Tag Archives: connection

Blogging From Zero to Twenty Thousand Views

Just over three years ago on the 9th May, 2012 Beyond the Flow was launched into the blogosphere. While I would love to say that the launch was heralded by all the fanfare usually reserved for a royal birth, it was, however, more of a mild-mannered affair. Indeed, the only attention my incredible launch attracted was one measly comment:
Mr WordPress May 9, 2012 at 5:35 am
Hi, this is a comment.
To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.
Indeed, it wasn’t even a real comment. How disappointing!!
Just to compound my woes, to this day, that very first post still has no likes and is still saying:
“Be the first to like this”.
If you feel like being nice to this poor, neglected post, or even taking pity on it, you can visit it here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/hello-world/

Can you believe it? This is hardly how you’d expect your entry into the new world of blogging to start out, is it?!! After all, where were the legions of fans just hanging off my each and every word?
Evidently, they were some place else…going for a walk or even washing their hair perhaps? Who knows? Surely, it had to be something exceptionally important?!
Well, I guess not.

Photographed with best-selling Australian author Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writer's Festival in May 2012.

Photographed with best-selling Australian author Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in May 2012.

To read about my workshop at the Sydney Writer’s Festival with Andy Griffiths http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/ , click here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/busting-for-real-a-postscript-to-the-sydney-writers-festival-2012-3/

Anyway, from that incredibly lackluster and humble beginning, Beyond the Flow has finally reached 20,000 views. Good thing I’m as persistent as a dog chasing a ball! I never gave up and for awhile there, I seriously began to wonder but slowly but surely, the tide changed and I have forged something solid, strong and meaningful.
So, if you have just started blogging and you’re wondering whether your blog is EVER going to take off, take heart. With persistence, perseverance and dedication, your world will definitely grow and without having to sell your soul in the process. It just might take a bit…or a lot…longer.
I started blogging after a friend told me about her craft blog and I thought I’d give it a whirl. It was all very tentative back then… getting my head around how to set it up more than thinking about the content. I’ve never really struggled with writer’s block. It’s been more of a case of writer’s diarrhoea. The words and ideas just keep gushing out. For me, it’s more a matter of trying to contain the flow and weeding words out. So, I’ve never really struggled with finding something to write about and I’ve been blogging about a smattering of our experiences ever since.

Back in these early days, my blog was an outlet. Somewhere for me to direct my thoughts and feelings as well as getting my writing out there. For so long, all those words had just been building up inside my computer like a volcano set to explode. These thoughts, feelings, experiences were never meant to be shut away, especially as I had an understanding of deep suffering which could reach out and help other people, at the very least, to feel they’re not alone. That some random stranger out there in cyberspace “get’s it” and may indeed “get” them. That most of us don’t wear our battle scars on the outside but they’re usually hidden away deep within and we can feel incredibly isolated, misunderstood and alone…until we reach out.

Footprints in the sand.

Footprints in the sand.


That is why I called my blog: Beyond the Flow. In the past people used to tell me just to “go with the flow”. These days they don’t even bother. They know I’m out there, somewhat off the grid but that’s what it means to be “creative” and I feel much more accepted than I was in the past.
When I started the blog back in 2012, I was just getting over the shock of finding out that I’d developed fibrosis in my lungs as a complication of my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. I’d gone into a sort of shut down out after the diagnosis as I waited to see the lung specialist for the prognosis. This actually turned out a lot better than I’d thought and I’d won a reprieve. I wasn’t going to die any time soon. Well, not now anyway. However, the shock had really taken its toll and I felt completely wiped out and almost corpse-like. The prospect of leaving behind my kids who were then 7 and 5, was simply way too much and short-circuited every bit of wiring I had. I very slowly had to crawl my way back to the start again and get moving.

However, as time went by and I gained a few likes and followers and also discovered blogs which I was following closely, blogging grew from being a personal, individual pursuit into becoming part of a thriving, supportive and really rather loving community. I found so many people out there who also wanted to make a difference to the world. Not just as an airy fairy ideal but were doing something about it. This has particularly been the case of a blogshare I belong to called #1000speak I have received so much love, support and encouragement through the bloggers I’ve met along the way and it really does go to show that we don’t have to be nasty, bitchy and stab people in the back to get ahead.
I can’t emphasise enough how much our community means to me. In addition to my family and closest friends, it means the world to me!!
20,002 enormous thank yous!

I’ve really appreciated my family’s support and inspiration for the blog, even when they haven’t appreciated my extended “absences” and late nights.

Through the next week or so I’m going to share some of the best5 of 0 to 20,000 views and some of the blogs, posts and friends I’ve found along the way. Please bear with me. We’ve had a Sydney cold snap and my computer is at the cold end of the house and the kids are currently home on school holidays you the blogging has slowed down to a crawl. I should also mention that I’ve developed a nasty cold with a ferocious cough and given my lung status, I am having to take things easy…not my usual, or preferred, modus operandi I can assure you.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Many thanks for your friendship, encouragements, words, thoughts and beautiful images. I am so much better through knowing each one of you!

Love and blessings,
Rowena

Two my most avid supporters: Bilbo and Lady

Two my most avid supporters: Bilbo and Lady

Quirky’s Quest for Connection.

I don’t know if anyone feels truly connected…as snug as a bug in a rug within the community blanket. As much as I would love to, sometimes even I find myself standing back quite content to watch from the sidelines lest I am somehow consumed or engulfed by the need or pressure to conform. After all, some of us don’t play by the rules and while this can be problematic, it can also be much of our appeal. After all, you can get a bit bored or sick of the same old same old.

Not all of us were designed to conform and toe the line.

Not all of us were designed to conform and toe the line.

Yet, being an extroverted social butterfly, I can’t help myself. As much as I might withdraw to write, I am soon back out into the social throng.

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

-Babe Ruth

That said, at times, connecting has been very difficult fore me due to my ongoing health issues. Having any kind of disability or chronic illness, can make it difficult to access certain places and events. It can make long excursions out of the house difficult. Moreover, when you are unstable on your feet and unwell and trying to communicate that with friends and loved ones when you appear perfectly fine, it is easy to start feeling disconnected. That you don’t belong. You can feel like crawling deep inside your “shell”, your “cave” and not coming out.

This is why I truly value and appreciate blogging because it somehow seems to bring together and unite all sorts of people…just like hundreds and thousands…into an online world which has quite different criterion for belonging. Yes, we too have our benchmarks and expectations but as long as you can write and read other blogs, you’ll fit in fine. Oh yes! You also need to have something to write about so you do need to be at least somewhat interesting or have some interesting stuff around you…or a good imagination! At least, in my experience people aren’t judging you by how you look. What you wear, age or other more superficial benchmarks. They are meeting you. Perhaps not all of you and I know that even though I probably come across as an open book, what you see here really is a thin edge of the wedge. After all, this is my blog not my journal and my husband and kids need to be respected.

In addition to blogging, I also stay connected with people who share my condition through an online Facebook community. I have never met most of these people in person and would only pop in on average about once a month but I do know they’re there and I have become personal Facebook friends with a few people from the forum who I’ve come to consider friends.

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

-Marcus Aurelius

Our community faces some difficult challenges when it comes to staying connected. We all live with an auto-immune disease which falls under the umbrella of “myositis” and I have dermatomyositis. The incidence of myositis is rare at about 1 in 100,000 and living in Australia, I’m not swamped with “colleagues” and we’re geographically scattered and often immobile. This makes online forums an excellent way of becoming connected. Although being small in number, our group has been very keen to get the word out to promote Myositis in the community and to connect.

With this in mind, Wally Wombat was somehow conceived in the UK and came out to Australia via continental Europe to raise awareness. Wally is a small, blue stuffed toy wombat with a Union Jack around his neck and he has a red rose..a tribute to the girlfriend he left back in the UK.

Miss enjoying Easter breakfast with Wally.

Miss enjoying Easter breakfast with Wally.

Wally has been living with our family and I’ve taken him on quite a tour explaining who he is as we’ve moved around. Most people who know me know I have “something” but trying to expect anyone to remember the name “dermatomyositis” let alone what it’s about is a tall order. I know I’m very much speaking another language.

Wally had a close encounter with Lady.

Wally had a close encounter with Lady.

However, Wally opened many doors for me to share a quick blurb about myositis. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t going to put Myositis on the front page any time soon but perhaps it’s left an impression…an understanding or at the very least an appreciation of what it’s like to live with a rare condition…a “What????”

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

-Helen Keller

I have written about Wally’s trip to the Sydney Opera House in more detail here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/sydney-opera-house-new-perspectives/ So here are a few photos of Wally’s Rowena Tour and I’ll be giving you a spelling test at the end. That’s right! How do you spell dermatomyositis???!!

This post was written as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, founded by Yvonne Spence and Lizzi Rogers. This month’s topic was “connection”. To read this month’s contributions click here for the link-up:http://new.inlinkz.com/view.php?id=527278

xx Rowena

Wally’s Rowena Tour

Wally seeking wisdom from an Aboriginal elder at Whale Beach.

Wally seeking wisdom from an Aboriginal elder at Whale Beach.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

Wally was glad he wasn't a dog and did wonder about the scorch marks on the sign.

Wally was glad he wasn’t a dog and did wonder about the scorch marks on the sign.

Wally pictured with Alf from Homer & Away.

Wally pictured with Alf from Homer & Away.

Wally in Summer Bay, where Home & Away is filmed.

Wally in Summer Bay, where Home & Away is filmed.

Wally climbing the Opera House.

Wally climbing the Opera House.

Wally & I with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Taken beside the Sydney Opera House.

Wally & I with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Taken beside the Sydney Opera House.

Wally at the Lindeman's Estate in the Hunter Valley.

Wally at the Lindeman’s Estate in the Hunter Valley.

Wally flew in on a cup and saucer.

Wally flew in on a cup and saucer.

Wally catching the boat.

Wally catching the boat.

Wally was picked up by a magic carpet and has moved onto his next destination. He has been connecting people with myositis from all around the world together.

Wally was picked up by a magic carpet and has moved onto his next destination. He has been connecting people with myositis from all around the world together.

WordPressers Taking Up the Blogging From A-Z April Challenge

If you have been following me lately, you would have noticed that I’m taking part in the Blogging From A-Z April Challenge, which you can find at: http://www.a-zchallenge.com/

Everyday in April, except for Sundays when we get to sleep through, we blog about a different letter of the alphabet.

Many participants have a theme, which is a fantastic approach to the challenge and I’ve been enjoying reading about nautical and travel themes as well as enjoying vicarious travels through the amazing Galapagos Islands and Maine.

As this is the first time I’ve participated in the challenge, I didn’t have a theme prepared but have subsequently decided to write about my favourite things. My posts are deliberately infused with an Australian feel. I am proud to be Australian and for me sharing the uniqueness of where we live and who we are, is such a feature of blogging. We put our shoes out for our readers to step inside and walk around in our skin. See through our eyes perhaps, even be us for a bit. I have also found connections and similarities and perhaps even a repressed inner voice in the blogs I’ve read and I hope that through reading my writing that my readers have that experience as well. I find blogging is very much a dialogue and not a one way street. After all, that is what public forms of writing are about and blogging is much more about interaction and conversation that just telling, informing and being the omnipotent author. We have come out of our ivory towers, left behind our thrones and are now mingling with the people…even if that mostly includes mainly hoards of other writers!

Here I am during the challenge. Take note of the haircut. It had taken me so long to get back to the hairdresser's that my fringe had grown out!!

Here I am during the challenge. Take note of the haircut. It had taken me so long to get back to the hairdresser’s that my fringe had grown out!!

Even though I wasn’t sure quite what I was going to write about for the A-Z Challenge, I decided that it had to have meaning. That I didn’t want to just rattle off a whole heap of meaningless posts just to match the letter of the day and would just end up looking like excerpts from the dictionary…Boring!

So I have more or less decided to write about some of my favourite things and I’m infusing my posts with an Australian flavour. After all, I am Australian to the core and being Down Under, does give us an alternative perspective on things. Indeed, more than just the seasons are a little topsy turvy.

So far, I have written about:

A: The Acorn: a poem about my son growing up: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/the-acorn/

B: Byron Bay: Australia’s Alternative Paradise: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/byron-bay-australias-alternative-paradise/

C: Chocolicious Chocolate: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/c-is-for-chocolate-chocolicious-chocolate/

D: Dogs of the World Unite: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/dogs-of-the-world-unite/

E: Easter is Growing Up:https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/easter-grows-up/

F: Freaking Out…in progress

Sunseting over Pittwater with the cloudy sky reflected on the dining table.

Sunset over Pittwater with the cloudy sky reflected on the dining table.

Anyway, as much as I am enjoying the A-Z Challenge, I am finding it hard to locate other WordPress bloggers and I would much rather stay within the WordPress community where I can build ongoing connections, rather than hopping all over the place on a series of one-off stopover visits. I guess you could say I’m looking for more meaningful, longer term relationships than a series of one night stands. As I thought other WordPress bloggers might be in the same boat, I’ve compiled a list, a rather short list unfortunately, of the WordPress blogs participating in the A-Z Challenge. Please check them out and give some encouragement. There’s some great writing and I guarantee adventure!

So here is a list of other WordPress Bloggers I’ve come across while doing the challenge. Most of them, I’ve followed beforehand but some are new. I would like to expand this list so please add to it and if I have left you off, just add yourself to the comments and I’ll add you in. Please reblog this so we can encourage each other throughout the challenge and hopefully create something much more substantial and enduring.

Here we go:

Beyond the Flow (Me): An Australian’s ramble about some of my favourite things: http://www.beyondtheflow.com

Byrdword’s Blog: A nautical theme https://byrdwords.wordpress.com/

Sayling Away: travels through Maine: https://saylingaway.wordpress.com/

Ronovan Writes: https://ronovanwrites.wordpress.com/

Elizabeth Hein: Elizabeth is the author of two books and is A-Zing on the Galapagos Islands, the site for her next book.  https://scribblinginthestorageroom.wordpress.com 

TanGental has a travel theme: http://geofflepard.com/

Lilica’s Place: writing about the Bronx: http://lilicasplace.com/

I am Not a Sick Boy: writing about medical issues: http://iamnotsickboy.com/

Conversations Around the Tree: https://treerabold.wordpress.com/

Unchartered: Learn Something New Everyday https://unchartedblogdotorg.wordpress.com/

I hope you manage to at least check a few of those blogs out.

Happy reading!

xx Rowena

Beyond Words…the language of music.

As a writer, words are my thing. Until very, very recently, I thought words were perhaps the only way to communicate. We had to talk about it. I had to write about it. Since primary school, I’ve been writing journals  which are all scattered around the house and are even stashed in crates up in our roof. I’ve also written countless poems and my poor computer is almost exploding with words.

Words!

Words!

My beloved violin

My beloved violin

Words!

However, when I discovered the violin, I found there was something beyond words. Well, actually I’ve always known there was something beyond words because I’ve unsuccessfully grappled with these thoughts and feelings seemingly all my life without being able to translate them into the written word. Rather, they’ve stubbornly refused to be categorised, defined or shoved in a box with a concise label waiting to be filed in alphabetical order.  When it comes to writing, this is the kind of stuff that lies between the lines and seemingly can’t ever make it into print.

Yet, even though I’m a relative beginner, somehow I’ve been able to reach and express these feelings through my violin. Somehow, it seems that notes can bridge the gap between vague and often inexpressible feelings and concrete words. Through playing the violin, even with all its squeaks and mistakes,  I have found parts of myself which had been lost and disconnected, rattling around inside me like spare parts. Slowly but surely, these missing pieces are becoming more integrated. I am finding myself. Freeing myself up.

Playing the violin has not only helped me connect better with parts of myself but it’s also helped me to connect with relative strangers as well.

Last year, I started playing in a violin ensemble. It was the first time that I’d ever played a musical instrument in a group. When it comes to connecting with people, I always thought you needed to speak to communicate and preferably share something personal. However, I felt some kind of unspoken connection or synergy with the other players, even though we barely knew each other and we weren’t doing much talking. We were all just beginner violinists trying to play a half-decent note. That’s all. But I felt a connection that touched something inside. That we had reached a place that wasn’t printed on a map… somewhere personal and off the beaten track. I don’t know if that’s how the other players felt but that’s how it was for me. It was a very special experience.

You see, although I’m something of a social butterfly and very extroverted, I can still feel surprisingly awkward at times and it’s not always easy for me to find my niche. That’s why I have called my blog Beyond the Flow. I’m not quite part of the mainstream. So even for me, this experience of bonding musically was very special and to be cherished.

Have you had bonding experiences like this where communication has involved more than words?

xx Rowena

Playing my violin at Byron Bay Lighthouse

Playing my violin at Byron Bay Lighthouse

The Love of a Stranger

You can make fun of Cupid with his bow and arrows but sometimes love does just strike out of the blue and Cupid makes as much sense as anything else.

In this instance, I’m not referring to romantic love. Rather, I’m talking about the love of a stranger…someone you have never met before. Someone you don’t know from a bar of soap. Yet, for some strange reason they have loved you or you have loved them and really, genuinely cared.

I am not going to quote those who have gone before me and come up with all sorts of elaborate definitions of love. As much as I usually love classifying and defining things with Darwinian precision, right now I’m feeling that love needs to be free and unfettered. Let out of its cage and not put back into any kind of “box”.

That’s because the love of a stranger doesn’t make sense. We expect even demand love and its implicit attention and understanding from our close family and friends and conversely expect the reverse of a stranger. However, sometimes a stranger “gets us” in a way that our nearest and dearest do not and we make a connection that is very much “outside the square” or outside our inner circle and we are almost bamboozled when it happens.

Why is it so?

I am a very extroverted person and it is quite usual for me to chat to strangers. As much as I need to be alone to write, paint and create, I’m usually chatting to somebody in my head while I’m doing these things so I’m not really so alone after all. People are the centre of my universe. I don’t always love them but they intrigue and fascinate me. I try to nut them out. I know there are no definitive answers but life is also about the journey.

So it’s not surprising that I am quite familiar with the love of a stranger. I’ve had quite a few of these experiences and can no longer just write them off as “chance”.  They were meant to be. There had to be a reason!

Every now and then, someone comes into my heart. Sometimes, I know them. Sometimes, I don’t. That person comes into my heart and I care about them in a way that really defies explanation. While this might seem like a fabulous thing, it can actually be quite awkward as well and I can find myself trying to pull back my emotions like reigning in a wild horse. I care so much but how can I possibly convey that love to a stranger without intruding or looking like some kind of fruitcake?

I end up doing what a lot of people probably do with this very, very special love. I keep it to myself. Hide my love away. I might write poems, which never get read and some of them have been quite beautiful. I’m not talking about my writing style here but the vision that I’ve had of that person and I really would like to somehow step across that divide….that gap that exists between strangers…and connect. Surely, this is why this person has been put in my heart in the first place? There has to be some point to it all!

So while there is so much beauty in the love of a stranger, there can also be this sense of overwhelming distance, inhibition and frustration and it can all just get too difficult in the end…another mission impossible!

I recently experienced the love of a stranger myself in a very powerful and life changing way.

Last October, I found out I had mild Institial Lung Disease, a known complication from my auto-immune disease. This news was absolutely devastating. This disease can be quite dormant or it can go out of control like wild fire and basically take you out very quickly. My kids were only 7 and 5 at the time and my daughter still pretty much clung to my leg. The thought of them losing their mum was extremely intense. You can just imagine the kind of very dark place I was in at the time. I should, of course, mention the upside is that this lung disease can be quite dormant and there is treatment available but that treatment can get very toxic. I’ve known all of this for five years so it wasn’t a surprise but once my nemesis had finally arrived, I still felt shattered (so far I am in the dormant category which has been fabulous news!)

After getting this news, I wandered into the hospital volunteer shop. Our volunteers are called the Pink Ladies and they have a stall selling second hand books, toys and all those hand-knitted items you find in hospital shops.

I can’t even remember what I was buying but as I was paying, I burst into tears. I am not the bursting into tears in public kind of person. Most of us do like to think of ourselves as somewhat stoic, even when we’ve just been given dreadful news.

Well, one of the pink ladies takes my hand and smiles at me and I’m pretty sure she even told me I would be alright. Usually, when someone tells me I’m going to be all right in the middle of a crisis, I’m rather rebellious and my inner cynic growls and snaps away like a rabid dog. “What would you know?” Growl! Growl! Growl! But this time it was very, very different. As she held my hand, I felt the most amazingly intense sense of love almost like a white light. I felt such warmth, comfort and strangely in the midst of all this heartache, I felt a sense of peace.

I had been touched by a stranger.

As much as I am loved by my husband, my kids, my family and friends, this was different.  I really believed I’d been touched by God. That God reached out to me through the love of a stranger. Perhaps for some people, that might make perfect logical sense but for me, it was still a very steep learning curve. You see, I’ve had a few chats with God about why I have this disease and not all of them have been particularly pretty.

As I’ve thought about this recently, I have also wondered how or even if this experience affected the pink lady at all. Was she conscious of feeling this great love for me at the time or was she just some kind of vessel…that God just moved through her without her even being aware of it at all? I would like to find out. I am always curious.

Yet, despite all my frequent hospital visits, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen this pink lady again. Funny that!

As wonderful and life changing as it was for me to experience being loved by a stranger, it can be quite a different thing to love a stranger yourself. How are you supposed to express that love and very deep sense of concern about this person you don’t even know or might know a little bit but not enough “to intrude”?

Recently, I found myself in quite an awkward situation. One of my doctors became quite ill and the whole thing was kept very quiet. That’s understandable. Every patient is entitled to their privacy and as a doctor, your privacy is probably something you have to fight pretty hard to preserve. I get that. At the same time, my doctor had saved my life and so it was only natural that I would, at the very least, care about him. But there is a real line in the sand between doctors and patients.  Even though he knew all about me, I knew almost nothing about him at all. He was as good as a stranger. I saw him in shared rooms in the hospital clinic where there was nothing even remotely personal so I hadn’t even seen a family photo…nothing. But as my doctor became a patient himself, I was subconsciously barracking for him like all of Australia calling out: “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi! at the Olympics. I really, really wanted him to win. Not for me but for his family. Sadly, I couldn’t tell him any of this although I did send him a couple of cards. As much as you care, you also need to respect other people’s space, their privacy and their need to deal with their issues in their own way. Not everyone blogs their innermost thoughts onto the Internet hoping to attract as many readers as possible. Most of my closest friends and family are ironically extremely private people.

Unfortunately, my doctor passed away. Again, I was deeply saddened but not for myself. I felt a very strong connection to his wife for some reason. A woman I didn’t know existed before the notice appeared in the paper. She was really on my mind. I don’t know why. Certainly, some of my mother’s friends are starting to lose their husbands and Mum has shared some of their struggles with me…what it is like to lose your soul mate, your partner. Perhaps, that was it.

Anyway, I wrote his wife a card and delivered that while I was still working on my letter. I wanted to give his family a few anecdotes about him from a patient’s perspective. When my grandmother passed away, we received some extraordinary letters and insights and they were such treasures…diamonds! I have this sense that when you lose someone you love, you want to hold onto as much of them as possible and every little story and anecdote is precious.

But I guess this writing process intensified my sense of connection and soon I was doing my usual thing of walking round in someone else’s shoes and experiencing grief that wasn’t mine. Fortunately, I went away for a week and that helped break that connection, which was a good thing. Feeling so intensely for a stranger who I wouldn’t see and couldn’t connect with, wasn’t helping anyone. Moreover, there are so many people closer to home, especially my husband and kids, who really needed me back.

Thinking things through, love in action is probably the best way of conveying your love for a stranger. When someone is going through hard times, you can cook them a meal, pick up their kids or make a donatation. These are socially acceptable avenues, safe ways of expressing your love, respect and concern for a stranger. People are understandably wary when strangers turn up on their doorstep unannounced.

One of the greatest stories about the love of a stranger in action, involves rescuing the survivors of the Titanic. I came across this story around the time that my doctor passed away and it showed me that loving and caring for a stranger, particular someone who is hurting, isn’t such a strange thing after all. It is part of being human and being more than just a cold and calculating machine!

When Carpathia received the distress signal from the sinking Titanic, she was 51 miles and close to 4 hours away. Instead of thinking “it’s not my problem” and ignoring the situation, Captain Rostrum, the crew and the passengers all rallied together and pushed themselves and that ship well beyond its limits to come to the aid of total strangers. Of course, Carpathia was travelling through the very same icy waters which had sunk Titanic and was also at high risk of a collision with an iceberg herself. She wasn’t exactly the latest and greatest ship either and as Captain Rostrum exceeded her maximum speeds, there was every possibility that her boilers could blow. The heaters were turned off to conserve power and everything went into getting that boat there as fast as possible. The cooks were ordered to make soup and passengers gave up their cabins for the survivors and even gave them some of their clothes. You didn’t hear anybody cry: “Oh the Titanic sank and ruined my holiday!”

That was the love of a stranger.

More recently, in January 2011, we had the Brisbane Floods.   I was staying near Byron Bay in Northern NSW at the time and we experienced similar weather conditions. It felt like the entire Pacific Ocean was somehow falling from the sky and it rained and rained and rained for days on end. All of this rain didn’t go down well in Brisbane, which I found out has been built on a glorified flood plain. I have been on picnics beside the Brisbane River where she looked so calm and still but she was really just a sleeping giant. With all this rain, the Brisbane River burst its banks spewing mud and guts everywhere. There was mass devastation.

Almost immediately, huge bands of volunteers mobilised, bringing along their own mops, buckets, gum boots and even cleaning products. They went into strangers’ homes and cleaned up the mess. You could just imagine the mess too. What it was like to clean up all that filthy, stinky river mud. It’s the sort of thing nobody wants to deal with and certainly not a job any sensible person would go chasing and yet they did. I even heard of a stranger clearing a dead cow out of a complete stranger’s  home in Ipswich. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

I’ve written a lot here about the love of a stranger in difficult or tragic circumstances but I also wanted to share another situation which means a lot to me.

Last year, when I went down to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, I attempted to buy some new clothes. That might sound simple enough but I couldn’t find anything which fit and had such a dreadfully demoralising shopping experience. I had been alternating between two identical pairs of jeans just to keep myself covered up and was really desperate for some new clothes.  Since I’ve been on prednisone, I have put on weight and it’s been very hard to find anything which fit let alone reflected my personality or character at all. I came back from Sydney feeling so defeated. I’d given up on clothes shopping for life!!

A few days later, however, I was going to my local fruit shop with the kids when I noticed the most extraordinary scarf in a shop window nearby. This scarf literally pulled me in off the street and I was mesmerised. I had to have it. Now, this is the great thing about scarves because they really are one size fits all. they can reflect your personal style and also camouflage a few sins.

The next day, I went back into the shop and instead of the usual neglect, I was suddenly treated like a movie star and my new found “friend” took me through such a range of clothes and looks that I’d never ever considered before and really pampered me. She spent time with me introducing me to a weird contraption called the shrug, a cape and I think I bought a black top and a knitted jacket.  More than just buying clothes, she helped me feel validated, worthwhile and special. She was so positive and as we chatted, we found out we had a lot in common. Slowly but surely, my “muse” as I’ll call her has encouraged me, listened and become such a lifesaving friend. I go into the shop which I’ll call “The Sanctuary” and I now have “my chair” and I sit out the back and we chat about so many personal and precious things. I am not the only person who visits the muse either. There is a little following, which is what happens when you love people. People gravitate towards you. They want to be with you…a part of you even.

(Just a small digression here…I have subsequently lost 10 kilos!!)

Even though I still feel somewhat awkward about loving and caring for strangers, I am realising that it’s not so weird after all. Loving a stranger is actually quite beautiful and often very altruistic involving much more give than take. But it can take a bit of courage and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone to take that risk. While it can be difficult to know quite how to share our love with a stranger, somehow we need to persevere instead of doing what I’ve been doing and hiding my love away, keeping it secret. Love isn’t something you want to keep trapped in a bottle or some kind of bug catcher. Love needs to free… as free as a butterfly in flight!

When you rotate “Understanding” 45 degrees, you get a butterfly. Just an interesting thought. It’s amazing what you discover when you doodle.

Butterfly in a Love Bubble…Two hearts that beat as one.

Butterfly in a Love Bubble…two hearts that beat as one.

So on that note, it’s time for me to leave my inner labyrinth and go with the flow…love’s flow instead of being so ridiculously inhibited. I have sent off one of my poems this week and I’m going to finish off that letter to my doctor’s wife. My doctor’s obituary recently appeared in the paper and it was very warm and intimate, providing me I guess with a bridge of some sort…some way of reaching across the great divide.

I just had this thought…

If we could only paint the world with love, perhaps the Earth could even glow like the sun…and not through global warming either!

What are we waiting for?

I’ll race you…

On your marks! Get set! Go!

Last one there’s a rotten egg!