Tag Archives: forgiveness

The Dog and the Omniscient Narrator… Brisbane 1888.

As I mentioned in my previous posts this week, I’ve been reading through dog stories in old newspapers online and reworking them into posts on my blog.

brisbane-1888

Brisbane 1888.

Our latest story comes from Brisbane, Queensland and we’re turning our clocks back to 1888, one hundred years after European settlement when Brisbane was but a fledgling town of 366,940 persons[1]. We’re also returning to the era of the horse and cart.

Introducing…The Dog’s Revenge

“Two Brisbane gentlemen residing together each owned a dog—one a collie, the other a

Newfoundland. The latter dog was always kept on the chain, while his more fortunate mate had the run of the place, a circumstance which did not tend to increase the little love they bore each other.

The collie, presumably being a victim to ennui, and being one of those to whom the proverb “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do” would well apply, used to delight in teasing the restrained Newfoundland; he would always bring bones to the latter’s kennel and coolly proceed to gnaw them just beyond the larger dog’s tether. The collie would at times steal into the Newfoundland’s dominions when the latter was asleep and annex his food, which he would play with in a tantalising manner and finally devour just out of reach, but under the very nose, of the rightful owner.

This course of proceeding naturally caused the victim unutterable annoyance, and he thirsted for his persecutor’s gore. The fates were all in favour of the collie though, for the only exercise the Newfoundland received was under the eye of his master, who was always ready to stop any fighting.However, one day an opportunity occurred for the carrying out of a well-laid plan of revenge. The two dogs were taken to the river for a swim, and immediately the collie had got a dozen yards or so from the bank the long-suffering Newfoundland seized him by the neck and ducked him. Every time the astonished collie rose to the surface a well-aimed blow on the head from the enemy’s immense paw immersed him again and again, until the owner, seeing that unless a speedy rescue was effected his dog would drown, was obliged to swim out to the pair, and after much difficulty succeeded in bringing the collie to shore more dead than alive.

newfoundland-dog

It was not for some days that the half-drowned animal was restored to his usual health, and it was noticeable that from that day the collie treated his erstwhile victim with the profoundest respect, and entirely discontinued annoying him.

The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939) Saturday 7 January 1888 p 26 Article

 …….

Reading through this story, particularly after researching Newfoundlands for my last post, I can just imagine those huge, webbed paws rising through the water and pushing that nasty collie under the water, knowing exactly what it was doing. Not killing it but repeatedly tormenting the Collie in the same way it had treated him…an eye for an eye…justice. It almost makes sense and yet weren’t there alternatives?

Probably not if you were that Newfoundland and no one’s come to your rescue.

This brings me to the person who wrote this story, otherwise known as the “Omniscient Narrator”… the story behind the story.

As you might be aware, the omniscient narrator “knows all the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in the story, while maintaining an omniscient – or godlike – distance.[2]

So in this scenario, our narrator is fully aware that the Newfoundland, a huge dog renowned for its swimming abilities and athletic strength, is kept chained up at least for very extended periods AND that the Newfoundland is being repeatedly tormented by the Collie and that the owners of both dogs, aren’t doing anything about it.

Yet, the narrator’s seemingly done nothing about it.

Well, they did write about it but I can’t help feeling that they thought the story was funny or entertaining in some way, rather than trying to speak up for the dog. After all, the dog was still being chained up even if the collie has changed its ways.

This raises important issues for writers. Is it okay for us to take the role of the detached observer? Be that omniscient narrator? Or, should we intervene? How do you feel about writers, journalists and the like writing about suffering without stepping in and trying to help the victim? After all, while this might be a story about a dog who lived and died well over 100 years ago, it’s also about today. Our role in the here and now.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

xx Rowena

Sources

[1] As of 31st December, 1887 Source: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/19931712

[2] http://study.com/academy/lesson/third-person-omniscient-narrator-definition-examples.html

S-Sylvia Plath. Help Me Dorothy Dix!#AtoZchallenge

Dear Dorothy Dix,

I’m writing a series of letters to dead poets and Sylvia Plath is next on my list. What should I write?

Although I’ve written some pretty challenging letters already, what do you say to someone who took their life?

We are both mothers of young children. Yet, I am fighting tooth and nail to stay alive, desperately wanting to see my kids grow up. Be there to guide and support their path.

That said, I’ve also had my own dark days, when I’ve succumbed to the black dog. I know it what it’s like when it eats you alive. Perhaps, she couldn’t see any other way out.

Yet, that doesn’t mean I understand.

While she lived with mental illness, so many people tried so hard to save her, but still she slipped away.

It’s only human to ask why but I won’t.

Of course, I’ll greet her with a smile. Offer her a cup of tea. But do I really have to be nice?

What should I do?

Signed,

Baffled.

Newton Family & bilbo

Disease in full swing. This family photo was taken prior to my diagnosis.

 

………….

Dear Baffled,

You need your head read,

raising sleeping poets

from the dead.

You should have left

them alone instead.  

Read a book!

Stayed in bed!

 

How did you like my first attempts at poetry?

What’s done is done.

The best I can suggest is to give Sylvia Plath my Dictates for a Happy Life.

You can’t always save someone from themselves…or the ravages of mental illness. But, never ever give up trying! You never know what might actually make a difference and save a life.

That sounds like a contradiction but there are no simple answers on the trail you’re blazing.

Simply persevere!

Regards,

Dorothy Dix.

Dictates for a Happy Life- Dorothy Dix

First. Make up your mind to be happy. Happiness is largely a matter of self-hypnotism. You can think yourself happy or you can think yourself miserable. It is up to you…learn to find pleasure in simple things. If you can’t go to the opera, you can turn on the radio. Nail on your face the smile that won’t come off, and after a bit you will find that it comes naturally.

Second. Make the best of your lot. Of course, you’re not everything you want and things are not just right. Nobody is that lucky. Even the most fortunate have a lot of crumpled rose leaves under their forty mattresses of ease. There isn’t a single human being who hasn’t plenty to cry over, and the trick is to make the laughs outweigh the tears.

Third. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think that everything that happens to you is of world-shaking importance and that somehow you should have been protected from the misfortunes that befall other people. When death robs you of one you love, or you lose your job, don’t demand to know of high heaven why this should happen to you and grow rebellious and morbid over your sorrow. We are never happy until we learn to laugh at ourselves.

Fourth. Don’t take other people too seriously. They are not so much, anyway. Don’t let their criticisms worry you. You can’t please everybody, so please yourself. Don’t let your neighbors set your standards for you. Don’t run into debt trying to keep up with the Joneses, or bore yourself to death trying to be as intelligent as the Highbrows. Be yourself and do the things you enjoy doing if you want to be comfortable and happy.

Fifth. Don’t borrow trouble. You have to pay compound interest on that and it will bankrupt you in the end. It is a queer thing, but imaginary troubles are harder to bear than actual ones. There are none of us who have not lain awake at night petrified with dread of some calamity that we feared might befall us and that we felt would shatter our lives if it should occur. Generally it never happened, but if it did, it was not so bad after all and we survived it without serious injury. Enjoy today and let tomorrow take care of itself. There is no sounder adage than that which bids us not to trouble trouble until trouble troubles us. The only good that worrying ever did anyone was make him thin. It is grand for the figure but hard on the disposition.

Sixth. Don’t cherish enmities and grudges. Don’t keep up old quarrels. Don’t remember all the mean things people have done to you. Forget them. Hate is a dreadful chemical that we distill in our own hearts, that poisons our own souls. It takes all the joy out of life and hurts us far worse than it does anyone else. There is nothing so depressing as having a grudge against someone. Nothing makes a home so miserable as for the family not to be on good terms. Meeting someone you don’t speak to will spoil any party. So if you have an enemy, forgive him and kiss on both cheeks, not for his sake but simply because it is to making you unhappy and uncomfortable to be stirred up in wrath against him.

Seventh. Keep in circulation. Go around and meet people. Belong to clubs. Travel as much as you can. Have as many interests as possible. Have hosts of friends. That is the way to keep yourself cheerful and jolly and thinking that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Eighth. Don’t hold post-mortems. Don’t spend your life brooding over the mistakes you have made or the sorrows that have befallen on you. What is done is done and cannot be changed, but you can have your whole future life in which to make good. Not all the tears can bring back those we have lost, but we can make life miserable for ourselves and those about us by our unavailing weeping. Quit beating upon your breast because you haven’t as much money as you used to have. Don’t be one of those who never get over things. Have the courage to take misfortune on the chin and come up smiling.

Ninth. Do something for somebody less fortunate than yourself. Minister to other people’s trouble and you will forget your own. Happiness is a coin that we keep only when we give it away.

Tenth. Keep busy. That is the sovereign remedy for unhappiness. Hard work is a panacea for trouble. You never saw a very busy person who was unhappy.

Violin rose

 

 

 

The Masked Intruder.

You creep…
a foul, odorous gas
permeating
my each and every cell,
even creeping in between
the fibres of my bones.
Splitting my very atoms
to build your sovereign shrine
within each cell…
a nest to lay your poisonous eggs.

Catastrophization turned real,
blasted invader!
You can’t even leave
the smallest little part of me
alone.
Penetrating deep within my DNA,
you lurk beyond the microscope.
No one else can see you
but I know that you’re there.
A Machiavellian villain
purring like a cat
toying with its prey,
you enjoy my pain
and laugh.
You bastard!

What am I supposed
to call you?
How can I figure out
quite who or what you are?
You might have a name.
Be something out of a textbook.
Of course, Google knows
exactly who you are.
Yet, even they can’t explain
why you came.
Or,why you came to me.
After all,
why didn’t you go next door?
Find someone else to be
your magnificent host?
I’m not going to blame
my God of love
for all your hate…
my pain.

Yet,
the earth has turned
round and round
and I still don’t know
why you came.
I didn’t offer you tea,
let alone cake.
Yet, you stayed.
Now, you are I are bound
together as one.
I am the bride.
You are the groom.
A forced union,
I had no say in it.
No say in it at all.
I never vowed a thing.

So,
how can I break through
the chains which bind us?
Bind us together as one.
Until death do us part.
There is no divorce.
No escape.
We are fused.
Melted together.
This is forever.

Or,
So I thought.

Suddenly,
You were gone.

Your ring’s still on my finger
but your hands are no longer
wrapped around my throat,
squeezing out my very last breath
until my face turns blue, corpse-grey
while you somehow kept me alive
but only just.

Dare I ask you why you left?
Or, if you’ll return?
No. There’s no time to stop,
reflect or introspect.
I’ve changed all the locks.
Carpe diem seize the day.
I’ve finally reached
the other side of the rainbow,
basking alone in the sun
where even your shadow is gone.

I live inspite of you
but maybe even
because.

Rowena Newton
3rd February, 2016.

Written on the train to and from a dentist appointment at Kirribilli. I was fuming because it seemed that the dermatomysitis had affected my teeth. Not hugely but was playing silly buggers. Grrr!!! It set off yet another round of cannonfire.

 

Forgiveness

For the last two days, I’ve been living and breathing forgiveness as I participated in 1000 Voices for Compassion‘s January link up on forgiveness. I very much feel like a new person and have grown so much. Thank you! It’s been tremendous food for the soul!

As Trent pointed out, you could easily write a book about the nature of forgiveness and what it means to forgive.

However, after all that I’ve read, to me forgiveness is climbing straight up that rugged, almost vertical mountain where you’re dragging yourself along covered in mud, dirt and scratches but when you finally get to the top and look out, you have found the promised land. You are living in green pastures. Of course, it doesn’t last. We have to keep crawling back but the journey is more than worth the costs.

Ideally, however, we catch our issues before they have reached such insurmountable heights.

As I concluded in my own post: it doesn’t matter who or what is hurting you, you need to forgive and quite often this forgiveness is all about the little things. Overcoming the everyday. It’s less about that big one-off apology. It’s a daily thing. Just like breathing, eating, thinking, we forgive.

Over the last two days, I have read over 20 different journeys of grappling with forgiveness: the struggle, the setbacks, the jubilation and the status quo. I have walked in so many different pairs of shoes. Seen and experienced tremendous struggle through those eyes  and feel so incredibly privileged to be a part of those. To hold hands with my friends and share the innermost beating of our hearts and very painful memories and to find acceptance, understanding, love…and COMPASSION!!

This is such a treasured gift! Thank you.

In terms of feeding my soul, it’s been like indulging on super foods…a veritable feast (and if you are anything like me, you have to include chocolate in there, of course!) Each and every person has brought something unique and valuable to the table, which has become something of a gourmet pot luck dinner.You open the lid and WOW!!!

I would like to encourage anyone who is struggling to forgive and still feeling whatever kind of angst, to persevere. Keep walking. Even if you only change your position ever so slightly, you have moved. Have a new perspective. Never give up!

If you haven’t already visited the  Link Up, I highly recommend it. It’s food for the soul.

Love & blessings,

Rowena

 

Forgiving the Unforgivable.

What if you were called on to forgive something you can’t see, can’t touch yet it stalks you 24/7 year after year after year, never releasing its grasp?

Welcome to my blessing and my curse.

Dermatomyositis is a severe, systemic auto-immune disease where your muscles attack themselves and self-destruct. It also, as the name suggests, attacks your skin and can also cause fibrosis in your lungs. Treatment is available but can be tricky. My case is considered severe and has been somewhat resistant to treatment but I’m lucky that my doctors keep plucking rabbits out of their hat, coming up with something new. I have been in remission for 2 years and am currently doing very well for me.

Newton Family & bilbo

A family photo with Bilbo as a pup Mother’s Day, 2007. This was taken 6 months before my diagnosis when I was already quite ill.

As I said, dermatomyositis is my blessing and my curse.

My blessing because most of the time I live my life to the very fullest appreciating each and every moment. I know life is short. Although I get sidetracked probably more than most, I do know what matters most to me and I do try to put these people first. Not always successfully but I love my family and my friends but I also love my writing, photography and helping others.

This, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a complex balancing act. However, dermatomyositis doesn’t understand love, relationships, priorities dream or goals. It just stampedes over the lot of it and when it flares up, even the best time management in the world, can’t save you.

Rowena

Getting my infusion in the brand new hospital.

Hence, it’s my curse. Almost since the birth of my daughter, I’ve been haunted by dermatomyositis and we are actually surprised but exceptionally grateful that I’m still here. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to have your two year old son look up at you with his huge blue eyes and blond curls and ask: “Mummy better?” Worse than that, I couldn’t answer him. We didn’t know. To fall at home and knock your 16 month old toddler over on your way down but not being able to reach her and also to strangely to find that you can’t get up again yourself, is perplexing at best. What on earth was going on? In the end, my husband was carrying our sleeping daughter off my lap and into her cot. He even had to help me get dressed and cover me with my dooner each night. My parents were stepping in more and more to look after our kids and even me… their 35 year old daughter!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

It’s hard to believe that the same person who has subsequently developed a love of adventure  (albeit within my limitations) was ever so sick. Or, is still affected by this snoring giant which is kept under control through medication. I have been left with 60% lung capacity and some mobility issues but these are no match for my iron will. I am incredibly determined and have the best inspiration in the world…my family, my friends, my writing and my life.

DSC_9437

Sailing this week.

That said, I am lucky there is treatment. No amount of determination can help you beat a disease without treatment.

The life I am living is good, even if it isn’t anything like what I’d planned or expected.

I could focus on all that I’ve lost but going down that path, really is the road to ruin…just like unforgiveness.

amelia heart painting

We have more choice in how we paint our own picture than I ever thought possible.

Seizing hold of all the good in the life I have now…this is the road to happiness. Do we call it forgiveness? Acceptance? I don’t know but whatever you call it, it certainly took me a long time to get here. I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis 9 years ago and I certainly didn’t reach this point overnight. I was angry and didn’t know who or what to blame. God? Bad luck? Genetics? Indeed, it was only after I had chemo 2 years ago almost to the day, that I have let it all go and finally learned what it means to be a human BEING…not just a HUMAN DOING.

I still haven’t got it down to a fine art nor do I have all the answers. However, I’ve made radical progress possibly through letting go. I had to walk away from my job a few years ago but I am now at the point where I’m about to step out there again.I’m yet to work out where I’m going or how. However, that can wait. My kids are starting new schools next week and for the next few months, I make no apologies for putting my kids first. The rest can wait.

So, how have I been able to forgive dermatomyositis and move forward?

Fight back and don’t be a victim. This means doing what I can to give myself the best chance of managing the disease and trying not to make things worse. This also means taking responsibility for my health and not delegating my life to anyone else. I take my medication. Have regular blood tests. Exercise. Could eat better but could eat worse.

Have fun. Enjoy!

Extend my limits. If you can’t go through the front door, how about trying the side door? Think laterally and be resourceful. It can be very easy to shrink inside your shell where it is warm and cosy but do you really want to live the rest of your life at half-mast?

Rowena Violin

Violin Concert 2015.

Everyone needs a reason to live. A reason to get up in the morning. A reason to go through all the tedious bits and pieces in life when the going gets tough, boring or too painful to go on. It doesn’t matter what that reason is but without that, how to you keep putting one foot in front of the other?

Find support. I’ve had considerable counselling over the years and that really helped. I had some training in mindfulness techniques which I really struggled to take on board at the time but probably use more than I realise. I also went on a low-dose anti-depressant during a serious setback a few years ago and stayed on them. I am looking at re-visiting this in the next few months. I’ve been on so many other drugs that I let it be but they’ve come down significantly so it’s time for a review. My life is no longer hanging on by a thread.

Find a way of releasing your anger. I have written journal after journal burning off angst, deep sorrow, anger and anxiety throughout this journey and it’s really helped…both through venting and also being able to look back and see how far I’ve progressed.

Get out of your box. Sitting at home alone, it’s too easy to feel sorry for yourself and focus too much on how things how gone wrong for you. However, you only need to step outside your front door to realise that everyone has their lot…the blessings and their curse. You are not the only one. Even if you have a rare disease like me, there are still people in the same boat. For me, that’s either other parents battling health issues or others fighting different auto-immune diseases. I am far from being alone.

Most of us know if our glass is half-empty or half full. If you’re a pessimist, you’ll probably need to work harder to maintain your equilibrium. Write down something to be grateful for everyday…your What Went Well or WWW Book. Focus on that instead of the bad stuff.

Help someone else. Helping someone else has been shown to do wonders for your mood.

I have always seen dermatomyositis and a separate being, not “me” or even a part of myself. This means I haven’t internalised it. I am still myself.

Watch your language. Never call yourself a “sufferer”. I don’t have dermatomyositis. I am living with it. It might have moved into my body but it hasn’t taken over my soul.

 

Before I head off, I just wanted to address forgiveness when it’s someone you love who is living with a chronic illness or disability, which is a very different experience from being the person directly affected.

From my experience, it’s much harder for those around me to separate me from the disease. So, when I’m too tired to listen, be attentive, play, join in or can’t go bushwalking, go to the shops or invite friends over, they don’t usually see dermatomyositis. It’s more a case of Mummy being asleep again. Mummy can’t be bothered or…Mummy doesn’t love me.

After all, while I might have an over-abundance of words, don’t we all know actions speak louder than words!

So, I also have to forgive what can be a lack of understanding and compassion by those who I love the most at times. Deal with their anger and disappointment that Mummy is somewhat broken and there’s a gap between the concept of what a mother should be and reality. As my health goes up and down quite significantly, this can also be the contrast between well Mummy and sock Mummy. They don’t need to look any further afield to make that comparision.

When my kids are angry about things and playing up, they’re actually needing more love, not less and it’s not the time for me to retreat, which goes against any concept of self-preservation but that’s what it means to be a parent. Somehow, you need to be thick-skinned and thin-skinned all at the same time but who is immune to being hurt, especially by those you love the most?

This all brings me to this point. It doesn’t matter who or what is hurting you, you need to forgive and quite often this forgiveness is all about the little things. Overcoming the everyday. It’s less about that big one-off apology. It’s a daily thing. Just like breathing, eating, thinking, we forgive.

This post is part to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. Please check out the link  to have your mind truly blown away by such personal journeys of grappling with forgiveness. Each month writers come together to post on compassion often within a theme. This month’s theme is forgiveness. 

xx Rowena

 

Proust Questionnaire: Making Mistakes.

As you might be aware, I’m working my way through the Proust Character Questionnaire as background research for the Book Project.The journey started here:

Continuing right along with the Proust Questionnaire, we’re now up to question 3:

What is the Trait you deplore most in yourself?

Addressing this question in 2015 well beyond the Victorian era when it was posed, I’m a little taken aback.

Aren’t you supposed to be asking me about my strengths before we get stuck into the weaknesses? Isn’t that how this thing works? Don’t I get an opportunity to shine before I hang out all my dirty laundry?

Smile!

Smile!

Well, I guess you could say things were a little different back in 1890 when Proust responded to the questionnaire as a teenager. This was long before phrases like: “Greed is good” and “looking after Number 1” came into vogue.

Indeed, dare I mention the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

I might be wrong but it seems like the Victorians were more concerned about what they were doing wrong than doing right. After all, this seems the era where you constantly renovated yourself, rather than your house.

However, when it comes to the trait I most deplore in myself it has to be making mistakes. I really don’t like making mistakes and often feel like a bumbling idiot.

Sponge Cake

Sponge Cake

Take yesterday’s sponge cake for instance. I probably took it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, which meant that the top was still a bit too moist. There I was staring at perfection one minute and then the top stuck to the wire cooling rack and just like a skinned knee on bitumen, it was savagely ripped off. While it might have looked funny for the blog photo and made me look endearingly human, I didn’t want to be human. I wanted perfection. I wanted to swan around at home as if I’d just won Best Cake in Show at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Violin Concert 2013.

Violin Concert 2013.

The same goes with playing my violin. I cringe every time that jolly instrument squeaks, even though violins are legendary for being difficult, temperamental and just plain nasty. If you think a two year old child can throw the world’s greatest tantrum, you haven’t met a violin and yet, they can sing like an angel too!

There I was two years ago practicing for my preliminary exam with my accompanist and it was so hot that my fingers were sliding down the strings. After all those months of practice, to have my performance compromised by the heat was almost the last straw. I could’ve hurled that violin straight of Sydney’s most famous suicide spot The Gap without a second thought.

Indeed, my aversion to making mistakes on my beloved violin was so intense that I arrived at the examination rooms an hour early to warm up (despite the heat). When there was nowhere to practice, I went downstairs onto Sydney’s busy York Street and set myself up in an empty bus shelter practicing away as bicycle couriers, buses and cars whizzed past. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I was going to get my A…and I did!

So, as much as I hate myself for making mistakes, I do admire myself for those times where I keep pushing through, persevere and finally reach victory!

A family photo Mother's Day 2007.

A family photo Mother’s Day 2007.

When it comes to making mistakes as a parent, of course, the list is endless but at least I never left the baby at the bus stop or failed to pick the kids up from school. Most of what I term mistakes are actually more funny incidents in retrospect. Such as the time, our newborn son was still crying at 2.00AM and my husband put him in the pram and took him for a walk through the local shops and his screams were apparently quite deafening as they echoed through the empty streets. There was also the time we completely freaked out because he’d turned orange. We’d thought he was dying but he’d simply eaten too many orange vegetables. There were also his explorations which took him on top of the back shed at 2 years and looking like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he marvelled at the “mountains” and how different things looked from up there. Another time, he fell off the back shed and Mummy caught him. He also got stuck exploring under the house and did I mention anything about climbing trees? Our daughter cut her finger when she was 3 and needed surgery after that.There have also been many hours where my children have had to occupy themselves as the ravages of living with my auto-immune disease took over.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

I’m sure this list of parenting mistakes is only going to extend now that our son’s about to start high school and we’ll soon be embarking on the teenage years.

What I hate most about this fear of making mistakes, however, is not the mistakes I’ve actually made. Rather, it’s all the things I’ve never tried because I anticipated failure and gave up before I’d even started. This list is so long and very humbling but I have started working on it. I am moving forward with the book project and while attempting complex recipes I’d put off might seem a relatively trivial thing to overcome, I disagree. Baking can be a very non-forgiving science. When making sweets, you usually need to be very precise and precise isn’t my strength. I’m much more slap dash and intuitive. Moreover, due to my medical conditions, strictly following procedures and getting things in the right order isn’t always easy for me. So baking can actually  be quite challenging. Of course, these challenges multiply expediently when I’m cooking with the kids. Of course, they add a whole extra layer of distracting confusion, as much as I love cooking with them. It can be quite hard when I’m making something new and I don’t know what I’m doing and they can step in and add all the wrong things at all the wrong time, all with good intentions of course. Unfortunately, this is when my aversion to making mistakes rears its ugly head and I might snap at the kids, morphing into something of a Gordon Ramsay disgusting myself completely and it’s tears all roun.

Thank goodness for “Sorry”!

Fortunately, most mistakes aren’t fatal.

We can have another go and seriously who expects to get things right the first time? Yes, I know we all do.It would be great but it’s not realistic. It takes practice. trial and error. More error than success but giving up is a guaranteed fail.

When it comes to stuffing up our relationships, “sorry” is a good start but change is always possible and alongside sorry comes forgiveness. Not always possible but I’m talking more about garden-variety crimes than the big ones. We all hurt each other unintentionally possibly more so than through intent.

How could she do anything wrong?

How could she do anything wrong?

Although as a parent these days, I’m more focused on my parenting crimes, I still tend to gloss over those crimes I committed as a child. That same sense of entitlement I don’t like seeing in my own kids…a lack of appreciation to outright rebellion.

There was a certain party I had when my parents went away for the weekend but hey at least hordes of gatecrashers didn’t turn up along with a Police helicopter. As great a crime as it might have been, having a handful of trusted friends over could have been a hell of a lot worse. Moreover, the effort that went into devising a story to tell my Dad was worthy of an epic novel and gave us all quite a lesson in creative writing. Being a writer himself, he should have appreciated that but he had his “Dad” hat on at the time.

So, above all else, I owe my parents a huge bunch of sorries. Most of all for being critical of their parenting efforts and not understanding that everybody makes mistakes. That we’re all human and simply can not walk on water. That’s a hard lesson for us all!

I know we can't just rub out all our mistakes but it's worth a try!

I know we can’t just rub out all our mistakes but it’s worth a try!

The next question on the Proust Questionnaire is: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Dare I say being perfect? Getting it right the first time?

Ouch! That’s tempting but as I said, I’m only human!

xx Rowena

Punishment Versus Justice: Two Australians Executed in Indonesia.

“What I would like people to see in him is the person he had become – not the stupidest thing he ever did.”

Matthew Sleeth, Melbourne artistwho worked with Myuran Sukumaran.

For the last few months, I’ve been anxiously following the pending executions of convicted Australian Drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Although I’d considered their actions incredibly stupid at the time of their arrest, as I learned of their radical transformation inside prison, my attitude changed. I, like so many others, sought clemency and did what we could to get behind the campaign. For me, that was very little but I did write to my local Member of Parliament and I posted this on my blog:https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/

Meanwhile, I watched as a pack of fiercely loyal and determined supporters fought for clemency like dogs pursuing that proverbial bone. Throughout this campaign, the men admitted and owned their crime and nobody denied that they’d done the wrong thing. Just that they had changed and didn’t deserve to die. It is my understanding that their lawyers were seeking a reduction in their sentence to life in prison.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

After all, since being incarcerated, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were changed men. Not just on the outside, but in their hearts and in their souls. Both men became Christian and Andrew Chan became a Christian Pastor while in prison. While being Christian is no guarantee of perfection, the men had definitely changed: inside and out. Myuran Sukumaran became an accomplished artist under the mentorship of Ben Quilty and Matthew Sleeth and shared this gift with other prisoners. Both men have also helped their fellow inmates to reform and change their lives by teaching them life skills, so they too could be reformed and return to their communities better men.

On 29th April, 2015 those hard fought hopes were completely dashed when Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by a firing squad on the prison island of Nusakambangan at 3:35am AEST.

Although I’d been anticipating the worst, there was still that glimmer of hope. However, then news reports showed coffins bearing their names and date of death, forecasting the very worst. I could sense that rising tide of incredible despair and dashed hopes. Even though I hadn’t been following case closely until recently, I had become emotionally involved, getting those awful, sick in the depths of my stomach feelings. As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t need to know the men to have a heart for their situation and to hope that against the odds, things might just turn around.

As long as there was life, there was hope…even if it was fading fast.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

Against these increasingly bad signs, we still clung to hope by our very fingernails. Surely, the Indonesian President would finally see reason? He would have the courage and capacity to change his mind and to acknowledge that these men had reformed. That they were no longer the two young criminals who had conspired to smuggle heroin into Australia.

It wasn’t looking good.

I guess for so many of us who could see and understand how much these men had changed and how they were now contributing to the world for good instead of bad, this was hard to understand. That, although they shared the same name and the same skin as the men who had committed this very serious crime, they were, indeed, different. They were new creations. These men no longer deserved to die.

That is, if they ever did.

Yet, despite trying to move incredible mountains and the Indonesian President, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed. They are dead and their bodies returned to Australia for burial on Saturday, ten years after their arrest.

What does this mean now? How are we to understand and process their deaths? Were they martyrs? Heroes? Modern Ned Kellies? (Ned kelly was an Irish-Australian bushranger who was hanged for his crimes but has become somewhat deified)

Or, indeed, were they vile criminals whose intent to import heroin into Australia could have ruined so many Australian lives?

I don’t know but many have done far worse and never paid for their crimes…just received a slap on the wrist!!

One of  Sukumaran's last paintings depicting the bullet hole through his heart.

One of Sukumaran’s last paintings depicting the bullet hole through his heart.

This case has certainly publicised the death penalty, which is probably something your average Australian has given much thought. That is, since competing in their high school debating team. We don’t have the death penalty here so it’s not an issue that crops up all that much. Prior to this case, I certainly hadn’t given it much thought.

However, given my unwaivering faith in humanity’s capacity to change, I can not support it.

That is because I truly believe that everybody has the capacity to change and even radically change their lives if they want to. This isn’t change being enforced from the outside in but rather coming from the inside out…from the heart. The science of neuroplasticity has also proven that even changing our thoughts, can change the very physical structures of our brains.People can and do change. The trouble is that we then need to forgive and give people a second chance, which is not so easy or so straightforward.

We all know someone we have loved and cared about who has been troubled either by mental health issues, drugs, addiction and yet we’ve been absolutely powerless to save them from that relentless downward spiral. At this point, it is so often said, that they have to hit rock bottom before they get back up. That the only way they’re ever going to wake up to themselves and all that they’ve become, is for them to face the music…whatever that might be. Sometimes, people can somehow exit the spiral before they land in jail, commit suicide or indeed, attempt to smuggle drugs out of a country with the death penalty. However, sometimes they keep going and going to a point of no return. They reach a point where it’s very difficult, if not impossible,to return. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people or they come from bad families. Perhaps, they’re just sheep who have wandered too far away and get captured by the wolf (in whatever guise) before making it home.

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we each have a dark side. All have sinned. While there is a huge difference to holding a party when your  parents are away versus smuggling heroin out of Indonesia, it’s still breaking the rules.

So in the wake of what is a tragedy on so many levels, I hold my own children close to my heart and in my prayers. They need to understand that there are consequences for their actions and know that no matter how much you try to undo the past, sometimes what’s done is done. Prevention is so much more effective than depending on a cure…an undoing. Sometimes, no amount of undoing can rewind the clock and you do end up paying the ultimate price.

This was also the message which Andrew Chan left for his baby nephew Kai:
“I love you Kai, keep looking to Jesus, trust in his ways and learn from my mistakes. ”

There is much debate in Australia about how these men should be perceived. While I don’t want to put them up on a pedestal, these changed men truly became an inspiration. Despite living under the omnipresent shadow of the death penalty, they turned their lives around showing that no matter how bad it gets, even as a convicted drug smuggler facing the death penalty, you can still change your heart and live for good and even preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. You truly can be a new creation!!

Michael Chan, Andrew’s older brother, described his last moments:
“He said there were three things he was going to do — he is going to sing all the way there and he done that and he said he is going to wear his Penrith jersey and he is not going to wear the blindfold, he is going to look them in the eye. He did all of them.”
Michael said knowing how his brother acted in the final hours and minutes made the horror of what happened more bearable.
Michael said hearing about his brother’s bravery, courage and dignity in the face of such a dreadful end had brought a rare smile to mother Helen’s face in what has been a nightmare ride.
“That put a smile on her face to know those hours leading up to it that that’s what he did and how he held himself,” he said .

It is still too soon to appreciate their long term legacy. In the short term, the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia has been recalled. Moreover, a strong campaign to fight the death penalty, particularly in Indonesia, has been mounted…the Mercy Campaign http://mercycampaign.org/
As Andrew Chan said:
“This campaign is more than just about myself or Myu. It represents a second chance and forgiveness, it represents kindness and help for those in a helpless situation. Mercy represents all of us here.
I would like you to take a moment and reflect just on the word mercy. Please don’t let this just be about myself and Myu, but about others all over the world who need your help.”
— Andrew Chan

This quest has  been taken up my artist Ben Quilty. He wrote this message on his Facebook page:

“Joko Widodo tonight you will kill two good men, my friends. I want you to know that you may take their freedom and their lives, you may rob their fellow inmates of the support and love that both men have offered and provided for so long, you can turn off Myu’s imagination but you will never kill the memory of them. I have promised Myu and Andrew, their parents and their siblings, that I will fight against the death penalty for the rest of my life…”

So after considering their crimes, their radical transformation, and their horrific deaths, I am reminded of the words of Moriah Carey’s “Hero”. Not because I see them as heroes but because as reformed men facing their crimes and their deaths, they were heroic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IA3ZvCkRkQ

“Hero”
There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

[Chorus:]
And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It is my heartfelt prayer than anyone considering trafficking drugs will learn from their example and do whatever it takes to pull back and walk away. Live for good. Know to look after your body, mind and spirit and think about how you are attacking yourself through drugs and then also putting your family and friends through hell as well. Also, offer others that same respect and don’t see selling drugs as a way to make fast money. All too often, it ends a one-way mission.

Meanwhile, my heartfelt condolences go out to the Chan and Sukumaran families, their legal and spiritual teams and those close and dear to them who fought so tenaciously for clemency. You never gave up. I also think about the many, many people around the world who have been touched by their lives and their deaths. Just because we do not know them or their families, it doesn’t mean we do not care!I send you my love.

Love & God’s richest blessings,
Rowena

Sources:

http://www.smh.com.au/world/bali-9-executions-andrew-chans-letter-to-the-nephew-he-adored-20150501-1mxxdl.html
http://www.news.com.au/national/michael-chan-tells-of-andrew-chans-pledge-before-execution/story-fncynjr2-1227329311248
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3063852/They-best-agonizing-days-Myuran-Sukumaran-realized-dream-artist-longed-says-former-teacher.html