Tag Archives: suffering

Road Block…Friday Fictioneers.

A huge, amorphous rock with haunting facial features and a crutch, had parked itself right across my path and wouldn’t budge. Indeed, on second thoughts, it wasn’t a rock at all, but a humungus, black rain cloud metamorphosed into a rock just to spite me.

Screw positive thinking! It was no coincidence, that I was The Chosen One. Otherwise, why would a huge, black rock from outer space, suddenly land on MY PATH? It must’ve had geo-tracking honed to my very coordinates. Mum, was right. We’d been born under an unlucky star.

That’s when I saw her shoes sticking out.

…..

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff Fields.  PHOTO PROMPT© CEAyr.

Given my health problems, I have naturally pondered why bad things happen. Well, more than the bad stuff. More the really traumatic stuff, which also challenges our notions of fairness such as the death of a child. Sometimes, I know I’ve certainly felt targeted or singled out and that was hard to take.

These were some of the thoughts which went into my take on this week’s prompt.

What are your thoughts about why we experience adversity? I love to hear from you.

Hope you’re having a great week.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Compassion…it’s Complicated.

Around 18 months ago, I joined a revolutionary blogging network called: “One Thousand Voices for Compassion”. We not only write about compassion, empathy and trying to make the world a better and more connected place, we try to take that out into the real world and translate these thoughts into action. Naturally, we feel a strong need for compassion, or we wouldn’t be part of the group.

This month, we’re addressing whether compassion is innate or learned. Are we born caring about the welfare of others or is it something we learn along the way?

While I could’ve written this from my gut, instead I fleetingly perused “the science”, which seemed to support that we’re at least born with some level of compassion and that our life experiences can either nurture or diminish our compassionate selves . If you’d like to read more about the nature versus nurture debate, there’s some recommended reading.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201306/compassion-our-first-instinct

The Compassionate Instinct

This leaves me doing my usual thing of exploring yet another tangent, looking at why people don’t help or respond to someone’s pain, loss, discomfort…you get the gist. Why do people do nothing?

More pertinently, why do I do nothing?

That’s right. I’m just as guilty as everyone else. No matter how hard we try, people fall through our cracks, even when we know they’re falling through a dark abyss. Even though we love these people with all of our hearts.

For those of us who are part of this 1000 Voices for Compassion Movement, these personal failings are even more frustrating. After all, we are striving to be that compassionate caring person… the Good Samaritan who stops and takes care of that person in need…not the person who walks past. We think from our hearts, not from our heads and would be willing to leap tall buildings in a single bound for anyone in trouble.

So, why can’t we do it? Why can’t we always be the person we’re striving to be?

The trouble is we’re only human. That as much as we might strive to be that superhero…Don the cape, flex out muscles and take to the skies,  we have so many limitations, frailties and who hasn’t ended up somehow paralyzed and glued to the spot in a stressful situation . Who hasn’t forgotten to phone a friend when you know the proverbial’s hit the fan?

Guilty as charged.

Compassion guilt…send me straight to jail…directly to jail. Do no pass Go. Do not collect $200.

BUT…

We can’t be in two places at once. We can’t clone ourselves and even help everyone in our own backyards, let alone to try to save the world as we would like.

That learns us having to make choices.

Or, circumstances can also dictate our response.

This brings me back to what I’ve written before about being kind to ourselves. Understanding and being compassionate to ourselves when we don’t live up to our own principles, ideologies, which includes fighting whatever negative stuff someone else might send our way when we let them down. We’ve done our best and even when we haven’t, know we can take that life lesson back to the drawing board and hope to be a better friend or person next time.

I am rushing this through to get this up before the link closes. So I hope it make sense. I’ll be back to straighten up the rough edges.

Or, perhaps writing rough is good enough, after all.

Well, at least once and awhile.

This has been part of 1000 Voices for Compassion and if you’d like to read other contributions, please click on the Linky.

xx Rowena

PS: I just came across a great hymn “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” over at Ann’s Corner. It guess it’s a precursor to a great slogan from our times: “Think global. Act local.” https://annofgg.com/2015/03/07/anns-corner/

William Blake On Joy & Suffering

Man was made for joy & woe;

And when this we rightly know,

Thro’ the world we safely go.

Joy & woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine.

William Blake From “Auguries of Innocence”.

Featured image:

“When the Morning Stars Sang Together”

[Book of Job, no. 14]

ca. 1804–7
Pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolor, over traces of graphite
11 x 7 1/16 inches (280 x 179 mm)

 

I- A Letter to Issa-Haiku Master..

Dear Issa,

Something tells me, that if we met in person, we wouldn’t need words. That our eyes would meet, sparking an understanding transcending language. Indeed, that is my hope.

However, that meeting has to wait.

This leaves us relying on the frailty of the written word, communicating across differences in language, culture, gender and time. While these differences are challenging, they’re not insurmountable when we walk hand-in-hand appreciating difference while also finding common ground. Through mutual respect and patience, I suspect our words will somehow translate themselves, like birds interpreting each others’ song.

I am currently writing letters to dead poets. After coming across your haiku, I decided to write to you. You suffered so much and yet you expressed such an incredible appreciation of life as well as an understanding of something intangible which defies words. Indeed, must we endure extreme suffering to gain that heightened sense of perception, which peers straight through the lines and beyond? Something tells me I already know the answer.

You and I are fellow travellers. You travelled throughout Japan writing Haiku as you went and teaching others. In 1992, I donned my backpack and flew to Europe, staying there for around 9 months. Much of that time, I lived in Heidelberg with a German family. However, I also travelled through Paris, Berlin, London Amsterdam, Florence, Basil and many cities in between. While there can be great freedom being a rolling stone gathering no moss, there can also be free-fall.

You’d be surprised how people travel these days. I have absolutely no idea how to explain Skype to someone who lived so long ago. However, in what must seem like something of a dream, you can see and talk to people in other places. So when you travel, you no longer have that same acute sense of isolation and detachment and there’s always the umbilical cord tying you back home.  These technical advances in communication have made such a difference. When I went to Europe, it was very expensive to telephone home and the Internet and email didn’t exist. So, we wrote letters, no doubt very similar to how you communicated back in your day. These days, letter writing is almost a forgotten art.

Travelling without a cost-effective means of staying in touch, meant that you had to stand on your own two feet and was a challenging test of endurance. I went from university where I knew so many people, to being a lone traveller. Periods of solitude were incredibly difficult, especially with no one knowing me, my history or where I was from. There was such a pining ache and I was so homesick. Even just a week into my travels, I burst into tears at Heidelberg train station and wanted to go home. Yet, I also had my pride. I am so pleased I stuck it out because through immersing myself in all these foreign countries, their language, people and culture, I flew beyond my nest and explored the world. Of course, the sky was filled with dangers, especially for such a little bird. Yet, there was also the view, the sensation of freedom and an appreciation of all that is “home”. I also made life-long friends. After all, living with a family and staying in one place, I found community. That’s still incredibly important to me!

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling, is reveling in foreign cultures, people and places, immersing ourselves in a kaleidoscope of difference. Indeed, shunning conformity, the traveller actually seeks out and embraces difference. Yet, while being the lone stranger wandering through strange cities and towns, we can be the outsider, the observer, peering in through a crack in the wall. Loneliness, solitude and homesickness, can be the traveller’s lot. Yet, being away from home and its expectations and responsibilities, liberates us as well. Party! Party! Party!  Nothing like a holiday romance either!

Anyway, like English poet, Ted Hughes, I only met you recently and am new to the form of Haiku. While there are people who know you and your Haiku, inside out, I am keen to learn.

Recently, my son reintroduced me to Haiku when he had to write them for school. So, we talked about Haiku over dinner and even wrote a couple.

Being Summer here yet Winter in the Northern hemisphere, mine went:

Eternal Summer

Sunbaking on the beach

Snow is falling.

The rest of the family found my combination of snow and the beach too random and my husband joked:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Look! There’s a kookaburra!

-Geoff.

Although it’s not strictly a Haiku, it had the family in hysterics!

Then our son came up with:

Roses can’t be blue.

Violets come in all colours.

But then there is you.

-Mr J.

Through these conversations, I came across your Haiku about a humble snail climbing Mt Fuji:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

-Issa

Issa-snail

Wow! I related to this Haiku so intensely and couldn’t help wondering, if a tiny snail could make it up Mt Fuji, so could I…

Ever since I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves, I’ve felt compelled to climb up a mountain. It’s like the mountains are calling me, luring me up their steep and rocky crevices like the call of the wild. However, just because I have a disability, that doesn’t mean I can suddenly climb Mt Everest. I know that probably doesn’t make sense but it seems so many people facing series hurdles, go and climb mountains. Everest is way beyond me!

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Skiing down the mountain at Perisher in August 2013.

However, being quite the lateral thinker, I skied down the mountain instead, in effect, turning my mountain around. That was my personal triumph!

By the way, did you know that when you turn a mountain upside down, you get a smile. Well, it works on paper!

Not so easy in real life. Before I’d even left the snow, I had the makings of a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia. Tests showed that I had active fibrosis in my lungs and I needed to have chemo. This was right before Christmas 2014, so I had chemo for Christmas! However, that was the best present I’ve ever had. It saved my life and gave me back to my family. That’s all that really matters now. That we’re all still here!

Getting back to your Haiku, I was so moved by it, that I shared it with my family. I particularly wanted the kids to realise that even huge mountain peaks can be conquered when you take them slowly one step at a time.

I thought you’d be intrigued by my daughter’s reply:

“How does the snail climb Mt Fuji if there’s snow? It wouldn’t stick!”

She’s very good at asking the tough questions!

Does Mt Fuji have snow all year round? Mind you, given the crowds climbing to the summit during climbing season these days, the snail could probably hitch a ride, although those very same feet could easily means its demise. That said, I know hitching a ride wasn’t what you had in mind…cheating!

Climbing straight up metaphorical mountains is something you know a lot about. You have certainly experienced much anguish! When you were 3 years old, your mother died and your father remarried. In 1814, aged 52 you married Kiku. However, joy was short-lived. Two years later, your son, Sentarô, was born, dying almost four weeks later. Two years later, your daughter, Sato, was born. However, she tragically died when she was just over a year old from smallpox.  A year later, your second son, Ishitarô, is born. However, tragedy continued when Ishitarô suffocated while bundled on his mother’s back. He was only a few months old. In 1822, your third son, Konzaburô, was born. In 1823, your wife died and Konzaburô died in December. In 1824, aged 62, you married Yuki, a samurai’s daughter but you soon divorced. Then, you had a stroke, losing his power of speech for a while. Indeed, you wrote:

how irritating!
the wild geese freely
call their friends

-Issa

In 1826, aged 64, you married Yao but a year later, a fire sweeps through your village, destroying your home. How awful!

After enduring so much, on 5th January, 1828, you died of a stroke.

You experienced anguish on top of anguish and yet you went on, finding beauty in the infinitesimal details in nature:

Don’t weep, insects –
Lovers, stars themselves,
Must part.

-Issa

Was that what kept you going? Or, do you even know?

So many us are desperately wanting to know!

I hope that you have found happiness and peace where you are now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Featured Image: Issa’s portrait drawn by Muramatsu Shunpo 1772-1858 (Issa Memorial Hall, Shinano, Nagano, Japan) Photo By Yoshi Canopus – Own work (My own photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=768109

Prepared for the Storm

“We must begin our search for meaning when things are going well. A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.”

Dr Howard Cutler: “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” (which was co-written by the Dalai Lama.)

By the way, I really struggled to find an image to accompany this quote. While this Australian Gum Tree, depicted by Sir Hans Heysen appears very stable with exceptionally strong roots, being honest, gum trees are renowned for falling over in storms and causing quite a lot of damage. So while there’s some incongruity here, I hope you’ll just appreciate the image until I can find something more appropriate.

xx Rowena

Irish Famine Monument, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

DSC_4290My journey through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues today and as I approach the letter I, I am starting to understand why this thing is called a “challenge” and not a “walk in the park”. With the kids on school holidays and being at Palm Beach and wanting to experience more than just the inside of my laptop despite the blah weather, today I’ve taken the easy way out. I have cut and pasted most of this post from my other blog: Finding Bridget: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

After introducing you to my German heritage yesterday, today I’ll dip a very little toe into the Irish side. Although being a Curtin hailing back to the City of Cork, County Cork; I wanted to introduce you to Bridget Donovan, who I came across on a complicated goat’s trail off a goat’s trail even though she is my Great Great Great Grandmother. Bridget was little more than a name on her daughter’s birth certificate (her daughter Charlotte Merritt married James Curtin), which had turned up in the family safe many years ago. That was, until a Google search showed up a Bridget Donovan who was one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls who went sent out to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme on board the John Knox on the 29th April, 1850.

This was how I discovered the Irish Famine Monument at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. No doubt, I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial many times since its completion in 1999. Yet, I missed it. If you know me, that isn’t exactly surprising. With my head up in the clouds or my attention focused through a camera lens, I frequently miss even the blatantly obvious.

It’s a pity because this monument is so much more than a static reminder of the Famine. Rather, it has become something of a living, breathing focal point not just for people exploring their Irish roots like myself but also for the modern Australian-Irish community, especially at it’s annual commemorative event. You could say any excuse for a Guinness will do!

While you might be wondering why anyone would build a monument commemorating an Irish famine which took place over 150 years ago in Ireland in modern Sydney, it is worth remembering that many, many Irish emigrated to Australia particularly during or soon after the famine. This means that the Irish Famine is, in a sense, part of Australian history as well.

Moreover, the Irish Famine wrought such devastation that it must be remembered. We should never forget that an estimated 1 million people lost their lives and a further 1 million emigrated and what a loss of that magnitude meant for the Irish people…those who left and also those who stayed behind. The politics behind the Famine is also something we should keep in mind because unless we learn from the dire lessons of the past, history will repeat itself and many, many will endure perhaps preventable suffering.

While I grew up as an Australian understanding that my Dad’s Curtin family had emigrated due to the potato famine, that was a simplistic view. The causes of the Irish Famine were much more complex than the potato blight itself and certainly our family didn’t emigrate until the tail end of the famine, or even a few years after the famine had “ended”. This is interesting food for thought and I can’t help thinking the Australian Gold rushes also attracted its share of struggling Irish searching for their pot of gold at what must have seemed like the end of a very long rainbow.

While I recommend visiting the Memorial in person, the Irish Famine Memorial’s website also provides helpful background information about the Irish Orphan Girls and the Irish Famine Memorial. It includes a searchable database you can find out if you, like me, can claim an Irish Orphan girl. There are over 4,000 up for grabs and the good news is that you don’t even have to feed them.You have a better chance than winning Lotto!

You can click here to access the web site: Mmhttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/

About the Monument

Although I have visited the monument a couple of times, I have learned so much more about it since deciding to write this post.

Bridget Donovan wasn't on the list... missing in action yet again!!

The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) is located at the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Angela & Hossein Valamanesh (artists) & Paul Carter (soundscape). I must admit that I didn’t notice the soundscape on my visits and I missed much of the detail and symbolism in the monument itself. My attention at the time was focused on the list of names etched into the glass and finding out that Bridget Donovan, as usual, was missing…lost, silent. The artists had selected 400 names to represent the over 4,000 Irish orphan girls so you had to be lucky for your girl to be chosen. However, the artists had chosen the girls above and below Bridget on the shipping list and had left Bridget out. I swear it is like Bridget has activated some kind of privacy block from the grave. “Leave me alone”. She really doesn’t want to be found.

The Plaque

The web site provides a detailed explanation of the monument:

“On the internal side of the wall, the long table represents the institutional side of things. There is a plate, a spoon and a place to sit on a three legged stool. There are also a couple of books including a Bible, and a little sewing basket. In contrast, on the other side, is the continuation of the same table, but much smaller in scale. There sits the bowl which is hollow and actually cannot hold anything, representing lack of food and lack of possibilities. There is also the potato digging shovel, called a loy, leaning against the wall near a shelf containing some potatoes. The selection of 400 names, some of which fade, also indicates some of the girls who are lost to history and memory.”

Anyway, even if you can’t claim Irish blood, the Irish famine Memorial is certainly worth a visit and you can check out the Hyde Park Barracks Museum while you are there.

Bridget would have worn something like this simple dress...Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

I have written about Bridget Donvon’s Journey more extensively in my other blog: Finding Bridget, which you can check out here: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

You can also read about our Irish night where we cooked up an Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread and had it with Australian Pavlova to commemorate 160 years since John Curtin, an Irish Sailor who went on to become a Stove Maker in Sydney’s Surry Hills: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/

xx Rowena

Finding A Magic Pill.

Good news! Our daughter has mild gastroparesis or delayed gastric emptying and no signs of coeliac disease or diabetes…phew! She has been prescribed periactin, which as far as I can see through a quick Google search, can stimulate the appetite in underweight people. I am also looking at her diet to boost her intake and she’s also having a food replacement drink.

So it’s looking like I’ve got all the bases covered…including having to grind up the tablets at the moment. She had a really good try at swallowing it but she just couldn’t even swallow half or quarter of a tablet. I was like this as a kid myself and I remember my poor mother grinding up tablets and mixing them with honey. It seems what goes around comes around.

I don’t think we could have had a better outcome from yesterday’s appointment. I was stoked, relieved, so very thankful and would have been doing the Happy Dance if I wasn’t feeling physically and emotionally drained. I still feel like I’ve been runover by a steamroller or squashed by that very heavy, metaphorical elephant. It was a long day and I did the 1.5 hour drive home admittedly via the deli in Wahroonga where I procured some top shelf gourmet mental health food: Double Choc Brownies and a gooey cinnamon bun. Cinnamon scrolls are a rare breed in Australia or at least gooey ones like this are. Wow, it was good!

Driving home, in some ways, the whole scenario felt like a huge non-event. Oh! It’s just mild gastroparesis and we were told there was essentially nothing they could do to treat it but we have this pill. Yet, this doesn’t negate that she’s underweight, a picky eater and was once again feeling sick after breakfast this morning. It doesn’t cancel out the extreme stress we’ve had with a child who can’t or won’t eat and ends up with low-blood sugar and gets cranky. I’m sure this isn’t going to magically go away by just clinking my fingers, either and it hasn’t!!

My kind of journey: time traveling back to the 1970s with Qantas flying over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

My kind of journey: time traveling back to the 1970s with Qantas flying over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

All of this is what people call “a journey”. However, when I think of going on a journey, doctor’s surgeries, hospitals, waiting rooms are certainly NOT on my itinerary. No! That’s not a journey. It might have its moments of sunshine but it’s still a perplexing quagmire and “journey” just doesn’t convey the intensity of those moments when bad luck, despair, pain and sorrow converge and attack. The bullets are flying. You’re madly scuttling for cover…any kind of cover just as a bomb goes off. Although you emerge from the battlefield unscathed without a scratch on the outside, you’re certainly NOT at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic either!!

If only life could be a continuous Teddy Bear's Picnic!

If only life could be a continuous Teddy Bear’s Picnic!

Here’s The Teddy Bear’s Picnic performed by Bing Crosby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrvkHAxnjzI

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as positive and the next person but it is what it is. Even when you come through the battle unscathed, there are still those invisible scars on the inside because you know what might have been. It didn’t happen but you went there in your mind and you knew. You saw. You anticipated but somehow found a U-turn.

So getting back to the elephant in the room…

It’s still with us and hasn’t gone away but it has very much shrunk and I hope become more manageable. As we left the doctor’s surgery, I picked the much deflated elephant off the doctor’s desk and brought it back home and it’s now sitting in my china cabinet alongside my vintage teacups. The elephant in the room is no longer looming overhead and intimidating me like a stand over man. It’s shrunk back down to size and I’m so relieved.

My next challenge after all these tests and appointments, is to convince our daughter that the elephant’s under control or at least will be in time. She is very much in the early stages of coming to terms things and this process is intensified through lack of food. As much as we might want things to go back to “normal”, she needs to be given the the time and space, understanding, compassion and acceptance to deal with this in her own way and I’m pretty sure that once she does that, she will start getting better too!

After this afternoon, I say: “Bring it on!!”

Thanks once again for your concern, encouragement and support. It means the world to me!!
xx Rowena

PS: Bex Powders used to be known as “Mummy’s Little Helper”