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A letter to a centenarian

Michael McGirr  |  17 May 2020

Dear Mr Tom Moore,

I wonder if you expected to become an international sensation after you had passed your 99th birthday.

It’s not as if you had been shy of public service. Seventy-five years ago, you were a captain in the British army and, like many others, doing your best for your community.

Nevertheless, it was only this year that your face came to bring a smile to many others. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, you decided to do something. Despite the fact that you were recovering from hip surgery and could move only slowly with the help of a walking frame, you set out on a major expedition. This was a time of social distancing so the expedition could not take you far afield from the place you live in Bedford. You set out to complete 100 laps of the garden thinking you might raise, at best, a couple of thousand quid. Before long, people were counting down the laps with you. Eventually, a guard of honour was posted. And you raised over $45 million for hospitals in England struggling with an enormous burden, far greater than what we experience in Australia.


I was inspired by your journey of 100 laps because it struck me that you were not going to focus on what you could not do but rather on what you could do. I tried to take the message on board for myself. I couldn’t see friends. But I could call them.

The same message came home to me during the time of social isolation. Of all the many expressions that emerged during that time (‘iso’, ‘rona’, ‘sodi’ ‘hansan’ etc), the one that captures something special is  ‘window visit.’

I was driving near our home in Australia, conscientiously keeping 1.5m between my car and the next, when I saw a middle-aged woman sitting outside an aged care facility. The woman had brought with her a folding chair and was sitting beside the window, holding up an umbrella because it was raining lightly. Inside, I could just discern the figure of an elderly woman. Both women were holding their hands to the window such that, if the glass wasn’t there, their fingertips would touch. But, of course, the glass was there. That was the challenge.


I found this scene moving. I imagined that here were a mother and daughter, although I have no evidence for this. I was touched by the way the younger woman had prepared: the folding chair suggested she was ready for a longer visit and didn’t want to rush. I also imagined they were speaking to each other on a phone although, again, I couldn’t be sure. I knew that a friend of ours had been paying window visits to her 93-year-old mother who didn’t speak much English and who got very confused by the mobile phone and any other kind of technology. At least they are present to each other. It is all they could do and no less wonderful because of that. Like you, Mr Moore, they were focusing on what they had, not what they had lost.

If nothing else, Covid-19 has shown us how closely connected we all are. China is literally a few breaths away, as are Italy and Spain and Britain. Let’s not be afraid of that.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes, ‘If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.’


In other words, we are all part of a great chain. Everyone has struggles and this year has presented more than usual. Pope Francis urges us to remember that ‘everything is interrelated’ and to concentrate on the good we can do, not the restrictions we feel. I think you and he would get on very well, Mr Moore. You could have a nice walk in your garden. 

Michael McGirr is Dean of Faith and Mission at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne, and author of a number of books including the recently-released Books that Saved My Life (Text Publishing).



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