Everyday Superheroes

 

Aboriginal man, Karl Schott 2016

Huge eyes bulge from their sockets in full Cocker Spaniel spiel, more cute than ugly and loaded in a love that oozes past the film of mucus that has turned those eyes from brown to grey, probably because of the recent marathon surgery and sedation. Little moans come in spasms of mooing coos. This poor girl has been through the trauma of her life, having two vets slice the length of her underside to remove a mammary gland chain. Cancer, whether in pets or humans, is a shit of a thing. Her surgery came at the pinnacle of a most gruelling week.

I sit here now from the summit, listening to my poor little girl’s moans. My son, who had the responsibility of bringing her home from the vet after her surgery, told me not to look at her wound as it would be too upsetting. He knows me well. Her cancer is terminal and although I can say it easily enough, I can’t think about it. Not when I see Schnooze splayed to her side, her nose snuggled into her sister. Teddi has moped about these past days, lost without Schnooze. The two have been inseparable for the past eight years, until this point.

I think of her as my little hero for what she’s endured. But that’s not quite the right word. In fact, I don’t like the word hero for it means a person who has performed some courageous act or is of a ‘noble character’. Yet everyone performs courageous acts all the time, acts that influence and affect others and contribute to this world. And mostly, quietly and unassumingly, without any fanfare and any need for recognition.

The dictionary also states that a hero is ‘a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.’ This makes me gag! Special achievements. Really? It sounds more like an adoration developed in response to this modern world’s insatiable appetite for the need to be special and recognised, of people to be revered for being exceptional for any celebrity or voyeuristic reason.

Maybe that’s part of the problem with humanity right now, this need to be special when in fact, everyone has their own special abilities and qualities, their own level of achievement and success, however different it is from one person to the other. Maybe that’s why there is so much judgement in the world and so little acceptance and appreciation.

Those that read my words have heard me talk of my brother. While he’s unable to function in the way that mainstream life allows, he does function, and extremely well. His paranoia that can’t be ‘cured’ means he can’t enter a supermarket or walk in his own backyard for fear of people spying on him and his mind is in constant battle with demons that interweave with his schizophrenia. People that don’t him would judge him as the weird guy down the road, the crazy man. Yet he is one of those quiet, gentle giants with an eye to paint and draw that is extraordinary. His oils and charcoals grace the walls of so many and his patience to capture that tender essence of people in his paintings is little understood. Where’s his accolade for his accomplishments, his superb achievements relative to his measure of who he is?

No, the word hero isn’t right. People accomplish everywhere. For Schnooze to endure the surgery and now recovery, however cute she is when she crashes her Elizabethan collar into walls and is unable to reach that urging scratch behind her ear, and the gratitude when you can reach that scratch for her, she’s my little superwoman. And Ms R that I lunched with recently, her patience and determination in sourcing funds for scholarships for young people in disadvantaged areas so they can have a chance to an education and to pursue their dreams, is admirable. Without her and the organisation she works for, these young people would miss their opportunity to contribute to the world in the way they aspire to. Another superwoman, quiet and unassuming, yet so full of the will to give.

It’s times like this past week that I get to sit on the summit after the gruelling climb of the past seven days, to observe and reflect … on the 70-year-old woman who confessed to being molested by a boy when she was young, in the pool she adored swimming in, which she never returned to again. The remorse in the eyes of her sister at hearing that confession as she never knew of her torment. She’s the one to be revered for her exceptional strength for what she’s endured for so long. One could say, she should have spoken up. But we all have our limitations and they all differ. No judgement is required on that. Even on the woman who barraged abuse at my son, H, simply for being a by-stander in an act of rage on the road. I’m sure she accomplishes in her own world. And one day natural justice will appear when ‘bogan’ H, in long hair pulled back to conduct experiments, will have developed the next drug to cure her ailment in old age. A superman, even with only the aspiration to find the next drug.

We all succeed and triumph relative to our own lives. Take the depth of love that’s hidden from the world because of society’s taboo in loving two people, and the strength of those people to carry that love into their eighties. The giving spirit of the mentor to constantly push the student, to question and dig for answers, even when the question has never been asked before and is so abstract that understanding it seems impossible, let alone answering it.

Look into the eyes of one so young when tragedy strikes and the empathy that bleeds in all shades of the rainbow, or of people young and old who risk their lives to rescue others … they’re everywhere.

Try to understand the strength of the paramedic who becomes de-sensitised to so much yet can still flash a smile of warmth and share a few words of care that can soothe any ache of heart, or the tears that build in the young man with responsibility to collect his very frail dog from the vet … they’ve all accomplished, all have pushed themselves or been pushed to limits that have often been untested.

To be surrounded by people who accomplish so much, without the public and materialistic adoration that goes with the heroism of today’s material world, is a true privilege. The quiet heroes of this world are everywhere. They’re the true superheroes.

***

An unexpected call from the vet last night has revealed that they managed to capture all of Schnooze’s cancer, and just in time. Now that’s a trio of superwomen I wouldn’t want to mess with!

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You’re here

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‘Man and Woman in Bed (Saint Cloud)’, 1890 Edvard Munch

 

I know you’re here tonight. Your embrace tells me so. It’s that swathe of warmth that wraps around me and steadies me to my core, of your want to be here intertwined with my want for you.

Sometimes there’s a presence on the breath of cigarettes or on the whiff of perfume, Cacharel Anais Anais if I remember. Other times it’s in the scratching of shopping bags chock full of skirts and blouses, socks for her, ties for him and a vase for me, red at its best.

But tonight, that presence is you. It’s in your hold, so caring and kind, a solid trusting that stabilises and stops the freefall, for me and for you. Life can get like that where everything comes and goes, rushing to be somewhere and do something that makes so little difference compared to the touch of kindness, of stings of hurt from the selfish and the self-interest in that, the taking and prodding for one’s own means … yes and no, maybe, all for me, please be me. Me, me, me! Let it be you, you, you …

Even in a life of loves and haves, of kindness and care, there’s still a freefall. In a life of everything there can still be a slice of nothing wedged in a force of gravity, expedient and crass. Maybe that’s selfishness too and the feeling of nothing is the greatest self-interest and ego-centricity of all. Maybe that’s who we humans are and why it’s in that nothing that the freefall is at its greatest.

Such quandary in everything, in nothing.

Until you come along in unexpected visit and hold me until I let go and fall into you and you into me, feeling safe in that even when it’s frightening too … for what if we can’t brace the falling and I tumble further from you, for what if you’re not real.

Yet trusting you is all I can do for there’s this knowing that sight cannot reveal, a knowing of you wanting to do the best for me in all your sweetness of heart and me wanting the same for you. How that happens or how that is, I don’t know. My only knowing is in the feeling of you and of waking after falling into you and you into me, in a boundless energy and clarity, ready to give again.

The ducks are coming, as a cacophony of hundreds of chirrups and flapping wings reaching for height and searching for a place to roost. In pink ears and freckles, in wood and shell, come roost with me.

Just do it. Go.

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Sometimes, life makes you want to throw your arms up in the air in full f%*# it all!

Cue in time to get lost … in a feisty swim under a sun flecking through warming water, yoga on the beach to salute the sun at dawn or a tear along the Great Ocean Road on the back of a bike. Sometimes just being with a friend that lets you blurt out a chain of rants and holds you when distress is too great for your shoulders or sitting with one of those gangly kids who seem so disinterested in anything seriously adult but that care more deeply than you realise, can help the blood reduce its boil.

And generally, within a few pounding heart beats or slamming round-kicks to the punching bag, that little whisper begins to be heard, ‘do whatever makes you happy.’

We lost a dear uncle last night after he suffered a second heart attack, the first being at home before being air lifted to hospital. Easy to write that he’s passed, much more difficult to express the loss. I cried of course, in streaming tears, while I tried to think through my exam document and interviews and battling a virus, even while preparing dinner. Cooking’s always a reflecting time. A gentle man, caring, and the other half to my aunt, he was her doctor she would say, having to insert drops into her eyes every day. I saw him as the quiet achiever, always busy in the basement or outside, shifting wood for the heater and taking food scraps to the compost, even in sub zero temperatures, watching, always smiling, understanding everything, including my English words.

And when l realised l’d seen him only a few weeks ago, l cried even more. He and my aunt lived in the mountains on the other side of the world to me and l’d only just visited them a few weeks ago. It had been six years since the last visit. It was wonderful of course, winter and snow in Austria with my youngest son, sister and her son, and my aunt and uncle and all their family. Quite blissful, like being home.

‘Do whatever makes you happy.’ That little faint whisper persists.

I’m thankful I got to see him but never imagined it would be my last time.

It just so happened too that a few hours before my uncle’s passing, the beautiful Azure Window in Malta collapsed and crashed into the ocean during a wild storm. We were enjoying the Azure Window’s beauty after seeing our family in Austria, my son climbing the rocks, dwarfed by the magnificent jagged formations and the blowing spurts of sea. Now it’s gone, forever. Loss is grief.

Treasures like these are priceless, where they may be gone in physicality but still linger in a soulful presence that never fades. I’m so blessed to have been able to tell my uncle (and aunt) that l loved them when l saw them those weeks ago, to have glimpsed their emotional tears as we said good bye, to feel their love.

Thankful and grateful are my two words for the week. ‘Do whatever makes you happy,’ l say to my sons, ‘as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else.’ That’s in the perfect world of course.

Life’s too short to hesitate. Just do it. Go. Do what makes you happy.

I’m in Sydney on the weekend and that little whispering in my ears is far from softening.

This place

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Three strikes of the brass bell. Each strike rattles the frame that holds the bell, sending vibrations into the soles of my boots. Although my feet tingle, they steady and relax into the stone floor. Then comes the ding, as the little brother or sister trying to impress. Only one. It’s 3.15. I give myself half an hour in the Temple of Minerva.

Built in the first century BC as a Roman temple to worship Mars, it was converted in the 16th century to what is today the St Maria Sopraminerva Church.

But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate this place. Sitting in the musty silence, the energy is breathtaking. Grounding and still, with an undeniable strength and dignity that permeates the space. The few wooden pews for 20 or so people are dwarfed by statues gilded in gold leaf of saints, cupids and angels, and columns that support a basic, sarcophagus shaped altar. Colourful frescos adorn the ceiling and pink and orange gerberas sit at the foot of the altar, both adding to the temple’s heart.

Thankful and appreciative to be alone, l shut my eyes and succumb to the wooden seat that supports me. I breathe deep the air of chalk and stone and prepare to soak in every miniscule of everything I can.

Light humming creeps into my ears. My body relaxes, limbs become heavy and soon, l don’t feel them. Another deep breath and a comfort begins to sweep in, triggering an insatiable desire for more.

Although l don’t feel my legs, my left achilles starts to ache, probably from the last four weeks of walking over old cobble stones. My right foot follows in sympathy with a tenderness at the base of my big toe, possibly bruised from climbing the many hills and worn stairs.

But for all the aches, there has been much fun and laughter, crazy falls over slippery and unsuspecting ice, and reminiscing and reconnecting with family. Much food and wine too, way too much.

Another deep breath, a sense of calm washes over and my whole body feels as if it is hovering.

Hes, shes and theys weave in and out, become liquid thoughts of laughter with family and new friends. So much warmth, even in freezing temperatures of snowmobiling under a polar sun and late night scouting for the dancing night lights of the polar north.

My body becomes weightless, I’m unable to feel it. Thoughts are random and mixed, come and fade to nothing, become as fluid as the snowfalls of little balls as we walked up mountains, and as the streams of tears of goodbye.

Three more strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, and two dings.

Thoughts move in and out, linger in a space of infinity and drift.

Here, in this tiny town of goodness and grace, everything is different. The water is crisp, fresh and untainted, lunch earlier of short cannelloni filled with veal and ricotta tossed in a pumpkin and truffle sauce, the Chianti … the flavours are distinct and clean, as gentle and pure as the people in this town and the monks and nuns walking the streets. Calmness and cleansing exude as profusely as the black and white scenes of snow-laden Alps viewed from the train a week earlier.

It’s a purity that can’t be described. It’s more to be savoured as the most sought after wine or chocolate, or softness of the most pristine mountain water.

It’s a calmness in the air, as if the place has its own cone placed over the top to exist in it’s own ecosystem, even with a blustering wind over the Rocca Maggiore on the hill top, a fortified feudal castle from the 1100s AD. The climb today to the top will test my legs in the morning.

This place is like stepping back in time. Not for its life, material value or amenity, more in the goodness and giving of people. In a world full of materialism and self adoration, this place is a haven for old fashioned good.

Another three strikes of the brass bell and rattle of the frame, followed by three dings.

I ease my eyes open, taste my mouth as if just waking. I’m surprised by where l am and realise I must have drifted to somewhere else. A scan around me reveals no one.

It may be time to get back to my travelling buddies but l will return.

Assisi, you have my heart.

‘… and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

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‘The Kiss’ (full size) by Burke Heffner

 

‘… and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

I emailed that to a lovely guy who spoke of the back pain he experiences from degenerative discs and the time he’s had away from work to manage that pain. DB’s cute description of ‘anything from picking up a pair of socks to coughing will see it chuck a wobbly’ made me smile and I hoped he’d had an opportunity to smile that day given his suffering.

That was in the morning.

In the evening, I discovered an old friend’s sister who I’d grown up with, had made another attempt to take her life. This time she’d succeeded, whether she meant to or not, and her children had to make the decision to turn off their mother’s life support. Gut wrenching. It made me think of the rest of Mark Twain’s quote –

‘Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Laugh truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

I wondered about my old friend’s sister and whether she had a life that was full and meaningful to her. I believed she did. While I was sad that she was gone and for the family and their loss, my sadness was for the anguish my old friend’s sister must have endured through her life. Or had she? Her life was what she knew and who was I to judge it as one of enduring.

Mental ill health is growing by the minute. I see it in people around me and what I consider ‘extreme’ actions they can take. But to them, those actions aren’t extreme. It’s a way of coping with the daily torment they live with. It’s their reality. Their life. It may not be one of torment that I understand torment to be.

Some take ‘extreme’ actions that make perfect sense to them. I’ve seen what I consider  most irrational actions being taken where the person taking the action believes it to be perfectly rational – the shaving of eyebrows because it looks good and the dodging of cameras in every corner of their own home and in the streets, following their every move. The spying that occurs from being followed, to the point where holding up a 711 store at knife-point to distract those spies from following the family, to protect them, is the only answer. And the swallowing of pills, because that’s the only way.

Years have taught me to not inflict my biases onto those actions and the reasons behind them, to accept them as actions relevant to the person. I don’t have their experiences so how can I know. Truly know. It’s not easy or straight forward for anyone experiencing mental ill health to understand the effects of their thoughts and actions on others. The illness is all consuming, and a reality onto its own.

Someone said to me yesterday that if the friend’s sister could see the hurt she’s caused, she wouldn’t have taken her life. While that may be a ‘Christian’ view, it’s not one I hold.

There is almost always commentary about the selfish act that suicide is. But what of the person experiencing the pain to the point of having no alternative but to take that action? I’m not sure they could see past their torment to understand the impact of their action. To me, there’s a selfishness in those that hold such beliefs that those experiencing such torment should act in ways that are appropriate, as appropriate in their eyes. I’m trying to be kind here!

Every day is a reminder to live life in a way that matters to me – Mark Twain ensures that, with his quote sitting on my desk for me to read each morning. He’s done that all year.

‘Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Laugh truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

While I work hard and may not take on each of those elements every second of every day of my life, I do aspire to them and make a solid attempt at achieving them. I can’t have everything all of the time and can’t always fit everything into a day that I might want. Life’s too short too for regrets and each mistake is a learning from a new fork taken in my road.

I found myself commenting to one of my boys last night on something similar: don’t do things because you feel you should. Do them because you want to. Go out with that friend because you will enjoy it and not because you feel it would make them happy. There’s a level of deceit in that to them and you. It’s a balance of self-respect versus being selfless. Be happy to do that something for someone else.

Standing beside DB the day after we emailed, wearing what my mother calls my grandmother’s bright pink floral, flowing dress, his grimace was all pain. He commented that his back probably threw its current wobbly because he’d been busy balancing work and finishing off his study for the year. I replied to his asking of how I was with being good and sometimes not knowing what day it was. What I wanted to say was sometimes I leave the house and am driving to work or University and I look down at my legs to make sure I’m not still wearing my pyjamas as I rush around trying to do so much in the morning that I don’t remember changing! (But I didn’t want to embarrass myself saying that in public so I’ll say it here instead!) He acknowledged the need for slowing down and taking it easy. Perhaps I should have sent him the whole quote.

I’ve been called many things over the years – queen of clash, being to gung-ho or aloof, asking too many questions or never doing things ‘normal’. It’s probably all true but I’m pleased that I have a true appreciation and understanding that life is short.

 

Time is lost in all ideals of time, where the cocoon has toughened as tungsten steel.

Diamond tips tap to tunes of break free, seeking to escape to a place of new. They sometimes grow as clashing bangs that smash through a weakened fissure into sun shining onto fields of sunflowers waking in the heat of summer. The scent of new life intoxicates to an exhilarating trepidation.

Sometimes those taps are barely auditable whispering feathers and no amount of push can break free. Eventually, the trap secures. The trap becomes all that’s known: the norm.

 

 

Emerging

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Can you hear the faint fraying of the old, of the ground trembling to the rumbling below and the sun’s warmth permeating the musty as the magnetic pull of growth?

The little ones are still and are now listening and waiting as bulging, succulent buds longing to burst into a forever of new. Having learnt some patience and to move with the nudges and spasmodic auto responses, their breath is shallow and sometimes paused in anticipation of their time.

The faraway call of the dove, the prismed reflection of iridescent yellow and red and the cleanest of green speckle as freckles through soil now pliable and loose. The colours shimmy as a rainbow in the sunshine where magpies and their babies warble to the doves’ calls.

Tingles in toes, fingering quivers, breaths of thousands … and then the sigh that spreads as a virus across the land at the birth of the first emergence …

In a breeze of mingling mix, poppies of ruby red nudge hills of waving lush. The light is new. Crisp, yet stark, as though a new filter has been created and added to illuminate pixels never seen before.

But there’s more that I can’t yet see, more my heart knows and craves. More pheromones of free and lingering in a shouldering strength waiting on the other side of those hills. The barest of touch is there and yet it’s not quite a touch. Perhaps it’s more soul fibres connecting in touch.

The key is to be aware of it brewing in this dawn of light, to feel the enigmatic anticipation of tantalising desire running through one’s roots, a desire bordering addiction. Be ready for it.

The aesthetic grows, the patter of rain on a tin roof … more of the stanza to come.

 

Ode to an angel

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My ‘Ode to an angel’ rounds off a new book called, ‘These Winter Months: The Late Orphan Project Anthology’. The book is a collection of stories written after the death of a parent. The focus isn’t on grief or sadness, but rather the simpler things. It’s about the intricate and universal workings of family – regrets, learning, problem solving, daily life, and most definitely, love.

My story, ‘The Teacher’ is one of more than 20 short stories that form the collection. You can find the book at https://www.createspace.com/6021628

 

Ode to an angel ~

Two baubles of hazel rimmed in brown, glimmer and follow my walk across the expanse.

They know.

They care.

They watch high and low, near and far, protecting as a long-time guardian.

Their ripples of warmth flow on wings of abundant love that nurture its young.

Tears well at the framed image of you above our table.

We know you’re here today, where we have gathered to celebrate.

The woman dressed in red knows too, within her own pale eyes of grey, sad and lonely and that pine for you.

They say more than anyone dares see.

You breathe into our home of joy, among the fluttering fuchsias and vacillating vines that once you tended, within the wine you brewed.

We know you’re here, where you watch over as a sentinel on lookout duty. Our keeper and custodian of this family.

We see you in the face of those sitting today, in their smiles and laughter and eyes too, in their weariness after this being together, grand day, dressed in an apron of yesterday.

You’re always with us, in the hues of our dreams and thoughts, in your knick-knacks within our homes and seedlings of our garden, in our every way.

We know an angel is here today.

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