Mending man

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On one of the first warm days of spring I took myself to the Fitzroy Pool — the place made familiar in Helen Garner's iconic book Monkey Grip. The sign for deep water, Aqua Profunda, is still there. The day had a blissful warmth and I swam beneath a stretch of blue sky. I was gliding along and lifting my arms with gentle effort in the unhurried pace of the slow lane.

Frayed fabricNext to the slow lane at the far edge of the pool was a bank of concrete benches where people lay reading or sunbathing or chatting. I could glimpse them as I turned my head to take a breath. I had a better view when I did lazy laps with the paddle board, my head lifted and arms outstretched for the length of the pool.

A young man was sitting upright on the lowest bench, his feet on the ground. A woman, I presumed his girlfriend, lay along the bench at his side with her head against his thigh: she lay very still reading a book. He was shirtless and she in her bathers. The man was holding an item of clothing; it looked like a lightweight woollen jumper in a soft grey.

The man held it in front of his chest with no apparent effort or impatience, away from the face of his reading girlfriend.  With quiet attention he pulled a needle and long thread through it over and over again, gently re-positioning it as he progressed.

I did lap after lap and still the man was sewing. His easeful concentration was beautiful to watch and the relaxed presence of his companion gave the scene a lovely calm — a sense of things aligning, while he was mending and she was reading.

I felt a love for this moment and for this mending man. The way he was paying attention to realigning or reconnecting the weave of threads that have been broken or frayed.

From my slow lapping lane, I watched the man with affection; his shoulder length strawberry blond hair, his darker red beard, his hair falling across his face as he leant forward slightly, to better see his work. I was fascinated by his quietude. My sewing is lumpy. I do not have skill or patience with needles and threads. The last time one of my mending efforts was worn people asked 'What happened to your jumper?' But I love to watch the patient work I cannot master.

 

"I love people who are alert to damage and move towards it, who see injury or distress and meet vulnerability instead of withdrawing."

 

I wondered at my gratitude for this moment — for people who will labour with love. Somehow by mending even such a small thing as an item of clothing, they are taking part in the mending of the world. I love people who are alert to damage and move towards it, who see injury or distress and meet vulnerability instead of withdrawing.

A poet friend, Padraig O'Tuama, a peace activist and theologian, leads the Corrymeela community in the north of Ireland. It is a place committed to healing the social, religious and political divisions that exist in Northern Ireland and beyond. Corrymeela is an ancient Irish word. Padraig says they understood it meant something like 'hill of harmony' but recently they've discovered it is more like 'the lumpy crossing place'.

The community are delighted at this new rendering, so much closer to the impediments of working toward understanding between people and groups with the ragged experience of fierce differences.

I think of the work of peacemaking, the courage of not turning away from injury and anger but coaxing frayed edge to meet frayed edge. If we had a Corrymeela here in Australia, I wonder who would gather ready to make the lumpy crossings of reconciliation.

When my half hour of slow lapping was almost done, I swam towards the Aqua Profunda sign. As I turned my head to take a breath, I glanced towards the mending man. He was leaning back against the concrete bench, his arms spread wide, soaking up the sun. The grey garment lay beside him, the job apparently complete. His girlfriend still propped her head on his leg while he rested with his eyes closed; for the moment he had finished his work.

 

 

Julie PerrinJulie Perrin is a Melbourne writer, oral storyteller and Associate Teacher at Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity.

Topic tags: Julie Perrin, Northern Ireland, peace, reconciliation

 

 

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Existing comments

I swim laps at an indoor pool and I'm probably missing out on a great deal by not being outdoors. It's not a fierce difference though as I do meet some interesting people, especially ones with whom I've shared a lane. And I can relate to your ineptitude with sewing. Fortunately I have a good friend who is very talented at sewing and I bask in her reflected glory. Thanks for this gentle word.
Pam | 02 November 2018


Lovely reflection Julie. I wholeheartedly agree re the mending of the world. Repair represents an attitude and state of mind that brings us back to the present and provides a mindful alternative to the violence of voracious linear 'growth' - consumerism, competition, etc. The current interest in 'visible mending' gives currency/kudos/value to TIME in another way all together - by honouring the wear/repair.` (I realise there's a load to think about in there regarding who has the luxury of time, but I find that mending repairs me). https://www.instagram.com/p/BlJ--fSBHTd/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BGEJ3uqyHEG/
Ilka White | 07 November 2018


A lovely visualisation of the relaxation found in slow swimming and the pleasure found in watching someone working with their hands.
Laura Donnelly | 07 November 2018


A lovely reminder of unhurriedness, not to miss these moments around us
Jenny | 07 November 2018


Thanks to Julie and to Eureka Street for publishing this beautiful piece. I've a vivid picture in my mind of the mending man and his silent call to us all to attend to the mending needs of our world.
Christine Carolan | 07 November 2018


Your story slowed me right down; how delightful to enjoy the slow lane, the slow sewing and the steady reading of your characters. And the slow work of peace making is much on my mind at the moment - so back to the darning. Thank you Julie
Christine | 07 November 2018


A beautiful calming reflection to remind me of what may be gained in the slow lane. Thank you Julie.
Monica | 07 November 2018


Thank you Julie for your writing which slowed me down and surprised me with the depth of meaning flowing from a small mending task. A beautiful weaving of ideas and words. Aqua Profunda indeed.
Ros | 08 November 2018


Nicely done: warm, insightful, real.
Paul Bateman | 08 November 2018


What a beautiful piece of writing! Thank you, Julie. I think you have offered us a new take on Jesus as the mending man. May his mother help me ponder this further.
Vivienne Goldstein | 08 November 2018


What a beautiful lyrical insightful piece of writing Julie. You brought the mending man and activities at the pool to life. Plenty to ponder
Annie | 08 November 2018


What a beautiful picture of the true surgeons of this world - those who mend and abhor business principles in their work - a bit like the great healer from Nazareth!
a silly old surgeon | 12 November 2018


Been thinking about this one since I read it a few days ago, as it got me thinking about the pace of life and busyness being seen as important, whereas to focus on people and relationships is to value the slower work of bringing things together.
WG | 13 November 2018


Gorgeous reflection, Julie. Perhaps I'll meet you in my U.Div. study next semester. Certainly I look forward to meeting Padraig - at the Pastoral Strength conference in Sydney in Feb.
Chris Ryan | 13 November 2018


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