puffs.  The passing parade is mostly young people but quite a few middle-aged or in early retirement. Singlets with wide armholes and a Bintang (beer) in one hand and a cig in the other is cool dressing for middle-aged and older men in Bali.  However, but there are changes in Bali. Two things have changed.  One, tattoos used to be an occasional, optional extra. This year for young and old tattoos are IN. There are four tattoo parlors within 30 metres of our hotel. Two,  on the beach young female bottoms are OUT, and on display.

I chose a Legian beachside restaurant for my birthday meal. But I chose it at 3 in the afternoon when the traffic was light. When it came to reaching the destination for a 7pm start , traffic was jammed. After not moving for ten minutes Pauline went ahead on the back of a motorbike. I decided to walk the last kilometre or so carrying my birthday cake. As I did this, the motor scooter boys, the shop owners and the massage girls serenaded me with ‘Happy Birthday’. At first it was embarrassing, but then I enjoyed it and thanked them all for their best wishes.

The party with my Indonesian family went well. Not having a common language posed some difficulties. However, smiles, good food and the relaxed beach atmosphere saved the day. It was an occasion to remember.

A few days earlier I had my Melbourne party. This occasion also had its’ own communication difficulties. My Melbourne family is in two parts. One, the Baptist church-attending side and the other fair-dinkum Aussie secularists. The two sides never meet. I chose a bush venue for my birthday meal. It was called a Tavern. The name Tavern unsettled the church-going side of the family. I think they imagined the occasion would turn into a booze-up.  However, after some persuasion they reluctantly came. In fact it worked beautifully. There was an atmosphere of friendly mixing; no mean feat when you consider they had not been together for years, and a few had not met before. For me this was the best present of the day. I hope there will be more gatherings of this kind.

The first party in this cycle of 8Oth celebrations was in fact in St Heliers, days before my birthday. At the top of Glover Park where ocean and islands stretch before us, at 7am on a cold and blustery Wednesday morning forty people waited to surround me with birthday greetings. I was totally tricked into being there by two young friends William and Anthony who persuaded me I would see a soccer game. I sensed something was wrong when the field was empty and people started walking past our car carrying McDonalds containers. I always supply MacDonalds for these 7 am birthday breakfasts. A curtain of rain chased us from the hilltop to Betty and Con’s garage where gorgeous music awaited. We hugged and danced till school time (8.20am). Oh what a morning!

As happens on beach holidays in warm climates we have watched more TV than usual. One lightweight movie was about three retired old friends who decided to rob a bank. Early in the planning they weighed up the possible consequences on their action. In this context one of them posed this question. “How much longer do you think you have to live?” The idea being, “Let’s do something significant (even though totally against the law) rather than just whimper away. “

The question has power. I had never thought about it until I heard it in the film.

Most of my life I have somehow imagined I was still sixteen. These days my body is making such imaginings implausible. I never think about my ending. I am too busy thinking about the next thing. I wonder is this immature or even irresponsible?

I do think about other endings. Along with all protestant ministers I wonder what is happening to the church. My friend in the Uniting Church of Australia (our tradition) is gloomy about the future of that church. This month they will close the church his family established with such energy and generosity. And what about the world? It is easy to think that the end is nigh – or just around the corner.

What then for the future, and in particular, my future? On a basic maintenance level, I know I must give more attention to my health. But what about my inner health – my spirit.  Children, babies and young adults are a special source of energy to me. I can’t imagine life without them. And then there is our Church and Community Centre?. We can’t fix the world or the declining church but here is a contribution of value and we are all part of it. In a universe where everything is connected, the work we do in our small corner really counts.

On my holiday I have read, an interesting, informative, inspirational and in parts, weird book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the death and dying lady. For most of her professional life she studied death and dying and in this book, ‘The Wheel of Life’ (Bantam Press 1997) she focuses on the end of life.  As I force myself to think of ‘how long I have left’ I can do nothing better here than to share some lines from this book.

Here is her theme. ‘You should live until you die’. What does she mean by this? “There is within each of us a potential for goodness beyond our imagining; for giving which seeks no reward; for listening without judgment; for loving unconditionally. My wish is that you try to give people more love.’  The only thing that lives forever is love. Live life honestly and fully. LIVE. ”

In my mind, we reaffirm these values in our church every Sunday when we light the Christ Candle. The child says, ‘We light the Christ Candle’ and everyone responds ‘Christ is the Light of the world’. Or what about our little theme song, “Love is the key to everything we do, Jesus is the source of it all”?

For me, wherever that light of love is found Christ is there. Being a vehicle for this love is our high calling, which I confess we often don’t achieve. Nonetheless, for me at 80 it is my goal from here to eternity. Join me!


Stan Stewart

Bali September 22, 2017


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