A strange visitation but I’m not crazy.

My earliest memory is of my parents reading me a story: narrative is my first conscious memory of the world. It’s something I treasure, and I’ve been writing stories since I could write, and telling myself stories since even before that.

About five years ago, one of these stories got serious. I was regularly catching the bus to work at the time – about a ninety-minute bus-ride either way – and I’d spend each of those one hundred and eighty minutes frantically typing away on the small blue Toshiba laptop with the conversations of suburban school children ringing over my head, creating a world, and events within it, and the characters – one in particular – who peopled it. For three hours every day, I’d inhabit that different world, a world taking shape under my fingertips and in the small universe contained by my computer.

Then everything changed. I moved, with my ex, and suddenly didn’t have a wonderfully long commute to work. Writing was something my ex begrudged me – he, not I, was the writer in the family – and it became impossible for me to write in a war-zone. Suddenly, far from having seemingly unlimited time to put into my writing, it became sneakily snatched in small, furtive moments. Attempts to prioritise my writing led to things I still don’t want to think about; the final argument about it led to my computer being smashed and hard copies of my writing torn up, right there in front of me. I put it aside, and resigned myself to the unmourned death of my writer self.

In the two years since Emancipation Day, I’ve occasionally wondered what happened to the main character, the gutsy, strong stranger I’d birthed from within my own mind. I thought about her in the past tense – like an old friend who I’d once known well, but with whom I’d lost contact, and with whom there was no chance of reconnecting. I thought of her with regret, but resignation.

And then, all of a sudden – and travelling seems to be the common denominator here – driving home from work, I found myself thinking of her, not with regretful past tense, but in the present tense. In my mind, she was out in the rain for a run, something she’d always enjoyed, found peace in. In the present tense. Then and there. Suddenly, in the weirdness of my creativity, she was alive again.

I’ve only had that one glance, and I’m a little apprehensive about the process of regaining connection with her – what if that fleeting glimpse, that fragment, is all I’ll get? But if nothing else, her sudden presence in my mind is a reminder of the indomitable nature of my creativity: yet another thing, precious and stalwart, which couldn’t be beaten out of me.

I’m grateful. And, strangely, I’m looking forward to re-acquainting myself with a person who doesn’t actually exist.

Wisdom in passing.

I was talking – well, messaging, actually – with someone who’s been through a lot recently. She’s not someone I know well, but I like her: I like her gentle essence, her calm presence. She gave me permission to share something she wrote about the darkest time in her life, what sounds like one of the bleakest things a human can experience:

At the time, I cursed myself for not having the guts to end it all, but now I can see that it was my greatest strength not to do so.

Wow.

She’s absolutely right, of course, and I’m blown away by her conviction and her wisdom. Because sometimes strength is not taking action; it is not fighting; it is not decisiveness. Sometimes, strength is in simply being. Waking up each day, knowing that it might be easier but it’s likely to be fucking hard. Knowing that there may never be dawn at the end of the long, dreary night, but that the darkness can be endured for just a little longer.

What more can I say? At the time, I cursed myself for not having the guts to end it all, but now I can see that it was my greatest strength not to do so. 

There’s not anything I can add, really. So I won’t.

The end, and a beginning, and peace.

Someone I know died on the weekend. I didn’t know her well, but I knew her well enough to have been invited into her home, her life. I knew her well enough to admire her tenacity, her fighting spirit. I knew a little of what she’s been through, and I knew her well enough to respect her doggedness, her sheer determination to survive and to carve out for herself a life of her own choosing. I knew her kindness and her artistic talent. I knew her well enough to see, and value, the brightness of her soul.

Now that woman is no more – a whole person, a lifespan, the thousand experiences and wealth of wisdom that goes with them, suddenly ceases to exist. And the world is a little less bright, and a human-sized fragment of the Sacred – that life-spark, that breath of life, that anima which made her a living being – has returned to its Source, to the Origin of its being. Like a droplet returning to the immensity of the ocean, to be subsumed and both lose and find its identity in that great identity from which it came. And it was the gentle hands of death that guided and carried that fragment of soul to its final and true home, and I am grateful for the sudden tenderness of those hands that took her – blessedly quickly – from the darkness of the suffering she has endured for too long.

I found myself – my instinctive need – wanting to leave work when I heard the news of her death this morning, not to go home, or to drink wine or eat chocolate, but to go up to the Cathedral. That sacred space called to me as the one place I needed to be. Not that my prayers are less valid when offered from my desk in the bustle of my office. But that there is space for my prayers, for my emotions, for my heart, in that building set aside for prayer, scented with the devotions and tears of generations. So I took a work car, and I drove up to the Cathedral in my lunch break (at four o’clock – my days are nothing if not disorganised), and I spent ten minutes in the dimly-lit silence of the Cathedral. I lit a candle, and I recited the prayer for the dead, and I knew beyond knowing that there is more to life than this fragile span of years, and that the closing of her life is the very thing that opens her to true life, and in the vast space of the Cathedral there was room for everything I was feeling and everything that I couldn’t even begin to articulate, and I left the Cathedral at peace. 

Someone should warn them in heaven though: she’s a fighter, this one. A troublemaker. But that’s ok. Jesus was the ultimate troublemaker. She’ll be quite at home there.

Four short reflections on vulnerability: two

The vulnerability of the human being is a little different to the vulnerability of the wild creature. We think we’re in control. We seek control. We regulate our lives with agreed-upon units of time; with to-do lists and job descriptions and the imposed tyranny of key performance indicators. We regulate human experience with pathologies and diagnoses and we seek to legislate, to protect ourselves, against anything that might go wrong. That tree might fall; cut it down. You might burn yourself; we’ll warn you that the contents of your take-away coffee may be hot. You might forget to put on your seat-belt; we’ll cause your car to sound a warning tone until you comply with what should really only be good sense anyway.

And yet the vulnerability of the human being is staggering. Small wounds become inflamed and infected; heat melts flesh and sears down to the bone; cars roll and flesh is mangled and bloodied beyond recognition. Fragile flesh that opens and tears, and brittle bones that snap, and delicate inner organs inadequately protected by a bodily housing that may as well be made of glass. And we think we’re in control.

How silly to think that we can protect ourselves from all that goes wrong – to say nothing of the viruses, the bacteria, the cancers. Those things too small, too insidious, to fight. To legislate against. To protect ourselves from. Illness and injury still strike and we still rage against it and death still claims us in its gentle arms.

And that is the final vulnerability: one day, inevitably, our souls will be claimed and cradled by that life-bringing death which marked us right from our birth, and which welcomes us home.

Vale to a young soul.

A week ago a reader wrote a comment on my blog. She writes that “today a young girl, twenty-two years old, lies dead. The victim of a domestic violence shooting…How I wish she’d had the courage to leave…and stay away.”

I know people who are twenty-two. Two of my closest friends in Newcastle are twenty-two. They are vibrant and vivid and alive. Their lives are open in front of them. They shine with beauty and potential and the strength of who they are, and I admire them more than I can say.

This girl too had people who saw her in that light. A life spreading out in front of her. Travel. Study, a career. A family. A whole world she could have changed just by being who she was. And in a second, a heartbeat act of unspeakable violence, all that was changed.

And there are a lot of us out there who can say, “That could have been me”. If not a gun, then a knife. Or a fractured skull or a brain injury. Internal injuries. Or that slow death of the battered soul of a person living in such fear, under such tyrrany, who in the end does their oppressor’s life-destroying job for them. Alcohol, or pills or a razor in the bath. The edge of a cliff; the train line. That could have been me. That could have been so, so many of us.

Between one quarter and one half of Australian women will experience violence, perpetrated by a man, at some stage in their lives. Most frequently this will occur in the home, and it will be perpetrated by a male partner. So many of these assaults and abuses will – like those against me, perhaps like those against this girl – go formally unreported. Because we are ashamed. Because we are frightened. Because we are taught to believe that it’s our fault. Because we are taught to lie to those who could help us, who could strengthen us. Some of us have the right combination of circumstances, and the right resources, that we can escape. Some of us don’t. Some of us can’t.

I did get out. I had people who were strength for me. Who were my determination. Who held my hope when I had none for myself. And there are tears on my cheeks as I write this: tears for a girl who couldn’t get out. Tears for a girl – just twenty-two years old – who now needs no determination, no strength, no hope. Tears for a family, a circle of friends, a community, who must now begin the agonising – and lifelong – job of healing and rebuilding. Tears because although I hope with all of my scarred and hopeful soul that she will be the last, I know with pained certainty that she will not. There will be many others. Some will get out with their lives. Others won’t.

I take a deep breath and thank God for the life running through my veins. I rage against the violence which took a vibrant soul from the world. I weep for her family and friends and the empty space she leaves behind, and I mourn her and the atrocity of her death.

May she rest in peace.

Fading brightness.

This evening, walking through the gathering darkness on my way home from work, I noticed an unmoving spot of vibrancy on the verge of the footpath. I stopped and looked, and there immobile was a dead rainbow lorikeet. Not long dead, I think – but its eyes were dull, and the spark of life, the anima, the soul, was missing.

Lorikeets are bright. Anyone who has ever seen one will remember the depth of colour, the dense purity of the blues and greens and yellows and reds of its feathers. They are bright in spirit, too – loud and cheeky and clever and utterly alive.

And yet, this one wasn’t. In the absence of that which animated it, the little creature was merely a shadow of what, not so long ago, it once was. Even the colours were fading, as though they’d been too long in the sun. And its soul, its small bright spirit, had gone – returned to its Source, like a single drop returned to its ocean.

I found a small stem of delicate white flowers on a green bush growing near one of the car dealerships which line my route home. I broke the stem off, and – without really knowing why I was doing it, but understanding the importance of the action – laid it on the fading breast of the bird. I wished the vigorous little spirit Godspeed, and then I went on my way.

Resurrection pain.

Today was a choir holiday. Although this means that I get to have my morning cappuccino actually sitting at a table in my favourite cafe, rather than getting a take-away to bring with me to rehearsal, I loathe choir holidays. No rehearsal. No singing. It’s horrible.

But of course, it wouldn’t cross my mind to skip out on Mass just because it’s a choir holiday, so along I went to sit with my friends in the congregation. And, listening to the sermon, something struck me. We spend so much time talking about death and resurrection in the church, and we see it as unquestioningly a good thing. Which, of course, it is – don’t get me wrong. I’m as happy as anyone that the horror of Good Friday, and the bleak, empty reality of Holy Saturday, are followed by the incredulous wonder of Easter Day. But this morning I realised: in and of itself, resurrection is an agonising process.

Think of the last time your leg went to sleep. Think of that moment of bracing yourself to move, to allow the blood to rush back into numbed flesh. Severe pins and needles is actually quite excruciating, as the nerves scream their protest at what’s going on. Metaphorically, then, how much more agonising is the re-animation of a dead, inert being, of life forcing its way down closed veins and into flesh suddenly jerked back from decay and deterioration?

For a very long time, I was dead. Not physically dead – of course I don’t mean that. Spiritually, emotionally, creatively, though, there was nothing. No growth, no life. My energy was taken up in simply surviving. Now – now that I have re-learned safety and am well on the way to regaining strength and rebuilding my life – I am going through a period of resurrection, as that which was dead and stagnant is renewed. What I’m struggling with at the moment is the blessed pain (if that’s not a contradiction in terms!) of blood forcing its way in and bringing life where there has been none for a very long time.

Like everything, I trust that it will get better. The pins and needles will ease, and then be gone, and I will be left with life.