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I was there

8 August 2002

This article appeared in the 2002 newsletter.

Thursday 1:30pm. There across the vast expanse of people was a solemn face with tear-filled eyes. Occasionally a handkerchief would appear from nowhere dabbing at those tears; he was leaning against a pillar totally oblivious to those around him; his gaze riveted to what was taking place. This was a man with the rank of Shihan, a man who could defend himself, a man whose knowledge was to be respected.

"No flowers, give a donation to the Cancer Society" was the request. They lined up. One by one they gave quietly and quickly, then, with pens scribing, they signed their name on a remembrance sheet. The next task was to enter; enter into a place where only believers go. Today was different, today even the non-believers would enter.

It was as though one was being swallowed up. A feeling of awe struck like a bolt of lightning. How could one room be so large and overpowering yet at the same time very humbling in its style? Cold wooden pews, basic decoration, a few single chairs, an altar and, in all its glory, taking up space touching almost ceiling to floor, loomed a giant crucifix, the symbol of believers.

Sunlight streamed in through a window. It bounced off the highly-polished tabernacle forming a golden ball as the crowd started to swell. They poured in all hushed, the believers going down on one knee, the others just taking a place. As space disappeared, a sea of grey spilled out through the doors to the outside world; a world that went on with its own business, a world that had seen it all many times before.

Silence abounded. Then, as thunder precedes lighting, music resounded off the walls. As it emanated from an organ somewhere on high, it intruded into thoughts. Its Irish flavor creating a temporary distraction from what was about to unfold.

As quickly as it descended upon the multitude, the music ceased and just as quickly country and western songs replaced it. Now attuned to music, the sea of grey settled somewhat. Distracted by the rhythmic sounds, low whispers floated to the ceiling; a word caught here, a phrase grabbed there.

Alone, at times with many eyes upon it, stood the symbol of transition from existence to the next level of what one's belief allowed. Upon it wreaths of flowers and taking pride of place on the front rested a white judo jacket neatly folded. On this jacket was the belt that gave rank and with these, quietly taking its place, an Akubra hat. One glance and these three items told a story.

The sea of grey swelled as it rose to its feet. In a line they filed from behind and proceeded to the altar where they took their pre-arranged places. These were the keepers of secrets gleaned and mixed from rituals that began aeons ago, origins long since lost in the dimensions of time.

Ceremony now was the focus. The sea of grey rose and fell according to tradition, the believers doing this automatically, the rest just following. Words were spoken, sincerity flowed, emotions swayed, friends and family left their everlasting impressions; a life had been shared further and would exist longer now in the minds of those present.

"Thanks be to God" echoed in unison and all was quiet. Part of the sea of grey trickled from inside. Once out it formed an avenue of complete silence, its face solemn. This was an avenue of high rank, a final tribute of respect to one of its own; one they knew who would never return.

Then, resting upon shoulders, they carried that one of their own along that avenue and gently placed him in a vehicle as grey as those around it. It would take him to a final resting-place; a place where those still in this realm could be alone with his memory.

The sea of grey spilled out into the sun-drenched real world and gathered. The vehicle slowly glided out into reality and the sounds of living started to filter back into thoughts. All was done. Thursday 2:45pm.

James O'Malley had gone for his final grading and he alone would know of its outcome. He was a man of many experiences; he had lived through many things, good and bad. He had shared a lot with many and, according to witness, he was a man worth remembering.

Whatever James had experienced, whatever he had done and whatever had befallen him, one thing is for sure: he might very well say "I was there, do not forget me".

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