I wrote this post about Nelson Mandela back in July; it seems pertinent to post it again, and play his song once more. Pass on in peace Nelson, your work is done; now it’s up to us.
With love and gratitude, gabrielle <3
I wrote this post about Nelson Mandela back in July; it seems pertinent to post it again, and play his song once more. Pass on in peace Nelson, your work is done; now it’s up to us.
With love and gratitude, gabrielle <3
For weeks, my diary had been marked ‘Nov 10- Day of the Dead’. Capital letters, and in pen, not pencil. I told friends about it; tried to cajole my teenage son into going; turned down other invites for that day; I was committed. In a previous post here, I’d written about how important I believe it is to remember and celebrate our ancestors, which is a significant national day in many parts of the world.
So I drove to my local park at the appointed hour, and was greeted by the fresh smell of incense, and the bubble of a hot urn for free herbal teas. Various brightly dressed people were putting finishing touches to the information display, and there was a sense of reverence, provided by the experienced organisers:
I wandered, preparing myself to decorate a cloth flag, or to peg up an image or some words that would convey an essence of Dad. Other visitors were propping photos of their lost loved one among the exposed roots of the fig tree, and I leaned closer in to see their faces:
And then a voice inside me said ‘No, I’m not doing this today. I want to go home.’
I took a deep breath, straightened my shoulders, and headed towards the pottery table, where I could mould a raw symbol of my love.
The voice got louder: ‘I am so not into this right now. And I’m SO not fucking playing with clay!”
Another deep breath. An attempt at self-negotiation: how about if I take a few steps back, snap some photos for my blog, and just relieve the pressure for a moment?
Good idea Gabrielle; no protest from within.
A quiet circling of the site, shooting from different angles, and then a soft advance toward the main tree branch again…
…‘If you take one more step, or stay one more minute, I am going to have the biggest tantrum you’ve ever seen, including crying hysterically while flailing my arms and shoving off well-meaning mourners. I don’t want to share, and I don’t want to care. Get me outta here now!’
O………K…………. Looks like we’re leaving then.
I tried not to skip toward the car. But it was hard not to.
I tried not to drive away with a screeching of hot tyres. But it was hard not to.
It was impossible not to smile with relief.
So did I fail? Did I disrespect Dad by not staying? Was I cowardly?
I realized I just wasn’t ready. Intellectually, I love the idea, and want to make it a national holiday, but emotionally, I couldn’t cut it. Not that day anyway.
So I came home early, to my son’s surprise, and wasn’t in floods of tears, also to his surprise. We played cards, laughing and teasing, then cooked a delicious roast dinner together. Dad would have loved that, and I could almost feel him smiling as we two giggled and cooked.
Every day can be Day of the Dead: using the furniture we inherited from loved ones, or passing their photo in its special frame on the wall. A laugh or an attitude can be handed down across generations, while of course physical appearance is a direct link to our past. I can choose every day to acknowledge Dad, and to give him more attention if I feel like it, such as on his birthday. He would love me to listen to myself, and to not go through with something ‘because I’m supposed to, or because it’s what others expect.’
He would be just fine about me driving away from the park, and would have assured me I wasn’t ‘failing’.
Thanks Dad x
It was five years ago yesterday that I parked my car outside work, and noticed that my cousin Joanna had called me three times, and my uncle, her father, had rung twice. All within the last hour. Unusual. It’s a cliché, yet true: a sad mist of foreboding crept up around my ankles. I decided to wait until I’d taught my one-hour class before returning the calls… Half way through the session, the mist reached my stomach, and I began to feel sick. I can’t remember the last ten minutes; all I wanted to do was get outside into the fresh air, and call Jo.
Of course, by the time I did, mist had filled my throat, drowning my ears, making it difficult to breathe. Jo’s terrible, simple, trembling sentence, telling me that my Dad had suffered a massive heart attack while bushwalking, was barely audible. I almost didn’t hear the whisper…’ And he died.’
I’m leaving a blank here for all the stories I could fill in, but won’t.
Yet always remembered.
But yesterday is five years since Lawrence died, and for once I didn’t cry. I wasn’t a complete sobbing, wracked mess like the first year. I wasn’t even worse, like the second. I wasn’t calmer, like the third. I wasn’t spiritual and special like the fourth. This year I was just, kind of, ‘normal’. I did the washing, made phonecalls, taught my class, and cooked lunch and dinner. I didn’t even have a solitary walk along the beach at sunset, my favourite communion.
[Dad's ashes facing his last sunset on Kauai]
Yesterday felt like a day of evolution, or maturing somehow. A realisation that a process had been underway, whether I liked it or not, and that I was nearing the next phase- the simple fact of ‘getting on with life without Dad’.
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I grew up in England from age 7-20. My reality was hugely influenced by the politics of Margaret Thatcher’s reign, including massive unemployment and youth disenfranchisement; read about it in one of my favourite posts HERE.
Comedian and actor Russell Brand is ten years younger than me, but with a similar experience it seems. Anyone who uses Facebook will surely have seen the link to his 10-minute interview by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight? PLEASE WATCH IT HERE.
The interview has inspired me to postpone my plans for today until I get this post done, as I cannot help but respond to the essential truth I hear and feel in what Russell is saying. We KNOW the real difference between wrong and right, and we must find the courage to accept it, then act on it, without excuse. Mr Brand articulates this perfectly, while acknowledging the path that led him to his sweet truth. I couldn’t help but reflect on my own political values, even though it’s Sunday, and I’d anticipated a lazy day avoiding housework, ignoring to-do lists, and perhaps only achieving a walk on the beach.
To elaborate: we have just had a federal election in Australia, where voting is compulsory. I knew the Liberal (Conservative) party was going to get in, as did we all. I cried all the way home from voting, knowing that my country and its marginalised citizens were shortly to be governed for at least three years, and possibly six, by uncaring, narrow minded, selfish bigots. Led by a sexist man who doesn’t believe in Climate Change. I cried on and off all day. So did many of my friends, according to their Facebook posts.
Yet Russell hits it on the head, when asked by what authority he is entitled to talk about politics when he doesn’t even vote:
“I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.”
He doesn’t vote, and never has, because he sees it as tacit agreement in the authority and worth of the political system he is being offered, and which he knows is wrong.
I know that people all around the world are fighting for the democratic right to vote, and that this argument is the main one used effectively by Australian friends who defeat my yearning to not vote. Of course I agree that everyone should be able to vote for the party they choose. Just as I agree that women should be able to vote, drive cars, wear whatever they want, and be paid the same wage as men for the same job. That children should be safe to go to school, and that everyone everywhere has access to fresh water, sewerage, electricity, food, healthcare, and employment.
But the majority of the Western world has all those things, and we’re STILL NOT CONTENTED. Massive inequities continue, all at the cost of the environment, and the poor. For example, I don’t understand how any American politician can vote against ‘Obamacare’; there’s a reason to never vote again right there. But it’s essential to understand that Russell and I are not commending political apathy. As citizens and consumers we each have tremendous power, and need to realize that.
His interview has just given me renewed strength. Please watch it HERE if you haven’t already. As long as I obediently participate, I am validating our essentially flawed political system. As long as I accept that I am powerless to create the change I really want to see, and that the world really needs, I remain complicit in global destruction.
“You ask me what right do I have [to create a different political system]? I’ve taken the right. I don’t need the right from you. I don’t need the right from anybody. I’m taking it.”
Russell’s final words fired me up! He’s not calling for complete Anarchy. But he is calling for a revolution that prioritizes the environment, the redistribution of wealth, and the valuing of the disenfranchised. Whether you do it for your children, for refugees, for endangered animals and biodiversity, or for the memory of your grandmother, please join our Revolution.
This week I decided I needed to get back on track reading Dad’s journals. Opened Diary 1 towards the beginning, and found this entry, with the words ‘Significant day’ circled in the margin:
“19/10/88- Lying in bed for what seemed like an age, mind wouldn’t stop going over childhood memories, tears, sadness. Went to see J- [therapist], lots more tears as we talked about the same childhood memories, what home was like, what sort of relationship between parents… The universe is telling me ‘It’s enough!’; there have to be positive changes or I shall get sick, have an accident…”
Dad wrote that 25 years ago tomorrow. What incredible timing. And what fascinating yet difficult sentiments.
If I was asked to describe my personality challenges, I’d say that if I’m stressed, I lie in bed with my mind going round and round. I’d say that I cry easily. I’d admit that I constantly reflect on what I’m doing, and whether I’m happy and satisfied. And that if I’m not, I am likely to make a dramatic change- end a relationship/move house/change jobs. I think these qualities are all strengths and weaknesses of mine; the proverbial ‘double-edged sword’.
The coincidence of finding this entry in Dad’s journal, the month after I drove 3000kms across Australia to make positive changes in my personal life and career, astounds me.
It is hard to read of his pain and troubles, but I’m aware that perhaps I have learnt from his struggles? I’m sure many people who knew Lawrence would say he was a cheerful and positive person, perhaps annoyingly so sometimes! But over the years, he and I shared many sad feelings or experiences (as well as all the good stuff and giggles), and I don’t believe he fully resolved several important issues. Do we ever? It certainly isn’t easy. But the repercussions still influenced his behaviour and attitudes, including uncomfortable relationships with some close family.
His entry the next day closes with this:
“… More confirmation of what I’m already working out- that I come from a family where emotions and feelings were strictly taboo. Now I have to work out, with help, what that means to me!”
Dad, you’re English- it’s a national pastime, tabooing emotions. You’re also a man- you are culturally and genetically programmed to deny those pesky feelings of yours. With 25 more years of Western social evolution and psychological research, including the baby boomers’ obsession with ‘self-help’ books, I can categorically state that emotions are now very expressed, and very processed.
Shit still happens though. Parents remain poorly suited or stressed; children still learn negative reinforcement; gender stereotypes and inequalities perpetuate. But you did your work, and you died happy Dad, holidaying in Hawaii with your girlfriend. You took up multiple volunteer roles, and ballroom dancing. You shared many loving experiences with your immediate and extended family: you were the ‘glue’ that held us all together, with your fortnightly or monthly timetable of phone calls, relaying precious news, travel plans, and anniversaries, even across the globe.
I’m not saying you were perfect. I’m not saying you healed all your wounds. And I’m not saying you didn’t have more work to do. But perhaps there is always more? And maybe a key to peace within yourself is to acknowledge that you’ve done as much as you could with the skills, tools, and energy available to you? Some scars remain more vivid than others, but a healing process has still taken place. Even if it’s taken 25 years.
I haven’t blogged for a couple of months because my life expanded so much that I myself was almost squeezed out. I felt like an A4 page whose margins were set too wide on the formatting palette. The causes of the spread? I was successful with my arts grant so had 6-weeks to make a new puppetry show, which included 2 short films, and I decided to move 2500kms interstate. I therefore had to pack up my home of 4 years, including all my worldly possessions like Grandma’s tea set, Dad’s 3 art deco vases, and various antique glass-framed pictures.
I had to give notice on the most stable job I’ve ever had (five years of teaching Pilates in the same gorgeous studio), including leaving many wonderful clients, colleagues, and the greatest boss. Most importantly, I had to say goodbye to the friends and connections I’d established during 6 years in Adelaide, which meant a certain amount of grieving and letting go.
Something had to give. And I’m afraid it was you, my dear Blog readers. And Dad’s journal reading. Also my short story writing. As well as my work on my book of interviews. Heck, even my Morning Pages journal got dusty, or else only had pages torn from it at midnight to make lists of stuff I had to do so I could actually get to sleep.
Instead, I worked long and hard creating a new solo puppetry show called ‘Puzzle’. It only runs for 12 minutes, but is easily the hardest thing I’ve done. At one point I had a panic attack for a few hours, trying to step up to the challenge of incorporating critical feedback, and struggling dismally. Thank god for my three wise friends, who could listen to me rant and wail, making gentle suggestions through my distress, and pushing me to push myself. We all knew I’d get there in the end, but it was indeed like a labour and birth re-enactment.
Simultaneously, I culled over 6 packing boxes of papers into just one, burning and cleansing. That felt so good. Who needs bank statements from 2004? Or those mouldy university notes from 1995? Sure, the essays are good, and the topics interesting, but really… Am I ever going to ‘need’ them again? Well I hope not, because I’ve burnt them. I got on a bit of a roll actually, and became the Cull Queen. Old daily diaries, folders of magazine clippings, defunct product manuals, unimportant red tape archives- all gone. So liberating. Love letters from irrelevant exes, boring photos I was keeping from a sense of duty, even old show programs and flyers. I knew I was treading a fine line between being pragmatic, and being callous, but seeing as the only victim was me, I went ahead anyway. I’ve thus been ‘administratively liposuctioned’. I highly recommend it. It can come at the cost of some sleep deprivation, but provides the perfect opportunity if you’re avoiding working on a new project, or packing up your house. And yet you can trick yourself into believing that it’s kind of connected to those activities, so it’s OKAY TO CONTINUE LATE INTO THE NIGHT.
Now I’m in my new home, my new show merely awaits its promotional packaging, and I feel bureaucratically trim, taut, and terrific. I have survived the big pack, the big quit, the big farewell, the big drive, the big hello, the big unpack, and the big ‘starting all over again’. So here I am: I’m back, and I’m delighted xx
Here is my aunt’s full quote, as left as a comment on my last post:
“… I think grief is less to do with the people themselves whom we’ve lost, more about what we’ve lost in terms of our childhood, youth, a supportive relationship, etc. So essentially I think grief is selfish, but that’s ok – we have to be, to some extent, to survive. Grief is the price we pay for loving and being loved.”
This stopped me in my maudlin tracks. She’s a smart lady, my aunt; one of the elders whom I wish I could spend more time with and learning from as she heads into her mid-seventies. But she’s in a small Welsh seaside town, and I’m here in Australia, so Facebook and occasional emails are the main communication channels. I would describe her as a political animal: a feminist, a peace activist, a vocal advocate for the rights of the marginalised everywhere.
This blog refers a lot to my sadness at losing my Dad; while the rawness of it has eased, it remains ever-present, on my trusty clipboard of grief.
But Wendy’s comment shone a different light on my world, which is the best you can hope for when writing I think. I have indeed lost everything she mentions, plus the physical comfort of his voice at the end of the phone, or the smell of him when we hug hello at an airport somewhere in the world. And it IS incredibly selfish: it’s all about MY loneliness, MY challenges in living without his support, my sadness at his lack of influence on my child, his grandson.
But MY world is all I know. It’s all I have. It surrounds me completely. So when something in it is torn away, it hurts. And yes, I will survive, no doubt, although I did briefly come close to not wanting to.
So what about when we lose someone who is not just of our personal world? Someone who is a symbol of hope and justice for millions of people?
When I was 14 or 15, my Mum told me we had to stop eating any food from South Africa. I had to stand there embarrassed beside her in the fruit shop while she confirmed from where the grapes had been imported. And the mandarins. And the apples. Then in 1984 The Specials released ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, and the opening chant cut through my sullen teenage rebellion. Suddenly my infuriating Mum became a cool political animal after all, just like her younger sister Wendy:
I still love this song.
Now the great man is moving toward leaving us. He’s lived a long, challenging life, and achieved the unthinkable. He means so much, to so many, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The collective grief we will feel on his death will be both universal and selfish; in general terms, we will have lost an inspiring advocate for equality and human rights, who has been a presence in our world since the 1960s. We will also each have a personal connection to that which resonates within us about him, ripping a tear in our unique emotional fabric. Even if it’s just the memory of forbidden seedless grapes and a ska song.
So it is with the loss of a parent. While perhaps my brothers have cried less than me, we each mourn in our own way. Communication builds a bridge between suffering humans; it may be a blog entry, a stilted conversation, or via the pages of a journal. It may unite people across oceans, and evoke support and understanding from complete strangers, such as I’ve experienced here on WordPress.
Profound communication may be achieved in the smallest of actions: our household went without certain fruit in England to let Nelson know that we supported his anti-apartheid movement. It may be a letter you write to a politician, or a march you attend, or a cake you bake. It may be in an unexpected form that reflects who you really are, and what you really think:
Aunt Wendy is right: grief IS selfish. But so is Love. And one is indeed the price of the other. Thus while I may stumble at the cost, I will pay, over and over.
Dad was worth it, and so is Nelson Mandela.
I’ve been struck lately by how much time it takes to process emotions. I don’t just mean the ‘I’m annoyed at the parking inspector/check out chick/bank teller’ ones. I’m talking about the ‘my partner is having an affair/my parent just died/my teenager has been trying meth/my loved one has cancer’ ones. The BIG ones. The ones that hit you in the guts like a sledgehammer. Or squeeze your heart like a boa constrictor. The ones that make you fall down and weep, or lose your breath and sleep and appetite.
We’ve all had them, for a variety of reasons. We’ve all processed them, to a greater and lesser extent. But goodness they take a lot of energy. No wonder our shoulders hunch and spines bend as we age.
A dear friend has just suddenly lost her Dad, on top of a big year already which saw her deal with her dog being run over, buying a new house, fighting a lingering flu, and being a single parent while working full time. She sent her friends an email letting us know about her Dad, and notifying us of her need to withdraw for a while… Fair enough. I have no idea how she copes with all the pressure she’s under, and I’m too far away to really help.
When my Dad died suddenly, I think I was traumatised. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think straight, certainly couldn’t function at work, and took 4 weeks off. Only when 6 months later I realised that all my food was still tasting like sawdust, that I felt like I had a smiling mask over my numb blank face, and still couldn’t sleep with the light off, did I take myself to the doctor.
Three tests later and I was registering ‘high’ for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression. That felt like another blow; that somehow I’d ‘failed’ to cope, and that I was weaker than everyone else who’d lost their dads…
It took me another 9-12 months to get out of that, and back to ‘normal’. It was hard, scary work, and my friends were wonderfully supportive and understanding. But I also have the time. I live alone with no dependent children; I can reduce my teaching and performing work to suit me; I am not weighed down with a massive mortgage or credit card debt.
Another friend just separated from her partner of 17 years, and has majority care of their son while working four days a week. How does she find the spare hours to write in a journal, or go to the therapist, or beat pillows in a counselling session?
One of the greatest gifts I was given during my ‘official depression’ came from my fortnightly therapist, who was small and twitchy like a sparrow. She talked to me about my grief for Dad, and my options for managing it. She told me this:
“Imagine your sadness around losing your Dad is like an A4 clipboard. You can choose to hold it right up in front of your face, and not be able to see anything else around you.
Or, you can spend a lot of time and effort pushing it away, keeping it at bay, but then you will have a lot less energy for anything else you want to do.
A third option is to just tuck it under your arm, or sit it beside you in your favourite chair. This way, you know where it is, and you can keep it safe. When you need to, or when you feel like it, and you have the time and space, you can allocate it some attention. Maybe ten minutes, or an hour, or even a whole day. But then that’s it; you tuck it back under your arm or down beside you, and get back to what you were doing.”
I’ve written before here about my belief we need to have a day to honour our dead that’s socially-condoned; perhaps we all need to make the time to honour our sorrow, abandonment, betrayal, fears, and shock as well? I know we’re all busy, and that the dishes won’t wash themselves (although I have been leaving mine a bit lately!), but attendance to emotional crises and their ripples is important. What do you think?
Different people find different affirmative ways: meditation, spirituality, faith, exercise, therapy, art. And we all know the negative ways, including denial, workaholism, and alcohol abuse.
My Dad invested hours and hours writing his thoughts for 15 years. I do the same, and credit The Artist’s Way for guiding me. I also dance 5Rhythms, which calms my soul like nothing else. I want to encourage you all to find the time, make the time, swap the time, steal the time… Whatever it takes to help you feel more at peace with your dramas, and to honour their effects on you. I know I love having my ‘clipboard of Grief’ with me, and how to give it attention when I need to.
With love, gabrielle
‘Raise your hands if you want to be rich! Let me hear you say “Yeah!” ‘
‘Turn to the person next to you; shake their hand. Tell them “You have the power to achieve great success!” ‘
Clearly I’m not just doing my weekly supermarket shopping.
‘What am I doing?’ That was the question I asked myself a lot during the two days I recently attended a ‘Wealth and Success’ conference. I’ve never been to anything like that before, and had to explain my behaviour to friends and colleagues alike.
‘I’m going because a) I got a free $150 ticket b) I’m curious about who else will be there, and what goes on (plus I’d like to be richer and more successful), and c) How do I know that I don’t belong there unless I actually go?’
So I went. It wasn’t hard to find the entrance:
There were a lot of ‘power suits’ there, queuing importantly for their VIP tickets. There were lots of regular Australians there too, a real cross section of society, from the retiree couples to the covered Muslim women, from the young cocky men to the well-kept 40-something women (ooh, Hello, I think that’s me).
A program of 15 speakers over two days, 9-6pm, in a massive auditorium filled with hard, white plastic chairs, (except for the VIPs, who had padding- and I don’t mean either egos or arses).
Now here is my first, and SIGNIFICANT gripe: not one female speaker. NOT ONE. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And after sending an email pointing out this bias to the conference organisers (with no reply as yet), I raised the matter with the very nice, well-trained, well-groomed customer service manager. His response? (And I quote exactly):
‘There aren’t any good ones around.’
I can’t believe he said that. Can you? But he did. So I told him they needed to look a bit harder. And I also told him I knew several women personally who would be excellent speakers e.g. Sheridan Stewart’s http://secretsofconfidentwomen.wordpress.com/about/ and that I’d also be quite happy to do it myself if needs be; I clearly have lots of good stories in me
[photo by Heath Britton (c) 2013]
Anyway, back to the presentations. Two warm-up speakers, talking about overcoming illness, and buying their Mum/Dad a car/house. Then the first serious subject: currency trading.
Guaranteed success. No one gets hurt. Investment of only $10 a week will turn into $1000 week etc etc.
A 90-minute pitch, which became a real hard sell in the last five minutes: a training course & software to learn how to do it for only $13,000…
But a conference special, for today only, for $5000- grab a form from the back of the room.
I kid you not: people RAN to fill out the joint application & payment forms. Old people, young people, fat people, tired people. And you know what? I didn’t run, but I went to the back of the room, and found myself doing this:
Why? Because I’d decided to go to the conference with an open mind and heart, and to see how it all resonated with me. I’d admitted that I DO want wealth and success, and that perhaps there is a new way to do it, as I haven’t particularly achieved either of those things (yet)?
What I have learnt though, and this conference confirmed, was that through trial, error, and reflection, (plus thousands of dollars and/or hours on various therapies, healings, and written exorcisms), I have a good heart. ‘Good’ as in open, generous, loving, strong, active. While the focus of every speaker I saw was the creation of freedom through wealth, with a token nod to charitable work (‘probably as a tax write-off’, she added cynically), I was left with a nasty taste in my mouth about the ethics behind the program presenters. They were feeding into our wants for comfort, for security, for freedom from fear. Which is laughable when compared with someone living in the Gaza Strip, or a refugee camp in Ethiopia, or a child soldier in Africa, I know!
[But here we are: blogging and thinking and commenting and living with our laptops and our mobile phones. So don’t bag me for my status as a Westerner. Believe me, I know it, and Ben Lee's song sums it up perfectly, we are indeed all in this together]
Amazingly, so often does Life offer lessons or realizations on multiple levels. Like it’s emphasizing the point, so I don’t miss it. This week, I sustained a tiny tear in the fabric of my intimate world. A romantic interest acted without due care or diligence, and caused me to take a step back from the path I was enjoying. As the conference powered its way to finale, I reflected on the importance of ethical standards of behaviour, of honest communication and trust, both professionally and personally. If I gave my $5000 to the currency trading man, would he genuinely teach and support me? Could he have a heartfelt connection with every one who signed up for his program, and enhance their lives? Would he validate them as fragile and worthy human beings? Hmmm, I’m not so sure.
A dear friend had a framed saying on her wall for years, which I often admired: ‘Do what most kindles Love in you’. Which is a wonderful sentiment. But now I’m wondering if I prefer ‘Do what most kindles Love in others’?
Goodness knows I don’t want to get into a ‘quote-off!’. Both are good. And while I’m in no way promoting a religious framework, the ‘wealth & power’ conference made me want to call for a heightened sense of ethical behaviour, and heartfelt action.
You see, I believe we all know when we’ve acted badly. I think we often know beforehand too. I know I’ve made deliberate choices to act selfishly, or thoughtlessly, perhaps even cruelly sometimes (oh my youthful recklessness at university). I know my teenage son knows when he’s being slack to me in our conversations- I can see it in his eyes, or hear it over the phone. I know my love interest knew he was being unworthy when he acted as he did; apologies and regrets unfortunately don’t prevent damage. However, they can guide new, more heart-centred behaviour, and offer conscious opportunities for breaking old habits and reactions.
I didn’t feel genuine warmth and heart-centred trust coming from that speaker’s stage (and not just because I was so far back on a hard plastic chair). Only one presenter’s speech touched me, and he was the token black man, selling nothing but the story of his adoption, double prostate cancer recovery, and love of God.
Why can’t we be more caring and loving without the drama of life-threatening illness, or the promise of eternal life?
Why isn’t America wringing its hands and examining its heart-based value-system after the shooting of those kindergarten children, and now at the Mother’s Day Parade? Why isn’t the UK doing the same in the light of the mass anti- Thatcher celebrations? Why isn’t India doing the same after the focus on its treatment and abuse of women? And similar questions for Korea/China/Bangladesh/insert your country of choice here.
Natural disasters are a tragedy; but deliberate, socially-conditioned or condoned ones are a NATIONAL AND GLOBAL DISGRACE.
And we in Australia have our own complex issues: indigenous rights/refugees/Catholic child abuse/poverty. How long do the research committees or royal commissions or political debates have to drag on for?
Those of you who came here to read about my Dad’s journals might be feeling a bit confused right now. What’s all this got to do with Lawrence’s innermost thoughts you ask? I’ll tell you. Attending that wealth and success conference made me wonder about Dad’s reactions to it. He had achieved both of those things, and retired well before 60. He went on to volunteer countless hours to valuable causes, such as the environment, literacy, indigenous programs, and cultural understanding programs. I’m very proud of him for that. But his journals aren’t happy; they are not happy reading. He has wealth and success, but a heavy heart.
Which makes him drink.
Heavy hearts make lots of people drink; I imagine my ex-romantic interest will have downed a few glasses of red, reflecting on his foolishness. We’ve all gotten ‘pissed’ because we’re ‘pissed off’. And we all know the problems or uncomfortable feelings are still there the next morning… The next month… The next year.
My Dad drank all his life. Once, while I was living in Canada with him, after a huge argument about alcoholism, I challenged him to not drink for a day. Watching him get through his evening without a glass of wine was torture. For both of us. And I know he didn’t want it to be that way; he references his struggle with alcohol several times through his first journal.
It seemed to me that many attendees at the conference were struggling. With finances obviously, with boring jobs, with a disconnected family or relationships. The small 60-something man I sat next to was struggling; when we shook hands, and I wanted to tell him he had the power within to achieve any success, all I could see was his dull desperation, unable to hold my open gaze or wholeheartedly wish me the same thing. He raised his hand when a speaker asked the audience who was working for more than 50 hours a week in a family business; that’s no way to live your only life.
I’ve watched the following TED talk by Nigel Marsh several times in the last month, and if you’ve already invested 10 minutes reading this lengthy Blog post (THANKYOU), please do the same for this:
What impresses me most about this clip, apart from his fantastic clear pace and delivery, is his assertion that we, as individuals, must change our work/life balance culture. That every one of us, and there are indeed millions, can change our world- “…We can change Society’s notion of ‘Success’”.
So this post is asking you to commit, with me, to acting in a more heartfelt and ethical manner. Every day. In small ways. In how you do your work, in how you treat your boss or co-workers. In how you treat the bus driver, the shop assistant, the bank teller. In how you think about and relate to your partners, your flirtations, your long-term friends and family. Little by little, step by step, with constant practice, we can expand our generous, heartfelt place in our community. And we can still have wealth, and success (just watch me!), but not at the cost of a good heart.
In five years time, I’d like to be one of several female speakers on the conference circuit for achieving wealth and success. I’d delight in travelling the world, walking onto stages and lightening people’s heavy hearts. I’d like the banner that shows you how to find the conference entrance to be a symbol of money, love, and success, equally intertwined.
And you, my dear blog readers, have not only witnessed the planting of this loving, ethical seed for me, but will get free entry. How does that sound?
It was Dad’s birthday ten days ago, April 24. He would have been 78. As usual, his far-flung family and friends toasted him with a good wine (or organic lemonade at my house), and ate Indian, his favourite food. It’s become a bit of a ritual every year now, as the time passes without him.
This year my son was with me on his school holidays (hence the lemonade), so we went to visit Dad in the Adelaide Japanese Gardens where we had (sneakily) scattered some of his ashes into the lily pond in 2009.
I enjoy going there very much, ‘to sit with Dad’, along with the sadness that that inevitably brings. He and I had gone there together several times when he was visiting Adelaide the week before he died in 2008; we both enjoyed the peace, and the ordered beauty of the greenery.
Sometimes when I visit, I see couples lying on the grass, snatching a quiet intimacy in the middle of the city. I see new brides, posing in their big dresses, standing on the clichéd bridge across the pond between their old life and the new one they’re beginning- honestly, sometimes there is a queue of brides waiting to be photographed- my highest tally so far is four.
Occasionally there is a small picnic, with the glitter of birthday food being shared. I smile, but I’m envious too. For the rest of my life now, and my son’s life, there will be a Dad-shaped hollow. No phone call, no silly card, no even sillier gift. And his family all feels sad on his birthday, but enact our comforting rituals to honour him.
So birthdays can suck. We all know that. We’ve all had one that fell flat, whether we were 6 or 36. Hell, once I even missed one all together: camping for a week in a National Park on an island near Townsville, roughing it in tents, with no time-keepers or contact with the outside world… We just sort of missed my birthday Wednesday. Not a bad place to lose one though:
But Deathdays? They’re harder. I don’t know what else to call it: the anniversary of the day you lost your loved one. Is there another word for that day in our culture that I don’t know?
In Mexico (and other countries) there is The Day of the Dead, usually November 1 & 2, a National holiday, when “… families and friends gather building private altars to honor the deceased using marigolds and skulls, and the favorite foods and drinks of the departed, visiting graves with these as gifts.” (Wikepedia)
I would find great comfort in a day like that.
I could dress up and walk the streets with all the other people who are permanently mourning, yet also celebrating the loss of a loved one, while embodying the knowledge that we too will one day be celebrated in our turn by those we’ve left behind. I feel a lack of openness in my Western culture, where to refer to dying or death is almost taboo; corpses are hidden away, cremated behind curtains, buried in closed coffins. Grief is too much of a challenge if you feel it for too long; echoes of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ still permeate our social norms.
Even more poignant for me in terms of honouring the departed are the Japanese Jizo shrines, dedicated to lost, miscarried or aborted children.
Many women I know, myself included, have had miscarriages or abortions, and even, most terribly, lost a child at birth or soon afterwards. Yet it remains so often an unspoken loss, or covered over quickly by well-meaning neighbours: ‘Oh you’ll be fine as soon as you have another baby, just try again’. If only it were as simple as that.
I have a friend whose daughter’s birthday and deathday is the same day. I can’t imagine the profound sadness of that date. And I wish we had more meaningful public acknowledgement of the personal tragedies that can forever mark a person.
Perhaps if we all gathered, united in our physical experience of the ceaseless cycle of birth, life, and death, there would be greater social cohesion and empathy?
After all, everyone’s tears taste the same when we weep.
Still, I’m grateful that I enjoyed my Dad for over 42 years of my birthdays before I had to learn a new way to acknowledge loss on his deathday of October 30.
Thus even though April 24 is now forever bittersweet, it is still a day of celebration for many of us who knew and loved Lawrence…
Happy Birthday Dad xx