Riding the Waves with Sheila & Andrew Calwell – Episode 12

We have finally come to the end of our ‘wave riding’ journey. A very big thanks to every person who has willingly shared their little ‘slice of lockdown life’ – you’ve been great. In fact, we’ve all been great and we can rightly celebrate coming to this point as Victorians and Australians. We are a hopeful people and each little story featured during this segment has increased that sense of hope.

We finish with a flourish with the inimitable Sheila and Andrew, two sparks of life and energy within our faith community. Learn about hot glue guns, dinosaurs up trees, teaching in Ugg Boots and ‘trakky dacks’, rail line spotting, rounding up stray chooks and slowing down enough to make significant life changes.

What was Wave 2 lockdown like for you both?

Andrew (A): I teach at Donvale Christian College and I actually quite enjoyed working from home and teaching in my Ugg Boots and ‘tracky dacks’! I didn’t have the commute or to teach as many classes. 

But it’s also been a bit of a reflection time for me in realising that there’s more to life and if I spent less time at work I could spend more time on hobbies, relationships, health and getting fit etc. 

It’s made me realise that life is a bit frantic and, on the basis of that, I’ve decided to go to 4 days teaching instead of 5 next year. So I’m really excited about that possibility.

I have been a little bit down: lethargic, a bit bored, just really wanted to get out and do other stuff. Like last September I was in Vietnam; this September I couldn’t go more than 5 kms. Travel has been a really important thing throughout my whole life.

But my mind also goes back to people suffering during war. Like the Second World War went on for 6 years and they didn’t know when it was going to finish or if they’d win or lose or have a relative that was going to be killed. They suffered a whole lot more. And refugees today, not knowing what the future will be, whether they’ll be accepted into Australia. So keeping a bit of perspective is important.

I think we were pretty lucky in the sense that we’ve kept our jobs and we like being in our house. We’re lucky in that we’ve got a backyard and each other (Sheila, Josh). Twenty five per cent of houses in Melbourne are single occupant. So there’s plenty of people who would have suffered a whole lot more than we have done.

We love living in the inner city, but we’ve missed being able to get away down to our place in Phillip Island. I think I’ve come to realise that the beach is a bit of a ‘soul’ place for me. 

Sheila (S):  I’m a part-time school administrator. The first lockdown was really difficult because we didn’t have the NBN. Andrew would be working from the living room and we’d have to be quiet around him – Josh would want to make a smoothie or something – and the timing would be all out. I found I could do without the internet on Mondays and work on some ideas etc then on Thursdays I would go to our other son David’s place. He has excellent Wi-Fi, so I’d go over there and work from home on a Thursday and on Fridays I’d occasionally go into work.

So I actually found that a little traumatic and upsetting because I couldn’t get on to my remote desktop. But eventually we got NBN and we were able to go off into different rooms and that mad a big difference. 

I don’t think I felt down as such. I don’t watch the news, I’d rather read a paper or listen to the radio. I remember talking to a woman in the supermarket about Ann Frank holed up for two years during the war and reflecting that this isn’t too bad. I know my government is looking after me and has my best interests and health at heart.

David (elder son) moved out and is very happy with his living arrangements. But he lost his job and that was really hard because he was worried he’d have to move back home. But we said we’d help him and he was very relieved. Josh (younger son) managed to stay socially connected through Zoom or fitness activities and socially distanced picnics with friends. 

A: He’s very sociable and he’s missed that aspect greatly. We’re lucky, he’s such great company. I’ve said to him a couple of times,“I’m glad I was in lockdown with you”. 

What has got you through?

A: We’ve got a group of really good friends and on Saturday nights we’ve been having a Zoom meeting with them. That’s been really good. 

S: I do find the multi-screens of Zoom a bit stressful to work within, though. Walks with girlfriends have helped me and I’ve actually reconnected with my old flatmate who I haven’t seen in 25 years. He’s got a disability now and lives by himself and is quite lonely. So it’s been a little bit of catching up from the past for me. And the conversations with my mother have deepened – she’s told me tales from when she was a little girl and the period just after the war, really interesting stories that I’ve never heard before.

What has brought you joy?

A: If we hadn’t AFL this year, it would have been really hard, I think. It’s really been great to be able to relax and watch the footy after a hard week. Exercise and riding my bike has been fantastic.

We’ve also got the above ground railway being built over Bell Street and Moreland Road and we quite regularly go down and check out the progress of that. 

Our home gives us a lot of joy. We’ve been here for thirty years now – we bought it on the day of our engagement party and slowly done it up. 

S: Random conversations with people I don’t know have brought me joy. For example, with a  woman handing over some soup to a young family who hadn’t had any sleep because of a nearby fire and the sounds of fire engines; a man whose house and garage were ablaze with bright colours; the Principal of Sydney Road Community School; knocking on the door of someone whose chicken had strayed down a laneway. Random conversations with all these people. 

Watching the garden come alive, spending time with Josh who has been home more often. Hard rubbish gives me joy, too, collecting and putting it out.

I’ve also been glueing a scene of dinosaurs chasing soft toys up a tree. I was out the front with my hot glue gun and a lady walked by and said “Thank you so much for doing that, it gives my daughter and me something to talk about.”

What have you learned?

A: A crisis is often a growth time and I kind of feel that I’m a happier and more content person than I was. I’ve reflected a lot about doing more of what makes me happy, rather doing than what I used to do or have to do. I’m very keen in the next little while to do more of the things that I want to do and to take a few risks and ‘have a go’ at things. I’m 60 and I’m sort of transitioning to retirement, I suppose.

S: For me, it’s the importance of being a good communicator. And we as a couple have to have really good communication as we go through this phase. 

I’ve learnt that I love my church even more and appreciate what people are doing. I’ve been mindful of our neighbours and friends and the need to be looking after myself as well. For me, church is about community and, as I haven’t been able to physically go to church, the people around me have been on my radar more. 

What have you been looking forward to most?

A: Relationships have come to mind a whole lot more. Putting time into relationships is probably not something I’ve been able to do as well in the past because I’ve been working so hard. So I’m looking forward to being able to do more in relationships – that’s the big thing for me.

Getting out, relaxing, BBQs, going to places we haven’t been to before.

S: Getting a haircut! I gave the dog a trim but I don’t think Andrew and Josh wanted me anywhere near them. Connecting with friends. 

Are there any changes you’d like to see remain as a result of all this?

S: People being more mindful of the way they’re using resources, especially in the ways we travel. I’d also like someone to ask Dan Andrews at a press conference, “So how are you doing Dan, how are you coping? You’ve been doing this for over a hundred days now, how are you going?” That would make a nice change.

A: I’m worried about the polarisation that is occurring in a lot of countries and even in communities in Melbourne. We’ve got to think about how we can actively come together as opposed to being so divided. I think there’s got to be a whole lot more grace and understanding. I’m trying to come to grips with aspects of that myself. 

(Andrew and Sheila have also shared the following poem, quote and a photograph that symbolises happy times past and travel aspirations for the future)

A Gathered Distance
In beauty’s refusal not to be—find a way to continue
To thrive, to flourish even, if you can,
                                  regardless, to set seed, even when hope
Has lost its flight feathers, and strangeness
Has swallowed the way your life ran, and your days
Have run off sideways and become a week
                                  of showers. Be a garden in a city,
And be all the love you’ve lost. From all the unpropitious
Pieces tending toward a self, cultivate a solitude, harvest half
A life and make it whole. Gather all your distances, and
                                            father all your orphan fears; hold them
Near, as a father might, his children scattered now,
If only he could. Husband all the futures up from out of all the pasts.
And make a garden
                        of every sorrow you never will
Outgrow. Plant every single thing you never really understood,
And watch it become a tree, and stand under it, and know why.
                                                                          – Mark Tredinnick

Peter McKinnon, 06/12/2020

Visit the Riding the Waves page for all the stories.