Letter that shows the true meaning of love
It was November 24, 1948 and the weather at Coolangatta was hot and fine and the surf calm as Bernie and his mate Mick stretched out on the beach and soaked up the sun.
It was barely three years since the end of the Second World War and returned servicemen like Bernie were beginning to resume their civilian lives and enjoy the peace for which they had fought.
Mick was giving Bernie a hard time on this day, Bernie having told him the previous evening that he planned to get engaged to a girl in Brisbane called Pauline.
"I told Mick that we were getting engaged and did he nag me. You have no idea what I had to put up with," Bernie wrote to his soon-to-be fiancé Pauline with his fountain pen in a neat, sloping hand.
They went on to get married, Bernie and Pauline, and remained together until his death in November, 2007, 59 years and four days since he lay on the sand at Coolangatta and told his mate Mick about his plans for the future.
The letter that Bernie wrote on that summer's day was discovered by my sister last week as she went through our late mother's effects.
They were my parents, Bernie and Pauline, and Mum had kept the letter, folded and creased, for all those years.
"Since saying goodnight on Friday, I have done nothing else but think of you and wish that you could be with me for I do miss you so very much, dear."
"I went to the dance last night but didn't have such a good time. I do not seem to get any enjoyment dancing with anyone else except you," Dad wrote.
I don't know if he knew that Mum had kept his letter. I suspect it was her secret, a love letter received as she prepared to announce to her parents her engagement to the tall, handsome boy from Paddington to whom she would soon be married at Saint Brigid's Catholic church at Red Hill.
Love must surely be one of society's most abused concepts. Everyone seeks love and approval. They seek it on social media where the embrace of the internet is as fleeting as it is fickle.
They fall in love with the idea of being in love and being loved but is there any real understanding of the compromise, understanding, humility, self-sacrifice and caring that is involved in this Holy Grail called love?
People fall into love an out of love and fracture relationships with little thought for the consequences.
Teenagers plunge into the depths of dark, despairing depression from which some do not surface while every day brings another tale of domestic violence which too often ends in brutal death.
Single-punch assaults which defy all reason and destroy the lives of all involved barely register a blip on the news cycle radar and "exclusive" road rage dashcam footage has become a nightly feature on six o'clock television bulletins.
Murder, too often, has become the hallmark of a "family disturbance" with police forced to resort to the use of deadly force with increasing frequency.
Against this backdrop I read and re-read my father's letter to my mother. It was simply worded and straight from the heart. What he was proposing and what they both envisioned was a lifetime together marked by mutual support, respect and affection and they achieved it in spite of all that life threw at them.
As we prepare to put the stress, trauma and political divisiveness of 2020 behind us and embark on a New Year, it is worthwhile to stop for a moment, look to those closest to us and extend to them the warmth and affection that my parents, Bernie and Pauline, managed to share until death did them part.
It would also do no harm to any of us to try harder to co-exist in a spirit of fraternity with those who fail to agree with our point of view for bitterness, in the end, consumes its host.
Love does not conquer all but genuine, caring, human affection and doing the right thing by our fellows has to beat hate-fuelled online diatribes, self-adoration and mindless zealotry any day.
We have, it is fair to say, become obsessed with the idea of self and as a pathway to loneliness, lack of fulfillment and emptiness it has few equals.
Bernie and Pauline were reunited last week as surrounded by my two siblings and our close family, I placed her ashes in Dad's grave.
They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives whose extraordinary gift to each other was love, pure and simple. You might try it.
Originally published as Letter that shows the true meaning of love