“I have something to give” – Anzac Day 2016 Reflection

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How is it that a single bunch of flowers can come to mean so much?

Well, what does St John Ambulance and the Australian Defence Force have in common?

Every person who steps up with St John Ambulance Service and the Australian Defence Forces have decided ‘I have something to give’ and have chosen to live that out.

St John 'Best Probationer'I start this post with the ‘point’ of the story that has kept me in periodic tears this week beginning almost two decades before today. The journey starts from the day I made that decision for myself – that I had something to give. I joined St John Ambulance Service as a cadet and I gave it everything I had to give and as a young person I was definitely not used to having that recognised and had no idea they had presentations at the end of each year. The recognition still has pride of place in my home as the first recognition of not just skills and ability but also of attitude and motivation that I ever received. As a teenager who struggled with my place in society this could never have been better timed.

The next year came around and I commenced my transition to the Adult Division and learned many new skills. I was green and nervous. I looked around at the skilled people around me and felt out of my depth. Over time friendships developed as team members got to know me and a few key members took me under their wings as I faced the challenges that life threw at me. A husband and wife team, at that time, were the first of the Division to do so – Ray and Christine Penhall.

Ray Penhall

Ray Penhall in the back of Fleet 155. Image used with permission: Kevin Marsland

Ray was a current ambulance officer with SA Ambulance Service and remained a volunteer as well for many years after St John ceased providing ambulatory pre-hospital care. In the relinquishing of the F150’s our Division picked up a 4WD which gave us a unique first aid capability which saw us attend a wide variety of events. Whilst at events, Ray Penhall took the chance at a range of events to use the quiet time to build my skills and understanding, above and beyond my training requirements. He backed the practical skills he was teaching with the act of building my confidence with relevant underpinning knowledge so that what I was learning was relevant to me.

I am not sure Ray will ever know how much his investment of events means to me. It is an effort I will never forget. Over the duration of time, with Ray working shifts and Christine teaching first aid classes, I occasionally babysat their daughters also. This opportunity started opening doors of opportunity that came with establishing my confidence and my ability to take on responsibility.  These were the foundation that later led to my signing up with the Australian Defence Force, eventually posted to 3rd Field Ambulance, 9BASB (Warradale).

Fleet 155 and St Johns 950

Decommissioned Fleet 155 and the ‘troopie’ Blackwood 950 used at public events. Image used with permission: Phil Dunkley.

So, time passes and life changes and with this so has the scope of my volunteering. The ‘front line’ medical field has always been my natural zone and it was awesome when the Mt Barker St John Ambulance Division picked up on my corporate history in training and placed me in as the Training Officer from 2012-2013 which, in turn led to where I am today volunteering with SA Ambulance Service in the local Fleurieu Region. Nothing gives you better context for your own life than helping someone who is having a much worse day than you and it is nothing less than a privilege to be allowed to support a patient at a time when they need you most.

Putting my hand up and saying ‘I have something to give’ has transformed my life in ways that I never knew were possible.  I owe a debt of gratitude to every person who has shaped my learning on the journey.

As time has passed people from my days with St John have moved on, I know many who remained in the medical field – nurses, paramedics, doctors, including an intensivist.  Others are still in their mainstream careers and others, who started as cadets, found their career path as the years passed in all kinds of places and it feels like family even if we are out of touch for long periods of time.  It has been a blessing to keep touch and share the journey even in the darker moments.

The recent years have been full of darker moments, the nature of life is that we all age and it appears that I am of that age that even my peers are susceptible to the ravages of disease, including cancer.  It has been hard to bury colleagues and school friends, amongst others, in the last year.  But when it is someone younger than you…

Five years ago now, Jamie Larcome of Kangaroo Island, gave his life in the line of duty with the Australian Defence Force whilst deployed in Afghanistan.  Now I never knew 21-year-old Jamie at all.  From what I have heard about him though, there is no doubt in my mind we would have gotten along well.  What hit home for me was only a very small part that I too was a soldier but it was more to do with his partner at that time – Rhi.  Rhi probably also wouldn’t remember me and, if she did, it would likely be a vague recollection.  You see, Rhi is the daughter of Ray and Christine Penhall, one of the children I babysat when they were quite young.  It hits home when the life lost is so young and also brings loss to other young people that you have seen grow up.  There is a special kind of pain when this happens in your life.

Flowers laid at Morphett Vale.

Flowers laid at Morphett Vale.

On Monday, this year’s Anzac Day, there was a further closing of the loop.  St John Ambulance cadets faced the loss of one of their peers this last week.  A single bunch of flowers was laid by the cadets of Blackwood and Noarlunga Divisions in remembrance, on behalf of and in tribute to this cadet.  The cadets did this separately after the Anzac Day Service with grief at the loss of their teenaged peer evident.  To lose someone so young is a tragedy and it brought me to tears knowing that another part of the St John’s family is gone.  The thought brings tears on demand even now as I think about my time as a cadet and all those who trained with me.

See, for this cadet, alike Jamie, the time had come where they are no longer called to be on this Earth to say ‘I have something to give’.  They just gave until their last day.  It is sad, it brings tears to my eyes on demand as there is a natural affinity to both these people through the life I have lived.  The take away message, the explanation as to how a bunch of flowers could come to mean so much?

A single bunch of flowers serve as a reminder, every day, to keep saying ‘I have something to give’ because that is how to make a difference, to know when others lay flowers for you one day that it is because you chose to leave a legacy.

My thoughts and prayers got out to the friends, family and community left behind in this time of grief, just as they do with Rhi every time I spend time with my RSL comrades.  These flowers, I believe, have added another dimension to my life – in gratitude for each day and to each person I am allowed to share that day’s journey with.

My parting thought:

What legacy could you choose to leave?


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