Sacrifice.

The word ‘sacrifice’ has had problematic meanings over the course of my life.

This coming ANZAC day has me pondering its meaning again. The thoughts are all bound up with memories of the smell of my dad’s suit as I ran to him, when he got off the bus on the way home from work, and he swooped me up into his arms. I snuggled into his shoulder and cuddled into the musty odour of tobacco pipe, and I can still see the view of the patch of greenish coloured suit coat with an RSL badge on the lapel, that was the border of security and intimacy re-established at the end of the day.

This year my brothers are going to walk in the ANZAC march wearing Dad’s medals. Mum had to search them out. Dad was not one for medals after the first few years. He just tossed them in a drawer and left them there. They carried more weight for him than any of us ever realized.

As a woman born one month after the end of World War 2, I grew up in a world in which sacrifice was the currency of the conversation, but was misunderstood by a generation born and raised here that did not experience war, or see its devastation, directly. Our family lived in a whole new suburb of ‘War Service Homes’, where the reality of war was never shared by the men returning home. It is only now that we know that we lived in a suburb of families whose fathers were suffering in one way or another from the effects of deep trauma, and who themselves were caught up in that unexpressed suffering.

We were the generation who decried war, and the iconic play of our time was ‘The One Day Of The Year’, which explored that gap in perception and the division it caused in families. We did not even begin to comprehend the layers of what we did not know; there was no room for conversation across that pain and the feelings of rejection and misunderstanding our brashness must have caused.

(We also lived with the ‘New Australian’ refugees from Europe, and understood even less what pain and loss they carried with them. That is another whole post altogether).

We meant well. We did understand that war is no solution to problems that are caused by so many hidden factors and power struggles, that the participants – the ‘foot sloggers’ so to speak – are the ones who make the sacrifice, but are also unknowingly the sacrificed. We didn’t know that they realized this too, and even so were willing to commit themselves.

The word ‘sacrifice’ is so deep in the national psyche, that it has attracted layers of cultural meaning that have been used again and again to appeal to the heroic impulses of young men and now to young women as well. We should not find it hard to understand the attraction of disenfranchised young people to that word. We use precisely the same dynamic to ensure a ready supply of ‘cannon fodder’ for our own purposes.

Nonetheless, under all the complexities of history, geography, power and politics, true sacrifice is real, and the courage to make it is undeniable and must have its due respect and gratitude. Only from the viewpoint from the seventieth hill, am I able to understand it deeply.

Towards the end of Dad’s life, I video-taped a series of programs that centred on the last men who saved Australia from the northern invasion. The threat was was real, not imagined or constructed for manipulative purposes. Our Dad was there, sitting in the extremely vulnerable rear gunner’s turret, saving our way of life and many of our lives, as I just floated in the warm cocoon of Mum’s womb.

As I worked on the medals, Mum and I shared a few stories that Dad had told us right at the end of his life. Mum spoke about her regret in not knowing them before that, and how much difference it would have made if she had.

The one that has stayed with her most strongly is the one that he said was the worst moment of his life. He was out there on his own in the turret flying over the Owen Stanley Range (where today adventuring Australians challenge themselves on the Kokoda Track). A Japanese plane drew so close that Dad and the gunner in it could see each other’s faces. There was a moment of recognition when they each truly communicated what they saw: that they were two young men doing what they had been told was the best for their country, and they were now having to try and kill each other.

Dad thanked me for the effort of taping those programs but said he didn’t want them.

The brother who always lived interstate feels deeply his inability to have had the long conversations at the end of Dad’s life that he wished for. For him, marching in the centenary parade is a way of connecting with Dad again. His twin brother is walking with him and I wonder what it means to them as men. I wonder what they will know after walking in their father’s footsteps for a short time.

Mum is not able to see fine detail enough to restore the medals herself, so with the help of our friendly neighbour, I found myself holding the bronze stars and silver discs and folding the ribbons that were such a small visual reminder of so much history. I felt privileged to be able to do it.

Our neighbour, who turned out to be the same generous Legatee who helped Mum with the layout and a spare ribbon and bar, said that she should definitely not clean the medals. They are meant to be worn carrying their story as witness.

I have to confess that they are just a little bit cleaner now though. In the sewing, there were tears.

Dad's Medals

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Shaking With Rage.

I am so angry I am shaking with rage. Outrage, yes, but mainly pure rage. The kind that you can’t contain, makes you want to vomit, or punch something while you scream. Perhaps not the best time to write a blog – or perhaps there is no better time to write this.

I have just read on ABC north west (and via facebook) that during the lead-up to Severe Tropical Cyclone Olwyn, Aboriginal people in the community of Mungullah were asked to evacuate. This was decided by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and CAMS because in 2010 there was such severe flooding and damage in the roads to the community that people had to be airlifted out. This time there were 5 people who had medical conditions – four elderly people, including amputees on dialysis, and a young person with significant personal problems.

Bear in mind that Carnarvon is only 7 kilometres from this community. Mungullah Village is not a ‘remote’ outstation, so it is not impossible to resource it. Carnarvon WA,  has a hospital and a cyclone shelter. DFES asked the Community Support Officer to transport the five people to the hospital.

At 3.30 pm, he found them still outside the hospital, refused entry…even though 35 beds were available when the hospital was rung prior to the evacuation. He contacted DFES.

The DFES Officer – mystified about how a whole hospital full of beds could be ‘full’ after two  or three hours- tried the evacuation centre only to find they were not to be admitted there either. (No, it is not a private facility in case you were wondering – it is government funded. )

So these sick people (the first ones there) had to sit on chairs outside and watch as other people were welcomed into the empty shelter.

Humiliated. Rejected.

Meanwhile there were *$$$* tourists 240 kilometres away at Coral Bay who also needed evacuating. Are you beginning to get the picture? Yes, then sadly, you are correct. The evacuation shelter staff say they were told that their shelter was for the tourists only.

A whole clutch of other reasons emerged as to why these FIVE sick elderly loved and respected people were not ‘able’ to be admitted to the empty shelter. Try these for size:

  • not enough room
  • no food
  • not sufficient power
  • the air-conditioning doesn’t work (in a cyclone?)
  • the bedding’s not right
  • you’re not from Coral Bay ( as if they might not have known that).

There were negotiations with the CEO of the Aboriginal Medical service and CAMS and the DFES. They were not without advocates. It wasn’t a matter of language. In the end, one man had to be admitted to the hospital for more acute care (where did that bed come from I wonder) after SEVEN HOURS and then the DFES officer still had to intervene and produce authority to override the refusals. (It is said he was shaken by his experience).

Why am I sitting here in Adelaide at  my middle class white computer, with tears running down my cheeks and visions of those dignified old people being wounded so shamefully and being treated as less than then animals were?

It is fury.

It is shame.

It is disgust.

It is the story-memory of a treasured Aboriginal friend’s mother dying in a bed on a hospital verandah in a storm, sheltering her newborn baby in her arms, while the white patients were spared having to share her presence in the ward.

But that was seventy years ago. ‘So last century’ you might say – isn’t it?

What would the Carnarvon shelter and hospital administrators have done if they were not forced to act? Would they have left them outside to die? Wouldn’t that have been MURDER?

There will be no pretty picture with this blog.  I would ask/beg that anyone who reads this takes some action in whatever way they can. I have rung the ABC and asked to have this on the National TV News or the 7.30 Report. I will send a copy of this to the PM’s Office – after all, he is the Minister for all issues Aboriginal isn’t he?

As a footnote: One of our own family is an amputee and in hospital at present. I do hope a cyclone doesn’t head his way. He is Aboriginal.

 

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Dust Dirt Soil Earth.

       Remember man, thou art but dust
and unto dust thou shalt return.

Those words have hung around in the recesses of my mind since I was an earnest little girl of perhaps nine or ten. They form part of a palimpsest of those years – they swirl in amongst other layers of anxiety: being sorry for my ‘grievous’ sins, not letting the Host bump on my teeth when I received Communion, dreading invasion by the Communists – and being sure I would be the first to recant my faith if they pushed bamboo splinters under my finger nails.

Dirt and dust were a feature of life in our raw new post-war suburb. There was no infrastructure accompanying the building. Just housing the population after the deprivation of the war years was all that could be managed. Winters turned that hated dust into mud from one side of the streets to the other, including the footpaths. As that dried it became yet more dust.

Our mothers were judged by the depth of the dust and the excellence of their cleaning – of our homes and of us. Similarly we knew if we died unexpectedly, were facing our Last Judgement of how we had avoided staining our souls. We were promised that if we wore a green scapular at the time of our death, we would die in a state of grace. Unfortunately my prickly scapulars that I wore, even tied to the strap and tucked into my bathers, were brown. Second class.

Dust was the image of something shameful and lifeless. It was what we sprang from, and each Lent, we were reminded that no matter how we strove to overcome our tendencies toward badness, what we had to look forward to in the end, was to become what would then seem to be a disintegration into nothingness – worthless blown away particles of dry brown dust.

It is a puzzle to me now, how anyone could have thought this was a curriculum for dear little children. I spent my school life in ongoing fear of being bad, and going to hell. I know the nuns who taught me were not arbitrarily setting out to destroy my confidence and belief in myself. No doubt they lived with the same fears and strictures themselves. Hopefully in later years they attained a new freedom and understanding. The end result for me though, was that I absorbed and formed other layers of ‘wisdom’: of not getting above myself, not thinking myself too smart , not ever forgetting that God revealed precious things to the least – certainly not to those proud people who thought themselves intelligent or clever.

I look back now with fondness at the little philosopher who was not satisfied with the message but who felt totally ashamed for doubting it. I tried to suppress the logic that if the whole story was to be just ‘from dust to dust’ and in the twinkling of an eye, then what use was living it at all? God seemed to me very strange and confusing, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone. That was only a thought to push out of my mind – a temptation, from the always lurking Devil.

You might imagine that my questions destroyed my faith, as I was warned they would.
Well, in a way they did.

They certainly destroyed my belief in that limited, rule bound nonsensical paradigm. That itself became dust and ashes in my mouth. As I used my dreaded intelligence, I was able to discard the superficiality of that understanding. It was painful and risky to let it go and find life and abundance and trust welling up in its place.

The more I discarded what was not, the more I opened up to the terrifyingly imageless way ahead. In my hesitating steps, and my quest to find authenticity without losing anything of truth, the more I was reassured that I was finding that the deepest light is the light of darkness. In losing everything, I lost nothing and I gained everything.

You can call this grace, or God, or Oneness.

In the most minute, in the endless expanse of the Universe
And here it is, right where I am living. Underneath and through and flowing.

Life itself, behind and beyond all that we know and can name.

This year, I am spending time weeding my metaphorical roots. I am sorting out what is to be kept, what to be discarded, but most of all, what is still useful and can be transformed into a life giving form.

I have decided to do Lent again. Some of my practice is traditional, none of it negative and self-punishing.I do want to spend some time removing the clutter, holding my life gently in my hands and seeing how it is, the rough and the plain. I am grateful for every minute and second of it, for every blessed day of sunlight and shadow. The theme of my holding won’t be ‘from dust to dust’. This Lent, I am playing with a new concept.

What happens if I use these gentler words

Remember that we are from earth
and to this earth we shall return.

Pauline Year 3

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Wanting To Know.

Life is flow: I hear that and sometimes I get it. There are glimpses of the enormous warm dark full of unseeable light. They are brief (or are they eternal?) and they satisfy deeply but by not being able to think of them when they happen. They are spoilt by grasping at them to hold them. They are not for accumulating like objects in a collection. They happen in the realm of grace, as hints of more love than I can imagine.

For the rest of the time, I live in a body, that is a bit worn by wisdom’s tumbles, and I forget that I can’t set out my life to be sorted into sensible and understandable patterns. Sometimes the sheer pace and quantity of it all seems to have outrun me, and I can hardly recall all that has happened, let alone stop the rushing river as it goes on past, so that I can look at it as a whole. Approaching the ridge of the seventieth hill, I am tempted to look back – was that what happened to Lot? Thoughts of autobiography or memoir tease, and the desire to sum up and record my life needles me. I think I really want to know who the person was who lived it.

It is not possible to write the true story of a life, of course; if I tried to write that story, it would take longer than to live it. Words, as e.e.cummings knew, are not thick enough to carry all the meanings. Perhaps the only way to apprehend what we have lived, is to let go of thought and ego and accretions of what we thought was sophistication, and being empty and helpless, to go back and lightly follow other pathways, to let them shape and show us ourselves.

It might just be possible to play and hear the whole of life as layered chords and contrapuntal music, sometimes rich and wild, sometimes as throbbing and haunting as a didjeridu, sometimes happy, majestic, whispering or unbearably sad. Perhaps a life could be painted as a huge canvas full of intricate intersecting, interlocking weavings of patches and patterns, earths, skies and gold – or perhaps discarding them, made in huge sweeps of colour. It might be possible to dance it in the pulse and freedom of my body, but no stage would hold the breadth and scope of story and history, hearts and place that would need to be connected.
If I could find a dimension that doesn’t exist where I could do all these things at once, and then step a long way back from the edge and view them, feel them, hear them, perhaps I could have the truth of it all in my grasp.Even then, the moment in which I understood would be adding to and changing the whole.
Do you think this is what it will be like to stand at the crossing over after death, and to see your life and understand it? Will I be able to see my own self as I have lived my solitary life within this vast tapestry of being? If that is so, then I will be relieved. I want so much to open the truth and know what I am, but it evades me. It is a comfort to think I would at least know what I have been.

I am not sure if at that moment I would be meeting a stranger, or if one or more of the familiar selves that I encountered would be merged together and become a more solid identity than I have been able to work out so far.

Whichever it is, I do hope I would be able to look at her with some fondness and love. She has tried.

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Sometimes Getting There Takes A Little Longer.

Unusually for me, I have attended three Christmas services this year.

It is hard for me to do, as I have a passionate distaste for the common Christmas Carols. The music is fine, in its essence, even though ruined by the constant repetition at screaming point in every shop I have had the misfortune to visit this month. Played sweetly without words, it could be balm.

It is the theology of the songs that is execrable. Yes, I know the carols are old and familiar and something shared….but I can’t help myself. I actually listen to, and read the words and here I come to grief. I do not normally find any sparks of the fire in carols….but…

Service 1. The Rainbow Carols.

                    

My friend and her son were going, so they stopped by our place for a meal on the way. As the time got closer, the idea itched at me, till I heard myself ask if I could happen along too. These carols were held in a smallish old stone Uniting Church near the beach. The room filled quietly with people of all ages and genders and ‘definitions’. The State Moderator attended as a member of the congregation, without pomp or procession.

The atmosphere was beautiful, full of tenderness and loving presence to one another. We lit candles to remember people who were and are precious to us. There were carols aplenty, but set between reflections and prayers presented by members of the congregation. These reflections drew their themes from the common ways people from the LGBTIQ community experience life – both the love and joy of embrace, and the exclusion and pain of rejection. They did not stop there though. They called the congregation to go deeper in faith – to widen their tents , and make room for compassion, courage and action in the continued search for justice.

I recognised some people I already knew, and others I had not known to belong to this community before. I received a beaming smile from a younger woman I had known as a little girl when I saw and heard her in the Quire – and another from a fellow alto of my own community choir whom I had known was a lesbian, but who was coming out to me as a fellow Christian – these days a more risky thing – and then one from one of my daughter’s neighbours. I met my friend’s friends and felt I belonged.

I went home high on the love that filled the room, carried by the beautiful blessing given by the Moderator, a woman I recognised from days when she taught Feminist Theology and then studied Social Work before becoming ordained.

 

            

 

 

Service 2. The Parish Children’s Mass at 6pm on Christmas Eve.

The church was large, the congregation enormous and the seats ringed by people standing at the outside edges. At the end of our row was a little family I have known for nigh on 20 years now. They are father, mother and daughter in her early twenties. I will call her Sophia. I choose this pseudonym for her carefully , to reflect my belief that Sophia has all the wisdom of a complete innocent. She is quite severely intellectually disabled, and her parents have devoted themselves to her care and development with a love and gentleness that shines and inspires.

For the last twenty years, my working life was spent with children with ‘special needs’. Well, I have trouble with that as a description of Sophia. Yes, she needs support and care and careful training in life skills, but she also brings and gives to everyone she meets. She calls us through her attention to the prayers: each word of each prayer has to be said slowly and with great effort. It takes her longer than everyone else and her voice is loud, but she is totally dedicated to her task. She will not stop until each prayer is finished in its entirety.

Some younger children look as if wondering if her voice is acceptable, the older woman in front of me looks a bit irritated, then they settle into calmness. This is how it is going to be so don’t expect us to shoosh or hurry her..

Once upon a time, Sophia used to be a Minister of the Eucharist. I don’t know when that stopped or why. Her mother was sad and said Sophia missed it badly. I struggle with this. I cannot imagine why she had to stop. Of all the people in the congregation, this one has the purest soul. She is incapable of malice or deliberate meanness like the rest of us. When her voice continues after we have finished, it seems to me as if our prayers rest on hers and are lifted up on the strength of their purity.

I know why Pope Francis looks with such joy and reverence at such people: they are the saints in whose presence we are blessed and fortunate.

                

 

 

Service 3. In a Chapel at 8pm on The Same Night.

The prayer sheet (with the carols printed on it) has a reproduction of a print on the cover. It is called simply ‘Nativity’ . It is a print by contemporary figurative artist Brian Kershisnik. There is a post-birth scene in the bottom right of the canvas – Mary feeding the new baby, the two midwives kneeling and watching attentively, a dog and its pups nearby – and a very very weary and overwhelmed Joseph leaning his face on one hand. They are surrounded by a modern interpretation of angels – the whole of the rest of the painting is filled with angels of every shape, size and colour, male and female, old and young, large and tiny: a veritable host just like us.

As the introduction to Mass begins, we are invited to let our imaginations play and find ourselves within the frame. I initially resist for a moment then let myself slip in.

I can’t explain the next step, as it happens so quickly, but I am instantly feeling in my woman’s body the remembered knowledge that I am forming something, that is being externalized into the world from me. I am identifying with Mary, yes, but I am identifying with all of humanity even more. There is knowledge that is unspoken but grows and assumes form: that it is in the connections of all our ordinary messy human lives that the realm of grace exists.

Grace is not contingent upon our goodness – heaven help us if it was – nor on us as isolated beings. Rather the reach of the invitation to more, weaves through us all, and lies where it is so close that we can’t see it as something separate. It is Love constantly forming in us and holding us in being – all of us, now, before and after, known and unknown. Our human life brings it to expression.

We are all caught up in a ‘meeting in the air’ – the young Sophia working her voice to produce her prayers, the fullness of the love of the unrecognised people of such great compassion and acceptance in the stone church by the beach, the faithful community in the night chapel, and all the rest of us – the uncountable host of oddly shaped but intensely loveable angels.

For a while, the harshness and horror of recent times recedes, and our human hearts expand to encompass more than we thought we could .

We stop awhile and here I take off my shoes.

                

            

Nativity

Brian Kershisnik. (Google Images)

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Passing The Baton.

This has been a Christmas of transition. We all gathered for Mum’s 90th birthday in a rocking party in November enjoying contact with 100 family and friends – but now we are making a big change in December.
We are letting go of the whole extended family lunch that we have had for many years. All of our families have changed over these times, and now there are grand-children and even great grand-children. We have spread across states and the younger generation have now moved into establishing families of their own, along with the addition of partners and their families too.

Of course these younger families need to create their own traditions and ways of being. They do not have to repeat the past: their love will be expressed in new ways. Sometimes it will incorporate past practices and sometimes it will be quite new.
This is the process of life, and change and growth are as they should be.

For the older ones, some of the changes will bring twinges of regret and loss, even while we understand. We had our turn, and we did it our way.
We may just require a little tender handling first time around. We are feeling our way just as you are.
Don’t be mistaken though – there will also be benefits for us, and for some of us there will be sighs of relief as well, as we rock up ready to be surprised and to see what has been created.

If the changes include families deciding to go away for a holiday or having Christmas with the ‘in-laws’ or moving out of reach, don’t worry – we will manage to create a happy and healthy Christmas within our own resources.

We know you love us, and you know we love you.
That never changes, and it is not all about just one day.

Feel free!!

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Ready Once More.

Ready Once more..

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Ready Once more.

 

After a few weeks of being quite sick, I woke up today feeling energetic and alive.

The relief is sweet. The bird song is brighter and clearer outside the window, the little dog is looking hopefully at her lead, and at 5.30am I am up and finding my candle, my tattered old ‘meditating’ sign for the door and returning to sit once again in the space of love.

            

 

 

I had been so immersed in a head full of misery that pounded day and night, that I began to wonder how I would ever get back to wanting to do anything else other than go back to bed. Eventually I could make myself do some small things each day, but it was not out of the energy of a drawing forward, but a dragging of myself along…almost dragging myself along behind myself.

I was struggling to find any ‘common bush afire’ – and in the end I decided just to stop trying and let life be as it was. No thinking, no decisions, just living it.

I had been aware for some time that I was running close to empty, but hoped that I could outrun the crash until there was time to stop and rest. I have always believed in the mind-body-spirit connection, and this one was a massive lesson that I had to pay more attention to the art of SLOW.

The irony of the symbolism, for anyone who knows me, is that I had non-stop coughing spasms every time I tried to talk. Oh dear, sometimes the psyche can be rude and blunt!

Next week, George and I are going to spend a few days together in the luxury of a B&B outside of Clare. He has been unwell too. This week is the time of refilling and regaining, and next week will be …oops, no…next week will bring whatever abundant grace it will bring. Our hearts are ready!

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Doors Closing.

Doors Closing..

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Doors Closing.

 

            

        
 

Ben is two. When the train pulls in and out of the local station, five minutes walk away, he hears it acutely. On his Gma and Gpa day this week, his response to the sound of the train was to get out his pusher, take my hand and make it very clear that the station was our destination.

As the train moved out, and the automatic announcement of the next station’s name was called, he was startled. He looked wonderingly up and around to see where the heavenly voice had come from. With his blonde curls and his big eyes, my heart was entranced.

At each station there was also a deeper voice warning us in a mechanical monotone to stand back because there were ‘”Doors closing”. By the third station a voice emerged from the pusher into the silent carriage: “DOORS CLOSING!” A smile ran around the carriage across the silent passengers, binding us together with each other for a moment of delight.

‘Doors closing’ has been a mantra in my mind ever since.

In my personal life, I have made it a watch phrase, catching myself closing doors to possibilities – of adventures, of deeper relationships, of exploring the grace of silence.

In the world of family love, we are planning a party for our Mum’s 90th birthday. It is taking a lot of conversation and negotiating with each other as we all want her day to be happy, but sometimes we get our wires crossed and confusion reigns for a while. Doors could close but we love each other and we all love Mum so they won’t.

For Mum, 90 brings new challenges as gradually all the rest of her immediate family have now closed the doors to this era of their lives. She feels this will be her last party – another closing door – but of course we think it is a door opening to the next decade of a full life.

For one lucky baby boy, it is definitely ‘doors opening’. He was born this week to an excellent choice of parents – my niece Clare and her husband Adam. For them it is an exhilarating opening, but also the doors closing on a time of freedom and plentiful sleep. (And yes, I cried when I saw the baby photos of the one who has now held my sister’s hand and taken her through the doors to Grandmother joy).

‘Doors opening’ is the antidote to ‘Doors closing!’

If only…if only…as a community and world we could remember the warning to be careful of DOORS CLOSING. Doors to hearts, doors to minds, doors to anyone who is not the same as us. A smile rippling can connect a whole carriage.

What if the announcement was ‘TIME FOR DOORS OPENING EVERYONE!’

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