“I don’t set much store by signs and wonders, but ….”

November 12th, 2017 in Life. Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Aussie novelist Tim Winton is without doubt my favourite writer. I especially love That Eye the Sky, a novel of a family that is put under pressure by a serious car accident, and finds relief in unexpected places. It has been made into a film and two stage plays.

And it turns out that so much of the storyline is taken from real events when Tim was just a boy, something that was maybe miraculous, and which made a deep impression on him and his whole family

The boy behind the curtain

Last year Tim released The boy behind the curtain, a memoir of autobiographical essays. Perhaps the most memorable essay is Havoc: a life in accidents, which begins with Tim describing a childhood event when his father and he, returning home from a day fishing, came across a motor cycle accident. Tim watches as his dad, an off-duty cop, deals with it all with quiet efficiency.

But the story means more than a chance opportunity to assist someone suffering, because it brings back painful memories as Tim remembers a short time earlier when it was his dad, who he once thought invincible, was the one laid low by a motor cycle accident.

“How fragile we are”

Tim’s dad was a motor cycle cop, too familiar with attending road accidents, facing blood carnage and death, and having to break the terrible news to relatives. Tim recalls those evenings when he’d attended a fatal accident:

when he came in his mood was strangely subdued. Then the talk between the adults was hushed and the smells were different. Dad’s tunic would stink of Dettol and petrol. Sometimes there was no chat at all just a hug that went on too long. On rare occasions there was muffled weeping behind closed doors.

But then came the day when it was his dad who was almost killed, hit by a drunk driver running a red light and left with severe injuries – crushed chest, shoulder and hip, concussion, broken ribs, collapsed lungs – and close to death. An emergency tracheotomy was performed as he lay in the street.

It was doubtful if he would recover, and Tim’s mum, looking after three pre-school children, had to face the possibility of life with an invalid as a husband instead of a breadwinner. Tim, as the oldest of the three kids, had to suddenly mature and support his mum.

When I think of that long, hard summer I remember the wordless heaviness in the house, the fog of dread we were all trapped in. My brother and sister were too young to understand what was happening. In a sense it was just mum and me …

How do you care for a big disabled cop?

Eventually they brought him home, “a broken man, an effigy really”. There was little hope. “My father’s life had been spared and we were glad, but we were no longer the safe, confident people we’d been before.”

His dad lived in bed. He’d lost a lot of weight but he was still too heavy for Tim’s mum to lift, so she had to wash him in bed.

“Stand in front of you, take the force of the blow”

One day, an unknown man turned up, uninvited and unexpected, and offered to bathe Tim’s dad. His mum was wary, but desperate. Tim was suspicious and watchful.

For weeks the man returned regularly, undressed his dad, carried him to the bathroom, washed him and talked with him. The men quietly got to know each other, the oppression in the house lifted a little, and Tim began to learn that, while strangers “could wreck your life and do you harm they were also capable of mysterious kindness.”

After a month or so, Tim’s father began to improve, despite his awful injuries. “His recovery was faster and more complete than anyone had expected.”

It was only years later ….

…. that Tim learnt more about what had occurred. One day, his dad’s helper brought a bottle of olive oil with him.

He anointed the old man with it in the manner of ancient Christian tradition, and ‘laid hands on him’, as the saying goes, praying that Dad might be healed. Neither of my parents was ever keen to talk about this ritual, and they certainly made no special claims for its efficacy, but after the old man’s recovery they became devout and lifelong Christians.

His dad was able to stay in the police force against all expectations, even though his body carried aches and weaknesses from then on.

“it had a profound effect on my own trajectory”

Tim says “I witnessed Dad’s swift restoration and renewal and was grateful for it“. He says he has thought a lot about this recovery. How his dad, long used to having a jaundiced view of his fellow humans because of his work, learnt to see the good side of humanity as well. How this one stranger’s actions brought hope and healing to a household on the edge.

Tim concludes:

I don’t know. I don’t set much store by signs and wonders, but I try to keep an open mind.

Tim Winton, from his Facebook page


  1. This is an atheist-friendly blog. Atheist-friendly Christians never say anything that gets so-called atheists and agnostics mad. Furthermore, they say a lot of things that are irrational, which helps justify not believing in God.

    It is a scientific fact that human beings did not evolve from animals because human beings have free will. This scientific fact infuriates most American biologists. When asked about free will, American biologists say something irrational (free will is an illusion) or dishonest (free will is an emergent property of the brain). But an atheist-friendly person will never say these biologists are irrational and dishonest. What they say is that these biologists have a “materialistic worldview.” They then make the absurd statement God infuses human beings with some kind of spiritual substance they mistakenly call the “soul.”

    The other way atheist-friendly Christians cater to American scientists is by promoting the god-of-the-gaps arguments for God’s existence (Big Bang, fine-tuning of physical constants, origin of life, and evolution). These arguments make no sense, and atheists/agnostics see this intuitively. However, atheists/agnostics are troubled by these arguments and don’t like to admit that there is no explanation for the origin of life and the descent with modification of bacteria into whales in a period of a hundred million decades. I’m using decades instead of years because it takes two decades for a fertilized human egg to produce all of the cells in a human body. Atheist-friendly Christians never force American biologists to admit this because it upsets them.

    American biologists always say in peer-reviewed articles and biology textbooks that natural selection, epigenetics, natural genetic engineering, and facilitated variation only explains the adaptation of species to the environment, not common descent.

    This brings us to the absurd article published in the American Journal of Physics about thermodynamics and evolution. The complexity of life can be quantified by looking at the primary structure of hemoglobin, which is chain of 600 amino acids, of which there are 20. Sickle-cell anemia is caused by one amino acid in one place being the wrong one. The probability of getting a protein by the random selection of amino acids is very small given the time over which common decent occurred (there are only 26 zeros in 100 million decades measure in nanoseconds).

    The zeroth law of thermodynamics is that you measure temperature with a thermometer. The first law is the definition of a calorie. The second law says that a gas will fill up the entire container it is in. The third law is that 273 degrees below zero in Celsius is as cold as it gets. The second law is true because that is the most probable distribution of molecules. Some people think, quite stupidly, that the existence of proteins violates the second law of thermodynamics. The American Journal of Physics published an article about this with an absurd calculation proving that the second law was not violated. If American Christian scientists were more interested in preaching the gospel than in being atheist-friendly, they would make the American Journal of Physics retract the article.

  2. David, I have left this comment here, but it really is totally off-topic and repeating what you have said previously. You wrote it so fast after I posted I doubt you read my post, and I’m guessing you cut and pasted it.

    Can I encourage you, please, to read my Comment policy which includes this:

    Complimentary and critical comments are equally welcome on this site, as long as they promote friendly conversation. But insulting, rude, aggressive, aggravating, repetitive, silly or irrelevant, off-topic or spam comments may be deleted.


  3. Does Winton ever explain who the stranger was? I would love to hear how that person got the idea to knock on a stranger’s door and volunteer to bathe the man of the house.

    Thanks for posting this!

  4. He doesn’t say much in this essay, but I have read elsewhere that he was from a local church, I think a Baptist church and I think he was an elder there. I don’t think Winton has said how he knew, but I guess there was more community in those days and word got around.

    In the novel, That Eye the Sky, the stranger is stranger, mysterious and two-edged, and events unfold very differently, but the overall result is sort of the same.

  5. A touching story. A miracle so to speak over a period of time! Through kindness and love. It would be interesting to know what initially made the stranger visit and help Winton. I Guess we would never know.

    Thanks for sharing this story !

  6. That was one of the strangest stories of personal healing I have ever read, but very interesting nonetheless. Perhaps I should get the book.

    It is a scientific fact that human beings did not evolve from animals because human beings have free will.

    Of course not, if God wills it that humans evolve from animals and develop free will, then that is the end of the matter and it shall happen thusly. Do not restrict God’s almight from the outset out of personal inferences and fancy.

  7. The book is a pleasure to read, though maybe that is because I am such a fan and have read almost all his fiction.

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