Tag Archives: suffering

Heaven or Earth? Reflections from the Dark Side of the Moon.

Before I get started, I thought I’d play Alleluia sung by Ed Sheeran. Get you in the mood. The last week has been deep, dark and philosophical punctuated by blasts of Spring sunlight and tail wags from the dog.

Actually, the last couple of months have been “challenging” after the death of our Border Collie, Bilbo. We’ve had him since our daughter was crawling and he’s seen us through so very much.  Moreover, I’ve also had another brush with severe asthmatic coughs and chest infections, which get me every August.

Not unsurprisingly, the kids have been distressed and shaken up. They’ve had questions, and I’ve had to come up with the answers. This included a particularly curly question, which I decided to share. It’s big and it’s important:

Why should we stay alive when life is painful, when we could be in heaven where there’s no pain, no troubles?

I hadn’t quite thought of heaven as the ultimate “grass is greener” before. However, I suppose it is. Otherwise, why would it be called “HEAVEN”? Furthermore, why wouldn’t you, I, want to get there on an express trip? Why do we fight so hard to stay alive, when we could be living up there in the clouds? Even Cloud 9?

While I’ve had my dark moments, and even extended interminable stretches of raw anguish, I haven’t really thought of heaven as my greener pasture. At least, not in the here and now.

I’ve known too many people who’ve lost someone to suicide and am very conscious of the anguish suicide leaves in its wake… an anguish which has no end for the multitude of people who get touched by even one death.

So, I guess for me, particularly when I’m in a  level-headed state of mind, knowing that I’d be going to my ulimate happy place when everyone who means anything to me gets to suffer, doesn’t add up.

At the very least, it’s not a very nice thing to do.

However, that’s not something I would share with someone who wasn’t in a particularly level-headed state of mind. That’s something I might now start putting out there on one of my routine drives with my kids, now they’re my son’s 13 and my daughter isn’t far behind him.

As a parent, I’ve been wondering how to talk about sex, dating, periods, condoms, relationships, drugs, but amongst all of that, I’d forgotten all about the other fairly “normal” aspect of puberty…the E-word. EMOTIONS. Thinking back to being a teenager myself, I don’t believe there was any such thing as “an even keel”, being “level-headed”, “grounded” as as for balanced? HA!!

Moon bike

At least speaking for myself, my emotions were extreme, even turbo-charged. Well-intentioned comments like “there’s more fish in the sea” fell flat. My parents meant well, and believe me, I’m getting a better understanding of what it’s like to be a parent scraping the bottom of your psychological and philosophical barrell. When your child is combusting and you’re trying to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Trust me. That whole “bird and the bees stuff” is a veritable piece of cake compared to discussing emotional equilibrium.

Edward-Munch-The-Scream--black---white--15892

I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

How do any of us venture and and carpe diem seize the day and all that entails, without getting hurt? We can’t live our lives in bubble wrap and while you can have safe sex, there is no condom you can quickly wrap around your heart and it’s way too easy to get burned.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m no statistician either. I don’t know what it is which causes one person to take their life, while others persevere. What I do know, is that it’s not straight-forward. I also know that we can’t control someone else. We can’t stop someone else from taking their life. And yet, we sometimes can. Here, I’m speaking about the more collective we, but sometimes, it does come down to the individual. At times, we do become that person staring despair in the face, and it is up to us to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Or, I guess if I was some kind of professional at this, you’d be trying to get the person to find their own reasons for living. Or, at the very least, find a shift in gears.

A friend of my parents used to call the teenage years: “the swirling vortex of pubescence”. He was a very charasmatic gentleman and he’d roll this phrase out like a showman on stage. I always pictured these wild churning seas with the damsel in distress thrashing around in the waves. Never sinking, but not getting out either. I always found that phrase rather entertaining, although on reflection that note of humour, has it’s sting. Tony also put me onto a poet who knew those waves. Knew that intensity of emotion. That was Nan Whitcomb in her “Thoughts of Nanushka” and I’ve since found another kindred spirit in Australian  poet and cartoonist, Michael Leunig. Of course, there was also Keats and I’ve always questioned the merits of studying his Ode to Melancholy while studying for our HSC (final school exams = HUGE stress!!)

“That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 20
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, 25
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”
John Keats, Ode to A Nightingale.
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine, 
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue 
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine; 
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might, 
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
John Keats, Ode to Melancholy

I also remember listening to Queen’s  Bohemian Rhapsody. That song needs no introduction.

Hot chocolate & book

How will the story play out?

The trouble is, that when you’re caught up in the more turbulent passages of that “swirling vortex of pubesence”, you have no idea how the story is going to play out. Speaking of myself, I was so caught up in the immediate present, the current devastating disaster, that I lost all sense of perspective. That it morphed into some kind of hellish bubble, my world. I couldn’t see it was a storm in a tea cup. I couldn’t see, that perhaps being dumped by “the bastard” was the best thing for me. That it really was a case of there being millions of fish in the sea, and I only needed to find one. That I wasn’t trying to catch the one, last surviving fish in an empty sea.

I never saw my life as a novel back then. Indeed, it’s only been this past week, that I’ve appreciated the close parallels between real life and the structure a novel or play where the main character (protagonist) has their difficult person, adversary (antagonist) but after a few rounds, they come through. There’s usually a twist at the end, and more than likely, real life doesn’t turn out quite like you expected either, but you can still live happilly ever after. Well, at least until the next challenge fires up. Bearing this in mind, you have to make the most of those high notes. Carpe diem seize the day. Gobble them up with a cherry on top. Yet, you also have to be prepared for troubles. Expect storms and rainbows, as well as sunny, blue skies.

If I was going to talk to my 13 year old self. Or, in my case, it was more my 16 year old self which was really doing it tough, what would I say?

Firstly, what I would say, wouldn’t be something eloquent, well-written, or an outstanding piece of philosophical writing with all the answers. It would be more of a stuttered, muttered and garbled story about how if I’d pulled the pin then, I wouldn’t have gone on to experience the highs of my life. For me, like so many others, the school days weren’t the best days of my life. However, they were the necessary precursor to getting into university which I loved on so many levels. I went through many relationship ups and downs and had way too many friends run off with the guy that I liked. I also spent all the years from my birth until I was 27, living with undiagnosed hydrocephalus or fluid on my brain, which really did make me “different” in a myriad of ways I am still trying to get my head around. Yes, I wasn’t “unco” and more than likely, the intensity of my emotions weren’t just puberty either. The inside of my brain had been flooded, and I was under an entirely different kind of “pressure”.

So, if I’d pulled the pin at 16, I wouldn’t have known that I had this underlying condition which was greatly relieved through surgery. Yet, even if I hadn’t had that or if there had been no “magic fix” to my problems, I still believe that it’s worth persevering through the very darkest of challenges and fighting hard to find any glimmer of light which will lead us out of the tunnel. Why? Because there just might be something better ahead. That you could well resolve your current troubles through whatever means. a change of curcumstances, meeting someone else. Another door opens.

Indeed, I still remember the night I met my husband. A friend of mine was holding a New Year’s Eve Party in another friend’s apartment in Wollstonecraft, which had a view over the back end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was supposed to going to that party with the boyfriend I’d had throughout the whole brain surgery saga and as you could imagine, things were rocky on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Anyway, he dumped me just before the party and I really didn’t feel like going. However, it was only more of a soiree with only a few of us going and so I went. My husband opened the door. Now, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight. However, we talked a lot that night and he gave me some really good advise  and I thought he was wise. Obviously, it was that old thing of crying on someone’s shoulder. I also remember standing out on the balcony together and I would’ve been photographing the fireworks, and he told me that he was also into photography. I clearly remember making a mental tick in my head. He also drove an Austen Healy Sprite, which he described as “English and tempremental”. I remembered that when we were driving through the Tenterfield Ranges in pouring rain to avoid the Grafton floods, and the exhaust pipe fell off on a pot hole. BTW, we’d been wearing raincoats in the car on that trip and had been soaked by the time we’d reached Newcastle. (We had been driving from Wahroonga in Sydney to visit his Mum and sisters family in the Byron Bay hinterland. It’s about a 10 hour drive.)

The ironic thing is that it can be these very worst moments, our greatest disasters, that we turn into our funniest stories. It’s often these moments which we’ll share around a barbeque laughing our heads of and entertaining the crowd, rather than the good times. I am now thinking that part of that is that we later find out these disasters weren’t so bad after all. Indeed, sometimes they proved to be a blessing in disguise. Or, they were a necessary step to get us to a better place, or to our ultimate destination.

So, now I would say that instead of pulling the pin, who have to keep breathing so you can keep living the book. Find out how you’re own story unfolds. Just one point here, too, and that is that you are not a passive player in your story. You are helping to write the script, as well as all the other characters. This is a team effort. You are empowered. However, you are empowered to do the best for yourself, AND the worst. Too often, it’s not the bully or our nemesis we need to watch out for, it’s our own selves. We shoot ourselves in the foot way more often AND we need to own that. Take responsibility. Not necessarily in a guilt way, but in an empowered driver’s seat way. JUst like if you were driving and made a wrong turn, you’d do a U turn and try again. You hopefully wouldn’t just sit in your car hoping it would magically take you where you want to go.

The ironic thing for me these days about people taking their lives, is that I am fighting with all I’ve got to save my own. This July marked 20 years since I had the brain surgery which saved and changed my life. This coming Tuesday, marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with a systemic auto-immune disease, dermatomymyositis which has left me with 60% lung capacity on a good day. I am getting through flu season again this year but again it’s been a battle. Three years ago, I had chemo to knock the disease on its head and fortunately that worked. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve been staring death in the face, and trust me. Not once was I thinking: “Heaven, bring it on!” No, despite being a Christian, all I was thinking about was my kids, my husband, my Mum, Dad, Brother and my friends. Giving them that kind of bad news, is devastating. The fact that I’ve survived, doesn’t negate that. We have lived through it and we continue to live with it.

So, this brings me to the very real need to talk to those we love about those times when the swirling vortex has taken hold, and give them concrete proof that they can get through it. That it’ s not only worth persevering through the hard times, that it’s possible to get there. Achievable. Moreover, they are not alone. Not only in the sense that we are with them now. Not just us as an individual either, but us as a community. The many layers of the onions…family, friends, teachers, pastors, the person you need down the street while walking your dog. But, we also need to make that time available. Leave enough space inbetween the words, the lines, the busyness that someone can sit along side us and be without being rushed, sped up, or brushed off.

I am not someone who has ever professed to have the answers, but I’ve always had the questions and I guess this is where they lead me now. But before I head off, another word just popped in my head. That is gratitude. While it’s not often possible to feel grateful for our let downs at the time, that can change through hindsight…especially with many of those heart breaks, which were the end of the world at the time. I wouldn’t be where I am now and while some of those guys were great people and simply not right for me (or me for them), I’ve been married to Geoff for 16 years now. We’ve survived some extremely hard times and miraculously stayed together. We hae two beauti ful children who can stretch us beyond the very brink at times, but who we love more than life itself. Sometimes, when things have been so hard, it’s hard to comprehend how the sun still rises in the morning and how life goes on. Yet, I’ve often found that very annoying and harsh reality, provides the momentum to keep me moving, which is ultimately a good thing.

I didn’t intend to write about this when I woke up this morning. I haven’t edited more than a couple of words and this is how my thoughts have landed on the page, or to be precise, my laptop screen. All of a sudden, in bright neon signs, I’ve realized that we as a society don’t talk about hard times. The cultural rhetoric is all about making it happen. Being whoever you want to be. It’s almost like you’re expected to find happiness in a fizzy drink…or a pill. Rather, what happens WHEN your journey through life hits the big snake just when you’re about to reach your goal and your sent straight back down to the beginning again? What happens when you’re a marketing executive and you’re diagnosed with hydrocephalus and you end up having brain surgery, getting a blocked shunt and requiring more brain surgery, the person you thought you were going to marry, dumps you because all of that’s too much and you’ve moved back home living with mum and Dad and going to rehab with the elderly at 28? BTW, that was also when I went to my 10 year school reunion. That was two weeks after the second brain surgery and I had no hair under one half of that bob. Indeed, there was a scar. I made it through that reunion and I was triumphant. Despite brain surgery being a much more sensitive embarrassing thing that the bad haircut.  I also had friends whose lives were picture perfect either. Some had divorced and one of my class mates had tragically died from cancer, which shook me to the core.

The fact that I’m still here, isn’t because I have some uber-amazing coping mechanism and I’m “Tonka tough”. I’ve had breakdowns. I’ve fallen face down in the mud and refused to get up. I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in bed and wrapped myself up in my doona and refused to get up. I’ve thought about how. I did jab myself with a pair of kindy scissors once when I was struggling to learn how to drive and fighting my brother for access to the car. That’s the closest I’ve come in a physically crossing the line sense, but these lines resonate: “hello darkness my old friend”.

Somehow, the collective “we” needs to have more of these conversations. The “where I was, how I found my way out and some of the joys of life we’ve experienced since” type. Talk about how life is ups AND downs. That we have to keep  walking, dancing, flying, dragging out feet, sleeping, talking, dreaming.They’re all part of it. Share and model that there is no magic pill, which will give you perfect, lasting happiness. However, there could well be multiple pills of darkness, which we need to approach with caution. Walk away from jealousy, envy, wanting to be someone we’re not, putting our value on stuff instead of relationships, replacing people with work. The list goes on.

Now, I’m turning it over to you. What has your experience been? I would like to invite you to share as much as you like in the comments below. What would you say to your teenage self about the dark times you’ve experienced? I could even see these becoming a series of posts. It would be truly beneficial to get a swag of letters together on this very important subject.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

PS I just had to drop my daughter off at meditation of all things (our dance school is running a session for kids followed by a session for parents so I’ll be heading off next). Funny how walking and driving gets you thinking. Pops something so obvious into your head, which you’d missed entirely while tapping away into the screen.

My other advice to my teenage self, is not to put all my eggs in one basket, and to remain diverse. I had very good friends out of school and I’ve encouraged this with my own kids since dot. However, as someone with a fairly obsessive, driven personality, I’d like to share that focusing all your energies on one thing, isn’t a good idea. If something happens to that one thing, whatever it is, then you’re devastated. You’re left with nothing. There is no “Plan B”. You have no identity left. Naturally, I was devastated when I couldn’t work after the brain surgery. I had grief counselling where I was told “We’re human beings, not human doings”. It’s taken me a long time to get that. In the aftermath of the brain surgery, I turned to photography and although it wasn’t making me any money, I found it was a great topic of conversation. Far more interesting than work. These days, writing  is my main thing followed by photography. What you might not know, is that I started learning the violin four years ago, and last year I started dance classes and have made my way through short adult courses in ballet, contemporary, lyrical and tap. I’m not even keeping up in the dance classes, but dance is now part of my psyche. Who I am. It’s added another string to my bow, and exercised more than a few neurofibres as well. It’s very important not to get stuck in what I’ll call “bubble worlds”…becoming “a dancer”, “a lawyer”, “a mother”, a “father”. Rather, ideally, we’d be more of a spangled web or texture, colour, sound, taste and smell stretching somewhere over the rainbow and back again. We must wear many hats, to be fulfilled, and really just to survive.

The End.

That's All Folks

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