Jim Stynes

I can’t really remember much of Four Weddings and a Funeral, other than Hugh Grant playing to the bumbler in all of us, but especially in the feckless blokes among us. I remember enjoying the movie, in the way that you enjoy happy-sad things. I also remember the poem it featured: “Stop all the clocks”. W. H. Auden.

My shiraz-addled grey matter is not good at remembering large chunks of verse, save Paul Simon songs and the backlines of Geelong premiership sides. But I recall that poem was just right for that film. There’s a copy of it somewhere on my shelf, or at the click of my mouse.

The grief, the despair, and the hollowness that arrives with the death of someone you love (or anyone, if you have been blessed and burdened with a human heart) is captured in the final stanza:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

“Pour away the ocean.” What a line of enormity and emptiness. I understand that feeling. I suspect I’ve known it. If I haven’t, my sympathies go out to those who have.

Yet, despite its chilling reality, I can’t have that last line. Or at least I can’t dwell on it.

In recent times I have observed four funerals. Of fine people. People whose example tells you there is some good in it all, and that some things are worth the striving.

And I also went to a wedding.

##

It is a beautiful late-March morning. Autumn cool. Perfect blue sky.

Every radio station, every TV channel, every paper, every news website is running with the story of the day:  it is the funeral of Jim Stynes. The story has gathered such momentum that nothing will hold back the stampede of the herd. The story has become the story and media outlets feel they have to do something with it, else they miss out. Every media operator, whether engaged by it or not, whether cognisant of its meaning or not, is trying to find an angle.

I am half-expecting a countdown clock in the top left-hand corner of breakfast TV screen. 3:16 (and counting) until the first chord is played on the pipe organ.

The saturation coverage of the funeral is understandable because, in the life of the Melbourne community, and the Victorian community, it is the story of the day. But it’s the essence of the story that is the story.

What is that essence? What has Jimmy Stynes meant? What does he mean? Why do some deaths give rise to such outward displays of public grief? What does that say about the needs of a community? Of people?

I never met Jim Stynes, so I don’t really know him. My understanding of him comes through seeing him on those same TV stations. We trust them when we choose to (or need to). And from hearing him on the radio (ditto) and reading the words that people have written of him over the years (ditto).

But I formed a view.

I found him very likable from the outset. He had a headstart with me. I’ve always romanticised the Irish: I’ve been drawn to those who’ve ever stood a pint in Flaherty’s, and worn cardigans with soup stains on them, and been proud of their ear-hair. I have been succoured by the promise of converzasione in Bewley’s and the prospect of seeing the dolphin in Dingle Bay.

So why wouldn’t I romanticise a bloke who came here to have a crack at Australian football, and stayed to carry his team as far as his legs and his will would allow him.

I liked him as a player, with his distinctive kicking style, and that effort-run that made him look like he was always facing 40 knots, uphill, dragging the Rock Of Cashel. But it was still nose-to-the breeze and get-to-the-contest. I liked the smile-grimace, and the ability to look sheepish when he tin-arsed something. I liked that turn-and-head-back-to-the-centre, “We can win this.”

I had no real idea of him though.

These were things I imagined, and continue to imagine. In recent times, that I needed to imagine; chose to imagine.

So when those who know – those who really know – mention the same thing, I feel like my judgment is not awry. My judgment generally. And that is part of it. For in these days of mass communities, how do we come to believe in our leaders; genuine leaders, that is? In anything?

I’ve never met Garry Lyon either. If the words he spoke on The Footy Show are a measure of him then he must be quite a fellow. Apart from his affection for Jim Stynes it was his own confession which resonated. He said that Jim Stynes had the strength of character to be himself from the outset. And while that made Jim Stynes appear like some weirdo to him, he was the one who had a lot to learn. The young Lyon did not have the eyes to see. (One wonders whether he now realises that there are many who strive for understanding from a young age). Now he lauds Jim’s early-maturity by outlining his own failings.

What some of the words from those close to Jim confirmed is that Jim wanted to be the best he could be, and in Jim’s view of the world that meant he would reflect inwardly and honestly, while seeking to reach outwardly.

And that he did.

As the clock counted down, the camera panned around the crowd outside St Paul’s; many in blue and red, many from the broader footy community, some just passing by.

Inside, the congregation sat in funeral-contemplation as Bach’s Liebster Jesu wir sind hier filled the cathedral. That reminded me of my childhood, and my late father, and a community I once inhabited. I still belong to it, but things are different now.

There are such tears in the bitter-sweet of memory. In the days since Jim’s death we had seen much footage of the big ruckman running around on the MCG, earth-brown from wear. The sheer vitality of him at a time when we had our own vitality. And idealism. So joyful, the watching. And so sad.

Various people stood at the lectern, some to read from the Bible, some to offer words of comfort, some to pay their tribute, some to express their grief. In lounge-rooms around Melbourne people considered their own lot.

Garry Lyon again picked the moment, knowing that an Irish funeral party (in an English kirk) would value a laugh or two. There was (again) such spirit in his words.

By then my kids were running around the lounge room at home. It was impossible not to shed a tear when Sam Stynes came to the lectern, and the Stynes children came into view.

For what of you? And your own children?

Footy is one of many things which is about hope and action. It can have a glorious result. A tangible result. But what will move us to hope and action in the face of the human condition? In the face of death?

Therein lies the reason for the public grieving. Because we admire people who strive regardless, and strive for others.

While many in our community offer the same determination, the same example, Jimmy Stynes, I believe, had opportunity to do it publicly and didn’t shirk it. He understood the potential impact of his position, and worked to fulfil it.

He knew the clocks would keep ticking.

 

 

Addendum:

“Funeral Blues” (or “Stop All The Clocks”)        by W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. A great privilege to read. It crystallised many thoughts and feelings jumbling around inside me. About Stynes. About life. Many thanks.

  2. Tony Robb says:

    Thank John expressed in exactly the manner that I would have written, if only I could write in a manner such as yours
    Cheers
    TR

  3. Tony Robb says:

    Thank John expressed in exactly the manner that I would have written, if only I could write in a manner such as yours
    Cheers
    TR

  4. JTH – beautifully put.

  5. Beautiful stuff, JTH.

  6. JTH,

    as your piece infers there was no way any footy, or other, minded person could have missed the Stynes decline, death and funeral. Without being fully drawn into it I had time to reflect on his life as I had known it.

    Without intending to soften the extent of grief that those close to the man must feel, grief was not an emotion that I felt leaching from the process.

    With due respect to Jim and his situation I felt a warm feeling of happiness that I was able to to have followed his footy, and other, life albeit from afar and this appeared to resonate from the information that came from those close to him.

    The most poignant message that I received was that the funeral was unambiguously a celebration of a life that encapulates what we would all like to believe is the spirit of being an Australian, no matter what your background is.

  7. Andrew Starkie says:

    It’s funny, so human, that we consider our own lives at funerals and weddings.

    The TV coverage resembled a game of footy – crowd shots, close ups on the emotions etched on faces – but it was impossible not to be moved by it. Sam Stynes was so dignified and Brian’s eulogy such an insight into the Stynes family. I remember the bit about he and JIm sharing a bed.

    Jim taught us to squeeze every drop out of life and that we have to contribute to society. Wherever we are. We don’t live in a vacuum. Have an impact.

    Great stuff Harmsy.

  8. Steve Fahey says:

    Superb JTH

    Attending (or watching on various media forms) funerals is always time to stop and reflect upon what really matters and how one wants to expend one’s precious time (before usually drifting back to the same habits a short time after).

    As Paul Kelly typically eloquently wrote ” I see old friends at funerals now and then, it’s down to this, it’s either me or them.” Use your time valuably.

  9. Wonderful stuff, JTH…

  10. haiku bob says:

    a treat to read jth.
    it was an incredible community reaction.
    i happened to be online when the news of his death came through and immediately tuned into some radio coverage, for the expected outpouring.
    even through the ‘crackle’ of the internet, you could sense a whole town in mourning.
    it was very moving.

  11. Andrew Else says:

    Really enjoyed this JTH. He was a bloke with great spirit and the sort of person anyone would follow. Many people are looking for someone to follow, even if they won’t admit it.

  12. A work of great depth and sensativity John. You must be a heck of a person to know.

    PS. As a person who is a huge Paul Simon fan, I hope to one day find you quoting him as reverently as W H Auden

  13. Thanks John…you spoke for me..because I cannot write like you.

  14. Beautifully written….and I think you hit the nail on the head in that many in the community do like Jim did, but when it came time to do it publicly, he certainly didn’t shirk it. And again, beautifully written

  15. Peter Schumacher says:

    I think John that one way or another you have created or helped to create a great community around you and your fantastic gift of writing is the centrepiece of this community. Loved the reference to Bach in this beautifully written, moving and insightful article.

  16. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Paul Simon balances the virtually absolute futility expressed by Auden. Torn between wanting the world to stop or get away from the pain, the classic line from The Boxer: “I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains” urges us to keep striving in hope. Classic Harmsy.

  17. Pamela Sherpa says:

    I absolutely loved this movie. I never tire of seeing a re -run. Recall seeing it in Sydney and walking down the street laughing my head off with happiness afterwards, then bumping into a friend.
    Went to a service last weekend for a friend who like Jim died from a debilitating cancer related disease. He also made an extraordinary contribution to the lives of other people less fortunate than himself. Inspiration is the legacy they leave us . Do what we can to help others and live life to to the full.

  18. gamesdownunder says:

    Beautifully written John.
    You have a wonderful gift for putting into words what so many of us feel.
    Again thank you

  19. Marty Rubenstein says:

    I really enjoyed you words and felt a sadness and a joy at almost the same time.

  20. Faye Fraser says:

    The most wonderful eulogy I have seen John! I also was so touched by Auden’s poem that I added it to my bookshelf after the death of my husband. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes but, unlike you, the last line continues to resonate with me.
    As for Jim, I will always remember standing at the MCG in 2010, dressed in pink and waiting for the beginning of the Field of Women when an enormous round of applause began and continued to grow as everyone became aware that Jim Stynes had entered the arena. Just out of hospital, again, he inspired so many women and men who had fought or were fighting their own personal battle. A true champion of life.

  21. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Thank you JTH , a brilliant eulogy , surprised in the world of football that you did not meet Jim or Gary at the time of writing this . I was doing a garden job ffor a mate of Jims . from Ireland , who asked me could I get hold of Jim for him so I rang Melbourne FC and left a message within 15 ,mins Jim rang and thanked me for going to the trouble this was before he became sick just in the short conversation I had with him I thought wow how grounded is this bloke .
    Jim Stynes adventure and football success his attitude to life , fight and actions re for others re Reach , Family , Club and Life , is a example we all should remember
    Thank you Harmsy !

  22. Neil Anderson says:

    This was a great pick-up to read in the current off-season. Before my time in the Almanac but I can understand the reverence given to our leader after reading Jim’s eulogy and why so many people want to have a crack at writing something for the Almanac.
    Four Weddings and a Funeral is a favorite movie with the Hugh Grant goofiness, the Rohan Atkinson bumbling minister and beautifully contrasted with Auden’s poem.
    Just reading John’s repeat of the poem brought back memories of the actor John Hannah’s rendition in his Scottish brogue.
    I almost met Jim Stynes in the late eighties when he turned up to enroll as a primary- teacher at the Education Department Regional Office. What a great teacher he would have been at some lucky school. But how many people involved with Outreach would missed out on his legacy.

  23. Peter Fuller says:

    Malcolm,
    Your trawl through the archives has unearthed many a gem, but this time you have excelled yourself. Thank you so much for reviving this wonderful thread; the comments provide a worthy compliment to John’s superb original piece.
    Jim Stynes reflects the best about our game. Those of us who didn’t know him felt we did, and unlike almost all public figures, he improved on closer inspection. My personal memory is a mere cameo. I had my boys at a footy clinic at Waverley, in the days when these were run by the VFL rather than the clubs, so that all clubs were represented. For many players these are an obvious chore, and the effort to respond civilly to the incessant demands of a large contingent of kids is a challenge. Jim wasn’t just patient, but evinced a genuine interest in the youngsters – this when he was a mere stripling, maybe 21 years old.
    It was no surprise to me that as he grew older his off-field activities offered such a shining example, and that the attitude which he brought to playing the game reflected such an amazing commitment to selfless performance of such a high order.
    John,
    I agree with your observation about Auden’s final line. The best, when they leave us give us inspiration to be a little better in all that we do – especially our interactions with others. Pamela Sherpa has typically made that point better than I can.
    Thanks again, Malcolm for reviving this glorious piece from the Knacker community past.

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