Lessons Learned in Perth

I left Perth over three weeks ago and each day since has been a challenge leavened by jubilance and flavoured with  regrets.

Jubilance, because that’s what it is to sleep in one’s own bed, eat at one’s own table and catch up with friends and family. Regrets because as the Zen saying goes,

Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.

Not that I experienced anything near enlightenment while in Perth. There were, however, many useful lessons being left to your own resources and wresting with inner demons can provide. I find it difficult, however, to meaningfully share the lessons I learned while in Perth because I am still working through what my time alone taught me. The following list may fail to convey the insights gleaned from spending five weeks alone because such experiences are personal and profound only for the individual involved, but perhaps this list and the questions attached will give you pause …

  • It is easy for me to be alone. Sometimes too easy. (How easy or difficult is it for you to be alone for a long period of time?)
  • I am braver than I think but not always, and that is okay. (When was the last time you felt brave?)
  • I can be stressed, unhappy and exhausted but I can still examine, analyse, reflect, plan and problem solve … though exhaustion slows the process. (How do you work through the hard times?)
  • My family and friends have a unique knack of saying and doing the right thing at the right time. (When was the last time a friend or loved one came through for you just at the right moment?)
  • Relative strangers are a felicitous blessing. (How has a stranger helped you?)

One of the highlights of my stay occurred at the end of the five weeks. I was invited to lunch by a family member (by marriage), a woman I admire but don’t know well. Two other couples made up our party of seven. The three men sat outside, on the patio, the tenor of their voices a contrast to the gentle, determined chortling and harrumphing that accompanied our women’s way of poking fun at life and our shared experiences. We laughed together, knowing that unmentioned tears were shed in the past and more would flow in the future. Those unmentioned, implicitly acknowledged, tears nuzzled against our mirth adding a salt to our tales of family, friends, cities and countries loved and left.

These women, these couples, have known each other for decades but they welcomed me into their world and I  was fed, respected and accepted for who I am. Every woman present that day is a grandmother; magic happens when grandmothers break bread together. Superficial barriers melt, lives are celebrated and we are blessed by mutual respect and compassion. On that day we did what grandmothers do best: we cast a strong thread around our circle, a thread coloured by our places of birth, our religions, our lives, our triumphs and our losses.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The lesson I had that day is one I will never forget.


Of Family and other Connections

Personal connections are easily lost. People move, people change, relationships end.

Can ragged bonds ever be reforged?

Five women aged from 48 to 63 sit around a table and chat about their lives and families. They share stories of how they, and their mothers or fathers, were named. They swap news about their children and grandchildren, the almost too numerous to count descendants of these women’s, these cousin’s, grandparents.

from-old-iphone-778-2The woman retell stories of arguments and the deeper pain of family members lost through death or the attrition of indifference.

At family gatherings I remember, our grandfather sat at the head of the table and after dinner he’d play his harmonica. He and the men, sons and sons-in-law, were served whisky. Daughters and daughters-in-law drank shandies or sherry. Our grandfather was Welsh. He worked his passage from the UK to Australia but instead of going on to Sydney, he jumped ship in South Australia, met our grandmother, married and fathered nine children.

Of those, only four remain.

We women, we cousins, are tickled pink with the idea that we are the descendants of a ‘boat person’.

At those same family gatherings our grandmother, a Scot, served Dundee cake. She came to Australia in the hope a warmer climate would improve her health. We women, we cousins, remember her rolling a cigarette with one hand and stirring a pot with the other.

One of the women tells us she makes Dundee cakes every Christmas. She bakes them in individually sized baking pans and sprinkles them, once they are removed from the oven, with Drambuie. When they are cool she wraps them and gives them to her friends.

I am the oldest of these women, these cousins; I remember them as babes, toddlers and beautiful girls full of gumption but I am also the daughter of a mother who caused more than her share of disruption and discomfort in her family. Aware of the pain my mother caused, we women, we cousins, acknowledge her behaviour; we have the words for it now.

The connection between family members can be as fragile as that between friends. A thoughtless word, an offhand comment or unintentional slight can strain the best relationship. Within families it is a brave fragility; the ties are wrought not, as in friendship, from common interests or shared attitudes but from something deeper, something less easily explained, a sense of almost knowing the familial other the way we almost know ourselves.

Five women, cousins aged from 48 to 63, tend the roots, feed the soil and admire the branches of their family tree. It is good work. It is brave work, it is work we promise to do again; it isn’t really work at all.


Seven Posts in Seven Days: Seven

On Blogging, Easter, Family and Gratitude.

Didn’t the days fly by? I’ve had great fun posting seven days in a row. I think my writing has benefitted, the blog seems to have taken on a new life, I’ve connected with some wonderful bloggers (some in far flung places, others closer to home) and read some inspiring and fascinating posts.

I’m writing today’s post from the dining table instead of my writing room. After all, it’s Good Friday and my partner Cadence, who does the cooking, is going to be busy in the kitchen and I don’t want to lock myself away today. We’ve connected his tablet to our sound bar and cranked up the music. Cadence programmed the tablet to ‘shuffle’ so anyone  from one of Stones, Pink Floyd, Freddie and the Dreamers, or perhaps Leonard Cohen, Mozart, Neil Young or Wagner is likely to join us as we go about preparing for the day. I’m sure that at some point we’ll hear a track that will make us stop what we’re doing and join together in a dance around the living area. It’s lucky there are no cameras about, just a couple of old hippies reliving their spent youth, or what they can remember of it.

Later this morning we’ll be joined by my oldest son and his family. It’s a typical Adelaide autumn day today; sparkling and fresh. Just right in fact, so we’ll eat lunch outside under the pergola. I’m a Spring and Autumn girl: I tolerate the heat of summer and the winter’s cold, but I embrace the balance and change that typifies the equinoxes – the word says it all, doesn’t it? Say it out loud, slowly. E-qui-nox: equal day and night; harmonious; symetrical; proportionate.

From old iPhone 778

The rest of Easter will be quiet. We’ll see a movie and on Sunday we’re going to the local Irish club, as Cadence’s ancestors came from that grand isle. Hmmm, Maybe Monday won’t be so quiet after all?

And now, gratitude: I am grateful for my life; for the relative peace we are lucky to have here in Australia; for my friends, those who’ve been a part of my life for well over thirty years, and the new ones I’ve met through the grace of the internet. I’m grateful for my family, those close by,  those on the other side of the country, and the new family I discovered when Cadence and I joined our lives. I’m also grateful for the gift of writing some capricious god with a wry sense of humour decided to bedevil me with. My writing has helped me understand that, as Auguste Rodin said,

The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.

My wish for this Easter, my wish for everyone, is that wherever you are and whatever your faith or creed, you will be with friends, family and someone you love and who loves you. I hope there will be music, or art, or a good book, or a beautiful tree or distant mountains in the background, but most I hope there is peace in your heart.