How not to win friends and influence people!

The title of this post is a reminder to myself. This will not win friends and will not influence people I suspect. Here is my question: “When does our desire to feel good so that we don’t have to worry about other people feeling less than good, while trying to ignore how terribly vulnerable we feel, become a problem?” It seems to me that the Pollyanna view of the world is taking over in an attempt to hide the reality we are in!

For the last couple of nights a current affairs program I watch on a news provider I respect (and there are not many) has finished their show with images of grandchildren sending messages to the Grandparents who they are not able to visit and who are not able to visit them in the current situation. Beautiful children captured by their parents and sent to the television network. A veritable quilt of varieties of grandchildren! Big sisters, little sisters, big brothers, kids who speak for their younger siblings and introduce them with such gorgeousness it melts hearts everywhere. Adorably cute cheeky little kids who refuse to cooperate but perform for the camera anyway! Gorgeous! The show ends with thanks to all those people who have sent the messages in and a promise of even more tomorrow.

I have six grandchildren. I know what its like! I hear the word Grandma and I melt! The sense of honour and giftedness that I feel when I think of each of the six of them is indescribable. Six grandchildren from three of the four of my children. The eldest an adult uni student and essential worker, the youngest turned two last month. The lock down stopped us from being able to celebrate with her. The lock down prevents me from hugging my adult essential worker grand daughter who is confronted by regular abuse from angry, frustrated shoppers as they cannot get their toilet paper. She lives fifteen minutes drive from me but I may not visit her, see her face to face, have a coffee with her, go for a drive with her because of the “stay at home” rule. I do not object to the stay at home rule. Not one bit! I may not travel to her mother, my first born, born when I was 19 and look into her brown eyes, the eyes of her father and his mother, hold her hands and assure her that her first born is managing well!

But for the last two nights, I have been reminded that my grandchildren and I are separated. The thing about being Grandma for me is that each of my children, none of whom asked to be born, and who have children of their own, invite me into the lives of their families. They do not have to. It is not an entitlement for me. I treasure the invitation.

Admittedly, apart from the my oldest grandchild who lives independently, the others live some distance from me and I would not see them every day anyway. BUT I may not cross the border to be with my son and his family and my oldest grandson in another state. I may not drive the two and a half hour journey to be with my older daughter and her children. Nor may I offer my older daughter the reassuring comfort of telling her “I had a coffee with Gabi” nor may I take the risk of a quick trip down the M1 to see my younger daughter and her two young children.

( Explanation for those who wonder why may not and not cannot. Truth is I can do all of the above but under instruction from the government I am not allowed to so I may not. Its called civil obedience! One of the advantages of going to school in the 50’s and 60’s and learning grammar!)

We talk on line. That’s very special but its not the same. I do not look forward to the day when my two year old grand daughter blows me kisses in real life and makes heart shapes out of her hands to tell me she loves me as farewell gestures when saying goodbye face to face. Nor do I want to see her wrap her arms round herself as a hug for greeting Grandma!

I am sure that every Mum or Dad who sends their vision “in landscape please” to the television station is doing so in the strong belief that it will be of comfort to their parents and other family members. But what of those who watch it in the same way as we all look at cute posts on face book of cute babies doing cute things and feel happy because we get a giggle or a warm fuzzy, press “like” or send an emoji and get on with the other stuff we do. Could it be that our kids, other people’s kids are just a commodity to make us feel good whether we know them or not? Are we really entitled to be part of this communication anyway. I think not! Voyeurism?

The segment tonight seemed to be longer than last night and I cried. Admittedly there are lots of things going on in my life at the moment that have put me in a vulnerable place.

I am past that age. You know the one. The one that everyone is being told to take care of. I am not yet seventy but I do have underlying health issues. My husband is even older and has underlying health issues too. I am grateful for the concern that is expressed about us but I know the truth of the situation is that if all the people in the country who fit into the same category were infected by the virus the health system would be stuffed! When I hear “our most vulnerable” out of the mouths of politicians I wish I could believe the words were uttered with the same kind of respect that I as a kid (baby boomer) had for my Grandmothers and my Uncles and Aunties! Respect without agenda! Truth to tell we have lost that in this country.

Truth to tell what was once the age of wisdom is now the age of bleeding nuisance. There are more of us than any other generation before us courtesy of WWII celebrations. We have not ever had to go to war to save the country. The war that did involve our valiant war heroes and took our most wonderful youth was a war of shame that we should never have been involved in anyway! Vietnam . With advances in medical science it looks like we are going to live longer than was ever expected and we are not prepared to go silently into the night!!!! Although the virus might fix that I guess. Now our politicians are immersing themselves in the language of rally round the flag boys ( and girls) as we are reminded, daily , of the war we are in with the virus!

I do not want the last memory of seeing me for my grandchildren to be Grandma on FaceTime! I realise I have no control over that of course. I do not want my grandchildren or my children to be unable to be with me till the end if that is what they want to do. I was not present at the deaths of my parents or my deceased siblings but I do have indelible memories of their last words to me, my last words to them and peace! And I have no regrets. I hope each my grandchildren will come to have her or his own memory of how loved forever they are by Grandma and Grand Dad and remember our stories and tell them. That to me is eternity!

So, the message I am trying to convey is let’s all behave ourselves. Let’s all allow nature to take its course (as my own Grandmother used to say). Let us refuse to listen to the “influencers” who are not the experts. Let’s trust the experts and rely on their judgement. Let us remember that politicians tend to be experts in hearing and responding to the sound of their own voices!

Let us treasure what we have in terms of connection – real physical, worts and all, tangible, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart connection with our loved ones and each other. Let us realise that connection with our loved ones is more important than connection with social media. Let us refuse to allow what we have there to become a commodity for making the media feel even more important that it already does!

The letter I would like to send!

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

It is 4.16 am on 21/3/2020 and I am unable to go back to sleep. I write when this happens. I am writing to you.

I wrote to you at the time of the bushfires and received a response listing all the fabulous, wonderful, brilliant things you seem to think you did to turn the world right again. I detected a tone of admonishment in your response. Recently you have become very good at admonishment!

The thought that woke me up this morning was a wondering moment. I am wondering how many politicians’ children are still going to school each day. Are your daughters?

My daughter is a teacher. She is a gifted, passionate, wonderful compassionate teacher. I spoke to her last night. One of the things she said really struck home. She explained how she had spent the morning before the start of classes, separating desks, wiping down surfaces, checking the online facilities and then “Mum, you know what? The bloody PENCILS! They share the pencils!” She brought this to the attention of the school executive and was given one box of extra pencils. What do kids do with pencils when they are musing? They chew on the end of them. They put them in their ears. They twist them round in their hair. They have been known to stick them up their noses. They stick them into each other! What did you do? Is it really possible for one person, or two people to oversee what every child in a class of 20, or in some cases many more, is doing every minute?

My daughter and others are providing resources from home to ensure that thing are sanitised. She is protecting herself. She has two dependent children one of whom attends the same primary school.

I am 68. Her childrens’ paternal grandparents are older than my husband and me. We all have conditions that make us more vulnerable than younger people. We are not in a position to care for any of our grandchildren. We cannot visit them. We are not alone of course! Her adult daughter is a student at university and lives away from home.

PLEASE CLOSE THE SCHOOLS!

Now, its not your fault that you and most politicians do not have a clue about how schools and in particular, classrooms function. When you visit them, the staff have usually had notice of your impending arrival. Kids have been prepped for days beforehand. Protocols have been explained. Classrooms tidied up. Special activities and events rehearsed and performed. So you cannot be expected to know of the extra pressure on teachers and support staff as parents drop their kids off before school and express, to the point of tears, their concerns about things in general and their children in particular. The teachers and support staff CANNOT GUARANTEE that their children will not be exposed or, worse yet, become symptomatic. I was a teacher for forty years. I was on executive teams. I retired in 2016. Things have changed I know, but not that much really. I believe that after the call to be a parent there is no greater calling than the call to teach. If our teachers get sick what then? Some of them are getting sick already.

PLEASE CLOSE THE SCHOOLS.

It seems to me that our teachers and support staff are expendable! Relief teachers are a dime a dozen. This is not a statement about their quality of teaching or their professionalism. Schools could not function without them. They just can’t get jobs! Its a “budget” thing! My grandchildren will not be adversely affected for life if they are out of school for however long it takes for us to get ahead of the curve, build the bridge, cushion the impact, keep on running or any other jingoistic platitude you or your team might come up with. In the event of their mother becoming ill or, heaven forbid, dying that impact will be unmeasurable!

PLEASE CLOSE THE SCHOOLS. PLEASE PROTECT OUR TEACHERS AND THE STAFF WHO SUPPORT THEM. IT CANNOT BE BUSINESS AS USUAL WITH OUR MOST PRICELESS RESOURCE – OUR CHILDREN.

I know its one of those Federal/State issues, the out clause that was used during the bushfire crisis, but can we allow it to put at risk our children?

I have had it clearly explained to me that the virus in children is not as bad, unless of course they are chronically ill themselves with life threatening conditions. Can that really be a reason for continuing to expose them to the risk of infection?

Have we become a people so focussed on making sure the budget will balance and our political party will win the next election that we can do this to our children, to our families?

PLEASE CLOSE THE SCHOOLS.

Its a puzzlement!

Four ten a.m. and I am awake and itchy! Its not an outside itch! Its an inside itch that is running rampant from the top of my brain to the bottom of my belly. Its almost as if I have been taken over by some stirring up of nerves and sensitivities and it’s doing my head in!

Trying to be rational, I rationalise. It started with the hottest summer on record. It got its wind with the silly season of December. It took off with the horror, terror, helplessness of the bush fires. The fires became town fires too close to turning into city fires. The breath was sucked out of me by the smoke when the whole world turned orange! Sights and smells coupled with generosity and courage that we have never seen before!

Always there was the good old Aussie Spirit.

The Leader of the country let me and all of us down for too long. Jingoism is his strong suit. Rain came, as rain does when Nature has decided enough is enough. Out went the fires and on came the floods! Soaking rain. Humidity. Mosquitoes and all the while, in the background references to a bug in China!

Holden went up shit creek and our Holden shat itself and we were without it for nearly four weeks!

Husband went to hospital. Into isolation! It’s not the bug from China but no more than two visitors at a time. Wash your hands, put on mask and gown. His kidneys played up in reaction to the antibiotics given to blanket bomb the infection in a place that remains undetermined!

Talk of the virus from China went up a notch. Hand sanitisers get lots of attention in the hospital waiting room. People frown at coughers and sneezers. We start to make a mental note of things we might need to do. A trip to the doctor and a blood test. I am assured that my blood is worth bottling . White and red blood cells are ready to “fight off any virus that might be heading your way”. I think how lovely!

We’re safe! She’ll right mate! Its not going to happen here! We’re in a much better situation than anywhere else in the world because we are Aussies! Aussie Spirit will get us through!

WOOFTA! Left hook, right jab and we are in it up to our necks.

Suddenly I am old. Suddenly I am among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Young people will get the virus but it won’t knock out their respiratory systems. We don’t have enough intensive care beds to deal with the high point in “the curve”. We have to get ahead of “the curve”! If the virus gets you, its triage for those over the age of – I’m not sure but I think I am much closer to it than I am to 50! If you’ve got a heart condition, diabetes, lung problems get ready to be triaged! If you’re on blood thinners, here comes triage! If you are obese, here comes triage!

Don’t go out. Stay home. Wash your hands. Social Distance. Self Isolation. Don’t shake hands. Don’t touch your face. Sneeze and cough into your elbow. Enjoy the extra money the government is giving you to spend to boost the economy which is going down the toilet quicker than you can say toilet paper!

TOILET PAPER! Good LORD! Has there ever been such on outbreak of sheer madness in relation to toilet paper? Clubs offer packs of it as prizes in the Friday raffle. People come to blows over it. Reefing if from trollies, hurling abuse, getting arrested and the Leader says “we’ll get through this by being Australians….. the wartime spirit will return and bring us together” … bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!

Its madness! This too shall pass of course. I am hoping I am not going to “pass” , the acceptable euphemism for death, with it! There’s not much more for me to do with my life of course. Had a career, banged my head on the glass ceiling enough to nearly, but not quite, break through. I became a parent, a matriarch. Had nearly fifty years of marriage. I really can’t complain should the virus take me out! But I would like to make it as a writer and story teller and live long enough for each of my grandchildren to have his or her own story memory of me to tell to their grandchildren. That’s eternity to me!

And I’d like to go without the worry of the two remaining generations of my family having to worry about toilet paper, or getting to the shops without have to battle through the aisles, or being fearful about what to do with their kids if the schools close but they still have to work, or how to live without a wage for two months of unpaid leave!

I’d like the media to take some responsibility for the fact that its influence is enormous and ensure that it is not adding to the havoc! That’ll be the day!

First world problems I know. Its the world we have created, selfishly. Australia and the good old Aussie Spirit are being tested. So much of the “legend” is proving to be myth!

Wrapped in sadness.

For the last few days I have been thinking that “ the world” or perhaps “my world” needs to just pause. How long? Five minutes, ten minutes? I’m not sure. Just a pause. The world seems to have gone mad and I don’t recognise it!

So many messages! Drought, flood, fire, virus and this latest tragedy of the slaughter of innocence in Brisbane!

Today I attended the funeral of my cardiologist. She was 45, loved wife, beloved mother, brilliant clinician, daughter and sister. Before the funeral I received a photo from my niece. A tiny baby wrapped beside her Dad on the day she was born. I was astounded by the resemblance between Paul, my brother, aged in his 40s and my own son now about the same age. It took my breath away a bit. Motor- neurone disease took him away in 2016 after living with it for nearly 20 years. The same bastard of a disease took Angela away in less than five months.

I hope I never have to be present at the funeral of any of my children. I watched her Mum and Dad. When he arrived at the church, he patted the coffin like a Dad patting a small child , a sort of “ there, there, you’ll be alright” gesture of Dad love. Her Mum was Angela fast forward into grand parenthood! She walked like her, stood like her, gesticulated like her. She greeted her family with bear hugs. And she stood at the head of the coffin, placed her hands on either side , bent over and kissed it twice. Strength. Dignity. Endurance in the midst of what must still be mind shattering disbelief! And then in a gesture of “ you’ve done well” she gave it a double tap and turned into the arms of family.

Angela’s husband and children stoic and shell shocked shattered. Dignified. Her husband spoke truth that hundreds of others would be unable to speak. Raw and honest agony. The “ why” that has no answer. And then he told their story and there was laughter, sage nodding of heads and comforting calm. Her sister, her little sister, spoke acknowledgement of the custodians of Country . Something not included in the traditional Christian rubric. I felt wholeness. Tenderness and gratitude , the admiration of a “ little” sister for her beloved “big sister”!

Her professional medical colleagues told of her incredible ability within the context of her compassion, sensitivity, determination, organisation, grace and balance.

“ Grief is the price we pay for love” from the presider. A message from her Majesty’s Christmas message no less. I wondered if Angela’s reaction to this may have been similar to her reaction to my “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington! I suppose you get that all the time.” “Yes” she said, but not usually from someone YOUR age!’ I never mentioned it again.

My beautiful niece, Sophia , Paul’s daughter, wrote of a conversation with her three year old daughter Tilly

“Although my daughter and Dad will never meet in this life, I have a strong belief they ‘know’ each other…..

This is what she said to me ‘ Grandpa Paul was with me today’

Taken aback I asked ‘ Really? What were you doing?’

‘Drawing together. He was drawing in his wheel barrow’

‘Oh! Do you mean his wheel chair?’

‘Yes. The wheel chair . We were drawing in it. Why was he in a wheelchair?’

‘Because his arms and legs didn’t work.’

‘Why?’

‘Because he had an illness.’

‘Why’

‘We don’t know , darling.’

‘Mmmmm… maybe he ate something.’

‘Maybe.’

‘He’s not sick anymore. He’s fine now’

‘That’s right baby’

‘I want to see him’

‘Me too. He’s not alive anymore darling. But Mummy has him in her heart.’

‘He’s in my heart too. A circle. I miss him’

Sophie writes ‘I don’t want to give the simplistic and abstract narrative of heaven. But I do want her to follow her intuition and know about our energies and essence.

I want her to know the ordinariness and finality of death but not to feel overwhelmed or scared”

Sophia is “living” Paul ! It’s not about heaven for me. It’s about story and presence and listening and telling and awe filled silences and joy filled cacophony. . Spirit and essence – they remain.

Today in sadness and gratitude I paused and in so doing I was once more astounded by the power of lives well lived and well loved and the absolute certainty that those lives never end.

The teaching myth.

I worked as a teacher for more than forty years. I loved my work. I had a good career with hard won opportunity. Our family was financially secure thanks to my salary and each of our children received opportunities to grow academically, emotionally and spiritually. Each of them is an adult making positive contributions to their communities.

It wasn’t all beer and skittles however!

” Those who can do. Those who can’t teach” was and sometimes still is an oft expressed opinion by shock jocks, politicians, and other social commentators. The myth of “back to basics, “It was good enough for me so it’s good enough for them ” was and sometimes still is, a much flaunted criticism when unions might have suggested that conditions needed improvement or rates of pay needed revamping. And then there was the myth of ” all those holidays”!

I retired 2016. My daughter is teacher. It irks me every year to watch her and listen to the amount of extra work, demanded extra commitment, unfair and ignorant criticism and judgement that she as a teacher, endures. She works in Catholic Education, as I did but I know too, that societal expectations in relation to the vocation of teaching being the great panacea for every social challenge in the western world, applies across the general teaching of children spectrum!

In addition to her classroom management she is part of the school’s creative team. This, in is fledgling state when she began at her school, was a school based only CAPA night.  It has now grown into a local town annual juggernaut, involving all schools in her area. There is a team of teachers at the school and her roles include costume making, choreography and one of the choirs. This thrills me no end because I was a music teacher and she resisted singing or belonging to a choir all her life.  Now I get to watch her conduct!

Initially as part of the CAPA team her particular focus, which is also the area of her strength as a teacher, were the “challenging boys” group. Kids who we now recognise as being the spectrum. Kids who cannot deal with changes in routine, changes in teaching styles. We all know at least one of them! Beautiful kids. Kids whose parents love them and are looking for support. Parents whose lives are filled with anxiety about what’s ahead. Yes, like every other parent worth his or her salt, but with so much more to contend with because we live in a world of judgement and societal expectation that  interprets all challenging behaviour as bad behaviour from bad kid because of bad parents. When her group of boys won their dance section in  the local Eisteddfod, heads were turned!

Three days before her scheduled return to work after the Christmas holidays, this year, I had three missed calls from her. We played tag and missed each other all day. Two  days later I connected with her. She had been in hospital on our tag playing day, She had fallen on rocks in the river at the front of her home and had smashed her knee. Relieved that a scan and  x-ray had shown no breakages she was in great pain from severe bruising. Leg wrapped and on crutches, she sounded tired and miserable. I live about 3 hours away from her.

What she dropped into the conversation next made my blood boil.  It took me back to hours, days, weeks of time I spent in addition to face to face teaching for 40 years- from my very first year of teaching as a 22 year old in 1973. She had spent 5 hours on Saturday in her classroom, with her co-worker, a teacher, mother, wife too, setting up the classroom for the new year.

Every time I have been into her classroom, an open learning space for about 60 kids under the care of a teaching team of three and support staff, it is like being smacked over the head with colour, creativity, happiness, organisation and wonder. Desks are work stations. There’s a reading corner. Among  memories, etched into my agony file for the rest of my life , as a member of  the executive team of the school I worked in, is the violent objection from staff when the suggestion was made that the introduction of Dadirri Time be introduced into the daily program . Ten minutes, every day, when all activity stopped and the opportunity was provided for stillness and awareness. I could write  book about that!  Its called Mindfulness now!

There’s a  creative space. When I was teaching in my early years and indeed until much later, if the desks were in a straight row, the teacher’s desk was tidy, the class roll was readily available for checking and chalk dust was all over the ledge during the day (proof of teaching “industry”) and the ledge was spotless at the start of the morning (proof of due diligence!) I got a tick for classroom organisation! I remember the reaction bordering on riotous, when a suggestion was made that we investigate “ new desks” to set up learning hubs when technology had arrived at kids with their own laptops in class.

Kids had books, for which they were individually responsible. Now a days, they have portfolios! Kids had their own lunch or a lunch order neither of which had anything to do with me! Now their lunchboxes are checked. They have fruit breaks. They have water bottles. All great initiatives in the name of self sufficiency and good health but extra on top of extra work, organisation, responsibility for the teachers who get belted around the head (metaphorically) for not sticking to the three Rs!

I have moved into the billabong of retirement. That silted up at both ends of life, literally and metaphorically, where one’s experience, gifts, talents, opinion can be comfortably dismissed, without objection from the keepers of power with one word. “Boomer”. I don’t miss the classroom. But I do miss the interaction with young people. I did not ever cope well with being challenged in the classroom until my own children became old enough and I guess felt safe enough to challenge me. Now I stand back in awe as I watch three of them as parents. My teacher daughter is the mother of three. My son is the father on one. My younger daughter is the mother of two. When I hear them tell me of the challenges they meet as their own children go through school I sometimes feel great angst!

Not every teacher is like my daughter and her friend. At the age of forty eight, she is convinced she has missed her chance for promotion. It is my firm belief, based only on observations and without any empirical evidence, that teaching is no longer seen as a profession, a calling, a vocation. It is rather, a guarantee of great holidays, working 9 to 3, five days a week, getting reasonable pay and something that after a few years gives you the chance to teach overseas, or grab a promotion that gets you out of the classroom.

When young people with stars in their eyes find it’s not quite like that, they walk away.

Of course, there are many magnificent, gifted, talented teachers who, in these days celebrity notoriety are out there and everyone knows them! Thats great! . But be assured for every one of them there are many. many more just like them. My daughter is one of them.

I firmly believe that the greatest calling in life is the call to be a Parent. Equally firmly I believe that after that calling, the next greatest calling is the call to teach.

THINKING ABOUT MY CHILDREN

72627075_10217440152189881_8664122829119160320_nIn an attempt to distract myself from the Prime Minister, I have been doing some personal historical reflection. I found 30 or more of my journals in a recent clean up and sorting out of bookshelves. One in particular, my first, I had been searching for since attending the ceremony at the Garden of Innocents in November. What follows are my words from the 1980s. My hopes for our first three children ( now 48, 47 and 42)  and the anticipation of my fourth child and what followed.

In cutting and pasting, I have lost the shape of my texts – but as I have always believed its not size or shape that matter, its content!

My hopes for…..

Patricia 

I look at you, and see a miracle.

In spite of me, you’re wonderful

and I love you.

My hopes for you my child

are that you remain

gentle,

trusting,

loving

and

independent.

I thank God for you.

I thank your father for loving me

and giving me you

and I thank you because

you are you.

………. Kenneth

My boy! My son! My life!

You stand so straight and tall

and yet you are so fail and breakable.

Stay happy son.

Keep your faith – for it your special gift

Believe in yourself

and love yourself.

You bring me joy and love and hope,

you give me reason for living.

………Megan Elizabeth

My little love.

You’re the lucky one!

You can learn so much.

Look to your sister and learn about

Art and music

Determination and strength

Fairness and compassion.

From your brother seek

Creativity and faith

Generosity and strength

Optimism and love.

I love you so. You have brought me joy.

You are with me and yet not mine.

As you grow, I hope I can remember

How special you are to me now. 

19-2-80

O little Child

O little child who isn’t yet

How I am longing for you to be

I want to know that you’re

within me growing and becoming.

The gift of life is so precious.

its our ticket to eternity.

I want to pass this gift on to you

to give you life, through me.

To carry another being within you

bring indescribable joy.

Nothing is greater or more rewarding

or frightening or humbling.

So my child who isn’t yet,

be assured your life is coming!

I’m waiting for you, longing for you

and ready to make you mine!

Children

love and cuddles

gurgles burps and giggles

powder and freshness,

Love!

Children

hurt and tears

screams, shouts and laughter

disinfectant and immunisations!

Children

frightened and dependent

questions, ideas, advice

cigarettes and booze?

Love?

Children

rebellion and independence

demands, protests and ridicule

joints and speed

Love??

Children

ideals and faith

hope for the future.

They deserve our

Love.

3-3-81

 

O little child who isn’t

O little child who isn’t ,

you have been and I

never knew you.

O the ache I feel inside.

The emptiness where there was once life.

Joseph, Rebecca – who were you?

I felt you move – just once

but I knew you were.

I loved you without knowing you.

Why did you die?

Were you not right or me?

I suppose you never knew I love you.

But then all you knew in your

short “before life out here” time

was warmth and security.

You never had to shed tears or know pain.

I still long to hold you.

I’m still ready to make you mine

If I could stop loving

a life I never knew but which

is as much a part of me as my

heart.

O little child I know you are.

We gave you life, a soul

and you live in bliss and love.

Reach down to me, somehow, help me

and reassure my faith.

Make me strong again.

2/4/81

I lost my much loved, unknown baby on Wednesday March 18, 1981

On January 28th 1982 I lost another much loved, much longed for unknown baby.

January 12th 1983, another beloved child.

March 28th 1984 – our 7th child. Our 6th daughter.

And as I reflect on this I think about the word “lost”. My four beloved daughters were not and are not lost. They died. I don’t know why. There were no medical reasons determined.

Our eighth child – the “Joseph” I was longing for in 1981 is now our Joe! More loved than words can expressed. Clever, resourceful, creative, dreamer.

 

 

 

 

“On the Ninth Day of Christmas” 2020

I am beginning this without being able to come up with a suitable title! On December 20th I wrote about the fire north of my home. My fears for my daughter and her family. The awfulness/awefilled-ness of my world which had turned orange and air that was acrid with the smell of burning bush! My daughter and her family are safe but the threat continues.

My son and his family travelled from their home down south, in another state, to be with us for Christmas. It was marvellous. They ventured north to be with my daughter and had lovely days filled with the joy of watching their children laugh and play and connect. They do not see each other often. My younger daughter and her family were with us for Christmas. The “babies” of the grandchildren gaggle. My youngest grand daughter, a ball of energy and inquisitiveness, stilled in her Uncle’s arms, listening intently for  such a long time, while I played my piano. I haven’t been able to play for some time. Rare days.Blessed days. Days that will live on in the telling across the generations!

Its the second day of the new decade. I remember the first time I wrote in the margin of my exercise book, pondering with all the trepidation I could muster as an almost 9 year old, “1960”. My life was changing even then. My older brother had left home in 1958 and my next brother was about to leave home. I remember thinking that if it was already 1960, how old must Mum and Dad be?

My Dad was a journalist so keeping up with the news was in my blood even then. Mr Menzies was the PM. Pattie was his wife. What an impressive bloke he was to a nearly nine year old. Hardly ever seen on tele. Often in the paper. His face like a carved image of authority. He looked like he was in charge and knew what he might have been on about! Royalist to his bone marrow as was most of the rest of Australia.

I remember hot summers. Burning footpaths. Melting tar. Perspiration running down the back of the legs in hot classrooms. “Heat waves “ brought into submission by “Southerly busters”! Sitting on the back steps in the afternoon and waiting for the approaching sound of the roar, a bit like the starting of the Electrolux vacuum cleaner on a Saturday morning. When the “Buster” arrived it sucked away humidity, flies, mosquitos and lethargy!

My brother was in Rome in the 1960s and sometimes we would make an audio tape to send to him in addition to the weekly aerograms. One Christmas my Mum, who was very self conscious about the sound of her voice was describing the festive table . Using her most posh enunciation she explained, “And it’s ninety nine in the dining room”. Sweltering day! On the return tape my brother told of the great glee expressed by his British and American friends on hearing what he referred to as “Mums flattened vowel sounds”, doing a slightly disrespectful rendition of them himself!

But that’s all gone. Times were frequently tough but they were not the first tough times generations of families had lived through. Yes, there were fires and floods and droughts. We knew when the seasons started and when we could expect them to end. I always loved the time of year when the westerly breeze in the morning morphed into and easterly heralding that Autumn was on the horizon. Wild winds in August! Freezing blasts that gave me the chance to experience chill blains for the first and only time in my life as a boarder in the Hunter Valley. Winds that cut mercilessly through layers of clothes  straight to bones, making teeth chatter on the way to Mass each morning at 7.00am.

It seems that too has just about gone. Where I live the leaves on my frangipani trees barely hit the ground before new leaves are shooting. My husband’s Grandmother used to describe those trees in their winter dress as “maiden’s nightmares”. I remember being scandalised by the description. I hardly have time to blush now because they are covering themselves up within days of shedding!

I am sick, in my heart and in my head ,by what I see now. 2020. Day two. Four thousand people taking shelter on a beach waiting for the Navy to rescue those who need to be rescued and bringing water because there is none. I think of images of refugee camps in countries torn by war.

People whose houses, livelihoods, irreplaceable possessions have melted! People whose family members have died. Mothers whose children are without Fathers. A young woman anticipating the birth of their child alone now that her husband is dead. Husband, wives, lovers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who wait for their loved ones to return from volunteering as front line fire fighters. I ponder the fact that the tragedy of all of this is in no way unique to the majority of the rest of the world.

My son’s sister in law who taught English in Cambodia and is there at the moment, lost her home and all her possessions in the fire that decimated Club Terrace in Victoria. She will return to nothing! She will return to love.

Uncertainty. Fear. Hopelessness. Dismay. Powerlessness. Brokenness. Anger,

And the most puzzling thought that I have been pondering is about the rest of the “western world”. When there is a shooting in America, a bombing in London, a terrorist attack in Paris our news programs bombard us with information. All the details. Daily, sometimes hourly updates. I have seen only one reference on line to the fires in a London publication. Of course there may have been others.

Truth is, to the power brokers of the world we are small fry! We ARE expendable! The thinking nations of the rest of the world cannot understand our government’s climate change denial policy! Slogans, jingoism, the tools of the advertising industry are not good enough!”She’ll right, Mate” does not apply! “Thoughts and Prayers” are not love and compassion or practical help!

The power brokers of the world covet our coal and other natural resources. They purchase them  and our water and our farm land  assisted by our so called leaders in the name of the economy. “We” do not matter! Its true! I cringe at the thought of the latest offering from the Department of Tourism inviting the poor old POMs who are suffering Post Brexit Stress Disorder and who might arrive in Perth looking for Nirvana only  to find Hades. Catastrophic fire condition forecast there for tomorrow. Perhaps action needs to be taken there to turn back THOSE “boats”!

Our Leader went MIA. He’s back now but he may as well not be. Bombastic and patronising. The “Could have been Leader’ has been at least a bit more visible and realistic but always there is the waiting for the moment when it all gets back to “you didn’t win” “you only just won” argy bargy.

The saying I remember from days when I was even more cynical that I am now is “if you can’t dazzle the with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit!” Well there’s nothing dazzling or baffling going on really – just an awful lot of bullshit!

 

Wonder and awe take over from exhaustion no

Everything is oppressive at the moment! The agony and horror of the fires and the extraordinary heat. The frustration of watching our country’s leader remind us that “that’s what Dad’s do” as explanation for not returning to the country after the tragedy in New Zealand and the destruction and carnage of the bushfires. Its hot. Its hard to breathe. Every news bulletin reminds us, several times, that the weather is going to get worse, the wind is going to continue to come from the west, but they remain unpredictable and we are in for it! And there is no rain in sight! Which brings me to the drought.

Dust bowls. Dry dams. No shelter. Towns dying. Walking off their land. Losing their livelihoods. Its too terrible!

And in my own little world of nothing particularly important, we are preparing for Christmas by doing the big clean up! The skip takes up the driveway. The lockable paper recycling bin is just about three quarters full. When I wash my hands  the water actually changes colour because my hands are covered with the dust of accumulated rubbish. Nothing compared to what must come off when volunteer fire fighters come home for a break and a shower!

Things that I thought were indispensable are being propelled into the skip via the bedroom window. I suppose we are just saving the children from having to do the big clean up when we go down the river in a basket – if there is a river anywhere to be found!

I am exhausted!

BUT in my exhaustion I have stopped to consider what I have found. So many things that I have searched for. Things I have written. At least 20 journals – begun. Each one usually with only one or two entries before I have abandoned it, put it down somewhere and bought a new one.

I found my original journal begun in 1980. I have been searching for it to find the recorded dates when each of my four unknown, beloved daughters died in utero. This year I found out that I am able to have a plaque for each of them in the Garden of the Innocence  in our local cemetery. I have no offical record of their births or their deaths because none of them had reached a “viable” stage in the pregnancies.

Exhausted as I am, I can do something about that now!

I have been looking for a music book. Peter Kearney, an Australian songwriter is someone whose words and music inspired me. In one of his albums “The Year of God’s Favour?”, written to mark the bicentenary in 1988, he quoted from a letter my brother Peter wrote. I found it today! My brother Peter died in 2014. I loved him and I miss him but today, he was with me, in what is again becoming my music room surrounded by memory and love.

Here are his words:

”Out of my window I can see Lake Macquarie; the Pacific Ocean is five minutes walk away. Two hundred years ago this strip of land provided an abundance of food and a place where there were to be stories told, songs to be sung, ceremonies to be celebrated, lives to be lived within a society of complex, subtle relationships. 

One hundred and ninety eight years ago, Governor Philip, who’d been on this continent a few minutes, read a proclamation which, in effect, dispossessed these people. That flagpole on Botany Bay, and then later Sydney Cove, punctured and poisoned the earth… The Awabakal speaking people here, between the lake and the ocean, took a generation before finding out that it was someone else’s land. How could they sing the Spirit’s song in a foreign land? They stayed long enough for  a missionary to learn something of their language, and to translate into that language the Gospel of St Luke. Meanwhile some died of disease. Some were killed. Some fled. They have gone. Their language is gone.

But are there ghosts, who sing or wail in the night? Do they call out to the people-of-the-Spirit (the artists, the mystics, the prophets, those who have the land in their blood ) calling out for justice, perhaps, or for recognition, or decent burial rites? There is a book at the University, in which you can read, in Awabakal, the words: “Father, forgive them, They do no know what they are doing.” Do these syllables still sound in the night? I believe they do. 

It seems to me a particularly bitter irony that the Spirit- people European decent (again the artists, the mystics, the prophets…) should take so very long to recognise, believe and to begin to interpret the voices in the night.  Until the event of 1788 is seen and named, the Spirit will groan within the earth. And the groaning will drive some mad. 

They will build thicker concrete-and-glass towers and breath artificial air, keeping their soles from the soil. They will fly jumbo jet to Bali and Hong Kong and Singapore and to the Sacred Sites of Europe, rather than risk Uluru at sunset. And they will try to stuff the emptiness of their soul with Packer cricket, Bond yacht racing or Fosters Melbourne cup, trying vainly to appease the Spirit that cries out to them to know and love the land into which they were born. Safer, they think, to whistle the advertisers’ jingles, than sing the Land’s songs. Fireworks, they decide rather than ceremonies. Flags and slogans, rather than learning some syllables of the original local language – in case one hears those voices, yet again, in the night.”

With the exception of the names of the sponsors, not much has changed! How good is that? Bloody hell, not good at all!

 

Where the Meadows and the Mountains Meet

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On November 10th, 2018 the Chapel at St Joseph’s Lochinvar was terribly damaged by smoke after a long smouldering fire, which started in the carpet, spread to some of the pews. No major structural damage, just incredible smoke damage to walls, magnificent musical instruments -the Bechstein Grand Piano and the invaluable pipe organ. The unbelievable had to be believed! The unfathomable had to be fathomed!

On December 10th 2019, the temperature at Lochinvar reached   42 degrees! The smoke haze that had been lingering over the city in which I live was almost edible and the Chapel was back! The stained glass windows refracted the light reflecting from the  marble surrounds into rainbows.

48406469_10215307245948558_3897872547005333504_n.jpg  I believe this could be a photo of my first trip to Lochinvar. Perhaps it is the first time I could walk  while visiting Lochinvar! It is the only picture I have with my God Parents Ruth and Roger on the occasion of Ruth’s profession as a sister of St Joseph.  Lochinvar has been part of my entire life journey! I love the place although there were times when  I loathed it! Particularly on February day when my only sister entered the parlour in her exquisite blue and white “frock” with electrically pleated skirt and blue patent leather stilettos, left us to return in the habit of a postulant. When I arrived home that day, Mum asked me to hang the frock up and I could smell my sister’s Tweed perfume. I was inconsolable but in private! Days as a border were bitter sweet days in which my music education came to the fore and sent me off into my post school career.

As a teacher in a Josephite school I accompanied hundreds of students to a Lochinvar Heritage day where they met and were enchanted by the Sisters, by the stories, by the visit to the Parish Church and graveyard, many of them astounded by the peace and beauty of the beautiful resting place of the Sisters and my ancestors.  My daughter was married in the chapel in 2012. Having watched “Brides of Christ” walk down that aisle, to see my exquisite daughter accompanied by her Father in that place, in the presence of my Mother, to be married by my Brother was indescribable joy to me.   After my brother’s death and the indescribable agony of what he had endured and what my family continues to endure my beloved friend, his beloved friend and I organised a concert in the Chapel which was like bathing in  “A Balm in Gilead” about which he had sung. I read his words, his choirs sang in tribute to him. We lifted the Roof to the heights of the “Holy City”. My sister sounded her tribute and love son that magnificent instrument in the choir loft! Ecstasy wrapped in agony for so many!

I was invited to the recommissioning of the Chapel by the Congregational Leader. She has been a mentor in education for me for many years and is a trusted, loved  and supportive friend.

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During the ceremony, two candles were lit and received by the current Assistant Principal of St Joseph’s College and my friend. The light of the past, reignited, the light of the present and the future received. A simple but powerful gesture. The candles were placed at either end of the newly dressed and rededicated Altar. Candles flickered as they do and one of them went out! The Sisters behind me noticed. So did I!

I am a great believer in signals sent from that which is beyond our understanding. I recognise and value logic although one of my underlying philosophies when trying to understand conundrums of politics, or hierarchy, or institutions,  is “never presume and logic never applies. However, sometimes I will hear a Kookaburra or the magpie family that takes up residence each year, pinches the lining from our hanging baskets to add to its nest in the tree across the road and I am  reminded  that the Spirits of my Dad and my Mum remain and will remain in my children and theirs. That’s eternity to me.

Can you guess which candle had to be relit?

Like all new life it is fledgling! Like all new life, survival is not guaranteed even with the astounding intervention of medicine and science!

The candle was relit from the flame that had not flickered!  It did not go out again.

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