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Oh God, help us to remember them

Tuesday, 28 September 2021  | Karina Kreminski


Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. His call sounded less like a cry for help and more like a prayer. I walked over towards him slowly, watching, trying to understand what was happening. I have this uncanny ability to focus, stay calm and take the action that’s needed whenever I’m in crisis situations. It’s afterwards that I fall apart. He was bent over feeding the cats as usual but remained stuck, hunched over. Oh my God. He then slowly moved over to the bench and sat down. Oh God. Are you OK Bob?

My neighbour Bob is loved by everyone in our building. He knows our names. He knocks on our doors or calls at the intercom to tell us that we have a package waiting for us at the foyer downstairs. He feeds the local cats with a stubborn loyalty irrespective of their nonchalance. He warns us if there are any strange happenings in our building. It means we all have a relationship with him whether we like it or not.

When I first moved into my building, I encountered Bob in the lift and he frightened me. A large octogenarian with a protruding stomach, a deep voice and mildly incomprehensible Scottish accent, wild eyes that glared at me as though he was about to eat me up and a loud laugh that sounded, well, a bit mad.

But he grew on me. He grew on us.

Bob is hesitant to share much information about his life. I once asked if I could write a feature story about him since he knows a lot about my neighbourhood and has been around forever. He let out that mad laugh and said he would get into too much trouble if he shared about his life publicly. This only made me even more curious about him and frustrated that we might not get a chance to know about his life. My guess is that he doesn’t have a lot of time left with us. He is in and out of hospital and tells us frequently (sometimes in gory detail) about his stomach, bowel and heart issues.

When I saw him stuck, leaning over, either crying out to God or gasping in pain (maybe both), I wondered if he was religious. Why is it that, when in pain, sometimes even the staunchest atheist will choose to use an expression that attempts to communicate with God? Maybe it’s just part of the vernacular. Or maybe there’s more something to it. Are you OK Bob? He took a while to turn to me. I’m alright. He smiled. What can I do for you? Can you please feed my cats? I moved slowly towards the two cats who usually recoil from any sudden movement. They generally hate being approached by anyone other than Bob. I was half successful in feeding them.

Bob said he had been getting dizzy spells and blacking out recently. Sometimes, when I catch him at times like this, I wonder if it’s the last time I will see him. I’m already beginning to grieve his loss and what it will mean for our building.

I think about the many people in our community who are not famous, attractive, well-connected or ‘useful’ in our pragmatic, cold and calculating economy. They are a gift to us. They keep us from becoming curved inwards and plastic. They bring texture and challenge to our comfortable lives, and grace when we least expect it but often when we most need it. We need to remember them. Oh God. Oh God. Help us to remember them.


Karina Kreminski is co-founder of Neighbourhood Matters and the author of Urban Spirituality (2018). She is an ordained minister, has a doctorate in missional formation and was a Lecturer in Missional Studies at Morling College.


Photos courtesy of Karina Kreminski: Two of the cats that Bob feeds; mural in Surry Hills.


Cheryl Sullivsn
October 1, 2021, 12:13PM
Thanks Karina for this heartwarming piece. I experience the blessing every day living with our son Luke who is non-verbal but yet has such a great way of communicating with us! We have learnt to slow down and observe his non verbal cues, and especially to tap into his sense of fun and humour. Luke is such a blessing in our lives.

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