by Reid Matthias

The old man sat with his hands resting on the arch of his cane. His chin, embedded in the papery skin on the top of his right hand, was set firmly. It was obvious he was unhappy, and he had every reason to be.

Over three nights, the rains on the eastern shores of Queensland continued unabated until finally, Tallebudgera Creek couldn’t hold back its gorge and it vomited millions of litres of water over the banks and through the streets near the creek. As the water surged between and into houses, most people were forced to evacuate. Emergencies services drove (or boated) through water-swollen roads to reach the unhoused. But the question that resonated with everyone was: where were they going to go?

For Eddie*, an elderly man who lived with his daughter Evelyn*, finding a place to stay was particularly difficult. As they, and a small mass of humanity, were rescued from their home, they came to my school for short-term housing. It was here that I found Eddie sitting morosely in the middle of the hallway.

As a pastor, there are times when I am put (or insert myself) in situations which are completely unexpected. For me to be sitting with Eddie on a rain-soaked Monday afternoon was certainly unexpected and more. For my part, I did not do what a pastor was ‘supposed’ to do, but what a member of the human race is required to do.

I sat down with him.

Eddie was hard of hearing. To make matters worse, my accent was difficult for him. Thus, our interaction was a string of questions (by me) answered by a string of ‘Huhs?’ (by Eddie). For almost an hour, my first question was asked slowly and deliberately, and the refrain was asked even louder and more deliberately. Finally, I worked out the best way for me to hear Eddie’s story and why Evelyn was pacing further up the hallway.

‘It’s been a hard day’, I said.

‘You think?’

‘Have you seen this kind of flood before?’


‘Tell me about it.’ It sounds like an abrupt question, but sometimes one is able to read people well enough to know that if I asked Eddie if he wanted to talk about it, he would refuse.

For a while – I’m not sure how long – Eddie’s eyes wandered back to a previous place in a previous time. He jumped from topic to topic, from the last flood a few years ago, to his time on the farm. Acres and acres of wheat and sheep, reaping and shearing, harvest and drought. He spoke of his football-playing days, how fast he used to be. Throughout his description of ‘used to be’, it was quite apparent that much of his despondency was not about the flooded river, but the flooded emotions of being unable to do the things he wanted to do. At the end of his narrative he fell quiet, and I asked the question that is considered taboo, but I asked it anyway.

‘How old are you, Eddie?’

When he turned to me, I saw the drained tiredness in his eyes. ‘I’ll be 90 at the end of next month.’

‘How will you celebrate?’

He snorted. ‘I won’t. Basically, I’m ready for the injection.’

Startled, yet not surprised, I pressed him.

‘When you can’t do the things you used to do’, he responded, as he stared into the vacant space opposite him, ‘and you can’t enjoy life the way you want to – they won’t even let me drive a car anymore – and my daughter has to take care of me and take me to places, it’s time to hang up the boots.’

I wanted to object. I wanted to contradict this dark assessment of his life, but there was nothing I could say that would bring back the joy of ‘used to be’. His instinct for an injection was rational. Pain and loss can bring us to our knees and a desire to end their influence. And the thought of being placed in a nursing home, even short-term, was almost too painful for him.

‘I’m so sorry, Eddie.’

He grunted, but there was something about empathy that stirred him.

‘Maybe when the waters go down, we can drive over to your house and have a look.’

It was his turn to be startled. ‘You would take me to my house?’

‘Yes’, I answered. It was then, I saw an injection of something different in his life.


It wasn’t simply seeing the house, damaged or otherwise, it was that someone had taken the time to sit with him in the dark hallway of time and shine a light to expose a connected humanity.

I hope, as you read this, that this episode had very little to do with me, and more to do with a perspective of humankind which injects hope rather than selfishness. A humankind which seeks a joy for the communal rather than a protection of the individual. Even as we see the endless debates over masks and restrictions, wars and threats, anger and outrage, can we infuse the syringe of the future with hope rather than despair?

I hope we can.

Pastor Reid Matthias is Chaplain at St Andrews Lutheran College, Tallebudgera, Queensland.

* Names changed to protect privacy

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