“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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My World in Orange!

My best friend suffers from and lives with CRPS , Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.  An energetic, intelligent, force of nature herself, she is frequently and for extended periods of time, forced to a screaming halt by pain that comes from nowhere, inexplicable and incapacitating. At its height she cannot stand being touched where ever the pain is flaring. For her, a wife, mother, grand mother and very young (she is 30 days younger than me) great grandmother, it is agonising!

In a world of having a colour awareness ribbon for everything – red ribbon day, white ribbon day, blue ribbon day, pink ribbon day, rainbow ribbon day, teal ribbon day, orange is the colour that is chosen to raise awareness for CRPS.

It seems to me that our country is sending us messages we do not want to hear. Messages that are painful for most and agonising for many. We watch, stupefied by the immenseness of the bushfires and drought crises .  In Canberra our Leader and government fiddle and fly out for Christmas while homes are lost, livelihoods are lost, wild life is lost, in some cases to the point of extinction and lives are lost.  It is heartbreaking.

Fiddling while the world is burning or dying of thirst annihilates spirits. It crushes hopes. It denies our young the certainty of a future that I was able to imagine in my youth. Sure, that future was not guaranteed. I remember the fear of the “yellow peril” as a primary school child, imagining in my play, with my siblings, how I would raid the pots and pans to inflict deadly harm on anyone who dared turn up at MY house in a communist Chinese uniform! But I never imagined that the Barrier Reef might die! My adult grand daughter, who is studying marine biology, shares her fear of this with me now. I never imagined a Sunday drive in the country to the Hunter Valley in my dotage would no longer have the views that stirred my Grandmother. She occupied “Grandma’s seat” in the car, before seat belts, as we visited Aberdeen,  the site of the Police station where she gave birth to my mother in 1916. A trip now is  punctuated by great gouging scars of open cut mining. There is no way in the world it ever occurred to me that Merriwa and Muswellbrook would run out of water on our drives to Glenbawn Damn.

I could go on!

We have lived with bushfires in the country for as long as white people have lived here. First Nation People have lived with bushfire for thousands of years before that. How I wish, how I hope, how I long for the day when the toffs in Canberra will get off their adjectival high horses  and humbly sit with those who cherish being  custodians, not owners of the land, because the land is their Mother!

The pictures I have added are my own pictures . Some I took myself, some sent to me by my older daughter and my younger son. They are pictures from suburbia. Our street, our park, my daughter’s place of work and the view from my lounge room window. The colour Orange is SCREAMING OUT the pain of the land. It is memorialising the lives of those who have died. It is sounding a requiem for species of wildlife now gone. It snatches our breath and fills our lungs, scorching our air even though we may be miles away from the flames!

And what have we become? News bulletins! The dedicated professionals and volunteers facing the fray being joined by reporters with microphones, hanging around for a chance to shove one in the face of one of them for a comment. Dodging wild flames. Risking their own lives and the lives of the fire fighters. It seems to me that back in the studios,  the land of “live crosses”, producers and editors are already working out which shots, which live crosses, will get Logi nominations and which ones will win. Scavengers drooling over a decaying carcass!

The obscenity of footage of our Prime Minister, comforting an 85 year old farmer who would not leave his property because he wanted to save his work dogs. He had sold all his cattle as a result of the drought but could not leave his dogs. There was the evangelical Leader of the Nation listening to him at a community centre as through tears and sobs he said “I’ve lost my cows  but I still have my dogs” to which “Scomo” replied, arm draped over the work weary, traumatised shoulders of this dignified man “Its all good mate. Its all good”!

ITS BLOODY WELL NOT ALL GOOD! WHERE THE BLOODY HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE SCOMO?

I long for the brightness of a crystal, clear day. I long for a breeze that does not herald unnatural heat. I long for a heat I recognise. One with humidity that could herald an afternoon storm from clouds that are not made entirely of dust! I long to be able to smell my frangipani flowers lying like a carpet on my pavers rather than the acrid fragrance of burning bush!

I long to see the colour orange and remind myself of the blessing that I do not have to endure what my friend endures every day. I am not without pain. I too have pain everyday but it is predictable and I know where it comes from and why it is happening and I can deal with it!

What we are doing, have done and continue to do in the name of commerce, politics, progress is destroying our world. Mother Nature continues to remind us how small are and how little we know!

 

 

WALKING OUT AFTER 48 YEARS!

It had been a pretty big couple of weeks. 12 days of anticipation, one day of travel leading to, I thought one day of Sabbath! Pacing myself was going to be the answer.

These couple of weeks had been preceded by a couple of months of uncertainty, anxiety, health scares for Triple L – heart attack, pancreatic scare, hospital visits accompanied by the now permanent state of pain in the joints I celebrated receiving nearly three years ago and the recalcitrant pacemaker that wanders during the night.

The day before walking out, I made a trip to Sydney. For the entire week prior to that the country had been burning. Horrific bush fires everywhere. Port Macquarie surrounded. Anxiety about the family branch up there. Sydney surrounded, anxiety about the branch down there, Newcastle surrounded. Smoke haze that was blinding and throat catching. Heat – horrible, too soon heat. I had four fire areas on my phone, the three already mentioned and the Archery venue! The son who has just moved to the Dandenongs comforted me in his unique way by telling that what I was experiencing now in relation to worry about bush fires was a good preparation for February down south!

Trips up or down the highway at the weekend were iffy anyway but Saturday came and I was able to go to Sydney for the concert in which my grandson was a star and to see him post 7th birthday. The Port Macquarie connection came down for the great car race and arrangements were made for us all to meet on Monday, before they went home.

I had a lovely Saturday. A great trip down in spite of getting lost just before arriving at the venue. The concert was indescribable. “Dancing” – terrible! Music – too loud. “There’s a ramp over there Mum” so I volunteered to get the stroller down it but the incline was too steep and not being a mountain goat, I was terrified of going arse over turkey with all my replacement joints until a woman volunteered to take the stroller and I took the steps! The grandson was just wonderful. He is such a performer.Not sure I was particularly thrilled about him being cast as “The Bachelor” in one of his four stage appearances but he gave ME the rose and all was forgiven.

Seeing my grand daughter, who I have seen so rarely, was wonderful too. I was a bit concerned that she would be a bit reluctant to interact but I needn’t have worried. She is such a bright, happy little personality. Full of music and as I discovered in the lounge over a coffee “Oh yes, Mum, she jumps!” This was just after I had caught her leaping out of the lounge chair and into my arms!

I arrived home exhausted and within an hour I was in bed.

We – husband and I – had decided that Sunday would be a quiet day. His phone rang. It was 8.45am.

“Oh hello, how are you?……..

oh right. I thought you were going to the race…..oh it starts at 1.30.

Oh she isn’t out of bed yet? Oh well, they’ll all be on holiday time. Yeah, that’ll get her out of bed. No, we’re not doing anything ….sure come over whenever you’re ready. We’ll be here.”

WHAT!!!!!!

“Well, he (son in law) wants to leave early in the morning and they only have a couple of hours. The race starts at 1.30. They’re coming over sometime this morning. What was I supposed to say? Don’t come?”

Instantly I was aware of the great thumping in my chest and the strangulation happening around my vocal chords as I resisted (somehow) the urge to explode! The son had just woken up. I stormed off to the bathroom, almost frothing at the mouth, grabbing my bra off the towel rail – having anticipated not needing it for the day when I took it off the night before, grabbing my leopard print caftan exploding tin response to my poor half asleep son’s enquiry “Do you want some toast Mum?”  “I AM GOING FOR A DRIVE. I don’t know where I’m going but if I stay here I am going to kill your Father.” And I dressed and left – without shoes!

I went to the cemetery – visiting relatives who cannot answer back! I drove to a spot beside the river. Fortunately I found a disabled toilet that did not require me to walk over stones to use it. I listened to the roar of the engines of the bloody care race from the other side of the harbour. I had two missed calls ( which I didn’t really miss) from Long Lean and Loveable and one from my daughter who was at the race. My son sent me two messages “Darcy likes his birthday present” and some time later “they’ve just left”. I did respond to him – poor thing living in the midst of his father and me and finally I came home. I was MIA for about 3 hours.

As it turned out my anger extended to my son in law eventually. The bloody race did not begin till about 4.00pm. The need to change the arrangement from Monday to Sunday was to do with his desire to keep his wife, my daughter out of the shops. He had concocted a story that his father in law ( Long Lean and Loveable) had to be at archery at 1.30 – which she believed, which meant he could get back into town in time to do exactly what he wanted to do!

A day and a half later, conversation re-entered the “happy home” and my daughter contacted me. As usual I was ganged up on again when she said “Do you know what Dad said Mum? He said ‘ your mother had a very big day yesterday. I don’t know where she went to  but I know she will have some time to herself and then, when she is ready she will come home again. She will be alright.”!!!!!

I suppose you do get to know these things after 48 years!

 

 

Twice More I met this woman!

She came back! Poked her head around the door, impish grin through her smiling eyes behind her glasses.

” Hello!” Not radiating confidence but a definite improvement! Elegant long, black skirt. Hair with a bit of a lustre…shampoo. Still an intricately woven plait.

“Can you help me with my bills?” Details aside, I said I would. We rang the company. Again she was like the trembling little kid in the corner. We got through  to people who could assist. It took a while! Finally put through to someone who would hear her story. I could only go so far! She had to verify that I could represent her – all this info conveyed by a very understandable ( thank God) woman from somewhere in Asia. Finally she held the phone for herself! She was in control. When her hand began to shake, I held it. ” You  did that yourself” I said. ” But you were right beside me” was her reply.

That sorted, she had a healing oil massage!

She left beaming gratitude!

The next day she was back! Food to be collected but while she waited she sat and talked to other people! She said to me ” I made you something” and  carefully wrapped in a dainty gift bag was a crystal droplet. ” it’s not much. It’s all I could do” and I thought of the widow’s mite! ” I wrote about you” I said. ” can I see it?” Again from a distance I watched as she read my words. She wept. I moved to sit beside her….with the tissues. She did not stop.

Finally done she took a tissue and said ” that poor woman whose husband is dying” unadulterated compassion! ” You write beautifully” she said and I wondered what happened in her life that reduced her sense of how incredible she is, to almost nothing!

She’s coming back! Three times next week so far! She is in pain always. Her spine was shattered in a car accident years ago. Her lower vertebrae cannot be repaired, the metal pin that holds it all together causes her constant pain.

It’s  been a hard few days for me but I am lifted up by this gentle, vulnerable but resolute woman, younger than some of my children, who has reminded me that together, we will rise!

 

Yesterday I met a woman

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Yesterday I met a woman who had no food.

She had no food because all her money is spent on food for her animals.

Her hands shook, constantly, her eyes darted about as if waiting for something terrible to happen.

Like a frightened child, quivering and shivering in a corner in the dark. We talked, another woman made her a cuppa.  I asked if there was anything she needed. Holding tenderly her long, thick, carefully woven plait which hung down her side, over her shoulder. The top of her head covered by a beaded denim cap, her eyes filled  with tears and she replied “Shampoo”. ‘

I left her with the other woman and they emerged together after a little while. No longer was she shaking, no longer was she radiating fear! A broad smile, words of gratitude for the food, for the comfort of the shampoo and the offer of a healing fragrant oils experience in a couple of days.

Yesterday I met a woman whose beloved husband is close to death. The rapidity of his decline has left them both in shock. She welcomed me into her home. It was the first time I had met her. We talked for a long time. She looked so tired, worn weary by the rapid, agonizing journey. We talked of God. We talked of history. We talked of music and its power. We talked of my Mother and hers, still alive and soon to be 102. A woman of uncompromising faith. A woman whose hope remains and all the while her husband lying, dying in the front room. A dignified, intelligent, connected woman who even in the deep sadness of the reality soon to come for her and their children, could speak of life beyond – for him and for her.

Yesterday I read the words of a woman. Word that paralized me. Words that I allowed to paralize me with self doubt and hurt. Words offered as advice but words that I allowed to harm me. “A good leader does not treat people like children”and that set me to thinking.

How do I treat children? My own, my grandchildren, other people’s children. First of all , I love them. Secondly I learn from them – their honesty, their sense of fun, their lack of judgment when it comes to others, their inclusivity, their sense of wonder, their capacity to laugh at the little joys and break forth into gales of glee  at the shockingly hilarious!  Jesus said “let the little children come to me” and I don’t think it was because he wanted to correct them or reshape them or judge them “unless you become like these,  you cannot enter the kingdom”. That’s the kind of leader for me!

And today I met a woman whose words I recognised.  A list of dates . A chronology of events that occur annually for her. Joys and pathos, doubt and faith rolled into one, slightly verbose Facebook memory. I know this woman. This woman is a leader, this woman loves and is loved. This woman is me.

And like Maya Angelou – Today I rise!

 

The day before my Dad died 20 years on.

This morning I had an attack of melancholy. I checked my facebook memories and found images of my Dad that I have used on various anniversaries of his death since facebook became a communication tool for me.

Twenty years ago, in the afternoon I went to visit him after work. He had pneumonia. He was unresponsive. I stayed a while with him. They had moved him into a new room. One that was like a real bedroom. Quilt on the bed, his rosary beads hanging off the bed head, A couple of comfy chairs. I talked to him and sang to him.

As I was leaving a former school friend who was a nurse there said to me ” I don’t think it will be long now. If there is anyone who should see him, tell them to come now. I rang my older son. He was in Brisbane. ” no, Mum, I won,t fly down. I have no unfinished business with GrandKen”  I went home, had some dinner, spoke to my brothers, one of whom assured me that based on his experience Dad had days left, and I went back.

It was early evening. The staff asked me if I would be able to give him his antibiotics – a pink jelly like substance which he swallowed. All the while, eyes shut. I sang our family singalong songs – it’s a long way to Tipperary, Mademoiselle from Armentiers, pack up your troubles, the Irish Lullaby and every now and then he would hum a little. I sat with him for a couple of hours and then decided to go home.

I moved to the other side of the bed, leaned over his head to kiss him and he opened his eyes with such incredible strength it scared me to death! I took his hand and he squeezed mine. There were no words. Just this powerful few seconds of soul touching recognition and complete love. I kissed him. He closed his eyes.

As I left, my friend met me and asked if I was sure I wanted to go home. I needed to be with my son , aged 12. The phone rang around 4.00 am. The magnificent, forever Spirit of my Dad was free. What followed for the rest of the day will be my next tome!

But TODAY my Dad was as present to me as he has been every day of my life. I heard him in the Kookaburra as I left home this morning. As I headed for my car, my son’s voice behind me ” grab your coat and get your hat……..Dad always sing that!” An attempt to cheer me up ” yes, so did mine!””and he was with us both!!

Every day on my way to work (YES work) at Mums’ Cottage I think of him as Mount Sugarloaf ” changes” from one side of the road to the other as I head into West Wallsend. Sunday drives. Up the steep and bumpy road, into the car park, out of the car, up to the top. Dad conquering  his fear of heights with his beloved Bessematic Camera getting my to pose with the panoramic vista at my back.

Once upon a time I was absolutely convinced that Heaven is a real place. I’m not so convinced anymore but I do live in hope! What I am utterly resolute about is the eternity of the Spirit.

 

 

The Black Hills of Dakota

Four a.m wakes me again. I have a head cold and a tickly throat. It’s hard to maintain one’s decorum when one cannot breath through one’s nose! Awake for more than an hour now. The song from the musical Calamity Jane ricochets around my head! Waking up to snippets of music is not at all an unusual thing for me.

Outside, the sound of birds waking to greet the windy, possibly building into wild, if the weather forecasters have it right, day.

Reactive depression. This is the latest in my collection of health issues since retirement that I am now researching via Doctor Google. My beginning line of thought in relation to it is that perhaps a lifetime of enforced and chosen Active Suppression has brought me to this next  point of biting reality!  A trip to the Doctor for some blood test results, a bit of a yarn, the bursting of the walls of the dam that holds back my tears, my frustration, my anger, my hurt and I am off on a new adventure of ( hopefully) healing!

It strikes me that headspace is a quirky thing! In recent weeks I have congratulated myself on regaining some of my former independence. For the first time  in four years I made the road trip to and from Melbourne. Wonderful! Time with my son and his family. Sitting in their sunny backyard, just being. Diverting by little villages on the way back. Coffee and country food. Friendly conversations and connections with strangers. Enjoying the disconnection, albeit brief, from usual routine and self imposed expectations. Soul healing stuff!

The months of August and September are tipping points for me. Celebrations mixed with agony so perhaps it is no wonder that I begin this October day exactly where I am! The first thing I looked at on FaceBook this morning was a video of the funeral of a 16 year old. The celebrant invited people to get their phones out and to put two telephone numbers into them – lifeline and beyond blue. What an incredibly wise and wonderful thing!

On reflection, I realise that my ” health” – mental, physical and spiritual – demise has come about because of an insidious ingrained from birth unquestioning acceptance that I was born into ” this valley of tears” and I am just a bit miffed about all of that really!

But, it seems I could get over it! Like I got over my dodgy heart – 6.5 years of battery life left on the pacemaker! Like I got over the extent to which I was once horizontally gifted! Like the replacement of the original versions of my knees and right hip has made me more mobile. Perhaps, indeed no doubt at all it is the turn of my mind and my spirit to choose something other than active suppression!

My brother Peter used to say that the way he dealt with all that was dealt to him was to ” get better,not bitter”. He no longer has to grapple with that struggle but it was the manner in which he grappled with it all that made him an inspiration to me and mine and I will grapple on!

 

 

 

August 13 sets me to thinking.

I turned 67 on August 1st. I received a message from the only older sibling I have left, reminding me that 72+ is the goal. Neither of my deceased older brothers made it to 72.  This presents a bit of a strange novelty to us because in the generation before us, most of them lived so long, I wondered if they might ever die!

However, today is the anniversary of a beautiful boy I knew for a very brief time when he was in year 7 and this morning I received word of the death of someone the  same age as me, ovarian  cancer, I was also supposed to attend a funeral today. It meant a long road trip but a tummy bug after a 50th birthday party at the weekend put the kybosh on that! August 16 marks 6 years since my Mum’s death. All of this has set me to thinking!

The little boy was Josh. He was 12, in year 7. Funny, clever, just finding his feet and letting his teachers know he had ” arrived” in high school. He died on the way to school – an undiagnosed congenital heart defect took his life but saved his brother after he too was diagnosed with what had been an unknown thief of life until Josh’s death. My school contemporary was a teacher. We were not friends but we shared mutual respect for each other I think. Her Mum died recently – a long life, well lived and well loved although alzheimers took her essence before death claimed her body! My 50 year  old friend is a magnificent Aboriginal woman who I admire and love! Unlike so many of her family she has made it to 50!

In thinking on all of this I have come to believe that death is not to be feared. No one gets out of here alive – as social media reminds us! But when I do get out of here, I hope I will leave love and hope as my legacy.. I hope too that my words wil find their way to people’s hearts as my stories, told by my children and grandchildren, perhaps by some of the people I taught are told. I hope that the telling of them will elicit laughter and compassion, hope and empathy. And in all of that, I know that love will never die!