Memories of Redfern

The death of an Aboriginal man, Ocky, at the back of the Church.

Ocky’s Camp: the dim back corner of the Church. A little row of medicine bottles for his chest complaint, a little carrier bag, a few papers, the plate of his last meal, and some tattered blankets on the floor. Beside his head, a pair of thick-lensed glasses.

Kneeling beside the stiffened shell of him lying, as if asleep,

poor and humble on the straw matting as his only bed,

I thought I was present at the birth of Christ

The deathbed of the poor is always the Stable of Bethlehem,

that stable contained within itself

all places that are symbols of rejection,

places where the poor are born and live and die

because there is no room for them amongst the well-to-do.

As I knelt and looked at him, something happened in my mind

as though a golden disk was spinning before my eyes,

one side engraved with the death of Ocky,

the other side with the birth of Christ.

Two sides of the one reality; I couldn’t tell if I were present at a birth or at a death.

While Ted and Christine tried to contact relatives,

we lifted him and laid him on his back, out of respect.

David took his shoulders, I his ankles

and my heart cracked as I felt him, light and brittle

like a dry gum branch, like an abandoned cicada shell ­

and suddenly I knew for certain that the spirit does not die

and I knew my certainty was Ocky’s gift in death to me.

But was I kneeling beside the dead shell of Ocky on the floor,

or beside the new-born Liberator on the straw at Bethlehem?

The coldness and the stiffness and the smell of death were there

a man in his final helplessness….

but how come my mind went not to the Crucifixion or Entombment

but to the birth of Christ?

There was something new there, something fresh and full of goodness,

not just the body of an old man dead.

I am convinced beyond all argument

that when a poor man dies, Christ’s birth is celebrated anew;

the Poor One, rejected from the shelter available to the rich

the Poor One, whose birthplace was a dim corner on the straw,

the Poor One, without power or possessions.

Beloved of God but despised by the rich.

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