Take a walk in my shoes.
They are small and black.
They make invisble prints on the concrete floors.
Walking through paths I never would have chosen for myself. Wild places full of untamed things that claw and bite. Wet places full of moisture and tears. Read More
The man whose head was resting on my shoulder was a stranger. A six footed, big boned stranger in a dark suit. I did not have the heart to nudge him awake. My book was open on my lap and I was comfortable, slowly settling back into my body after a day of negotiating the world; the maps and landscapes of Melbourne. All the physical, mental and emotional bits. Read More
My Mama never taught me anything about power. Not in the way Superwoman’s mother may have sat her down and said: “babygirl, this is how you use that power in your body and in your mind; how you become powerful; how you become superwoman”.
If my Mama had said those words I surely would have remembered them because they would have been etched on all the parts of me. Because for a girl who only ever dreamed of saving others, I was pretty powerless. I had tiny hands that couldn’t scoop up a lot of things all at once and tiny feet that couldn’t keep up with the big steps of others. Yet when my hands grabbed onto something or someone the grip was real, strong and tight. I held onto things and people like they were made to be held, and I, born to do the holding.
But I was never powerful. The little hope that remained pressed against my chest as a little girl that I was a secret superhero was blown away like flimsy stardust when the messages started coming in from the outside. You know, when the world begins to whisper in your ear about all the things that make you not quite enough or worthy. They were brutal and cruel. The whispers of what it meant to be powerful and the assigned cages that came with it. You had to be a particular person or do a particular job or be born into a particular family in order to be graced with an authority that determined how people treated you and how easily the worldly path would be laid out beneath you.
Unconsciously, I tucked my small hands into my pockets and stopped grabbing things. But we all go through life in order to learn and realise what it means to live. What it means to sort out the gold from the dross.
On Monday I missed a meeting.
I thought about the people that would have been sitting behind computer screens slicing through multiple time zones and geographical layers of space to be in one spot for a time, for this meeting. It struck me how powerful they appeared, these nameless and faceless people I was going to talk with for the first time. It made me think of the fallacy we share amongst ourselves – that power is something that is always in the hands of other people, never in ours, never in our hot, sweaty, clasping hands.
When I got to the office, I picked up my red pen and started crossing off days on my calender. There was something soothing about that act. The feel of the red ink sinking into the page, staining it beautiful made me warm inside. It surprisingly made me feel powerful. I have deadlines hanging over my head. There was trepidation and excitement that days are moving along and the question still remains:
What will you do with your wild and precious self ?
Chances are you don’t feel powerful either. Maybe you are caught in the nets of something poisonously draining like a toxic relationship. Or maybe you wake up every morning to go sit at a desk in an old, gray office working a job that pulls you in and withdrawn deep into yourself. And maybe you just don’t feel powerful, period. Whichever it is, I am thinking of you. And Im thinking of us, workers and lovers. People and humans.
We always have something to offer because of who we are. The way the particles that form our individual self come together is on its own an epic thing. And this is the priceless thing that nobody but each of us owns. You can patent it and take it to the bank baby. You own it. In every way that ownership is real and flesh. Tangible and there, sitting on your very skin. Because for as long as you are you, you will have something that no other human being has. This is the power we should be talking about. An authenticity that never blows its own horn to get others out of the way. Instead it reaches out invisbile arms and pulls others to itself. It draws others in by simply being. It sits in the chest, yours and mine, a bright burning knowing that it is absolutely fine to be us.
This is not a come as you are philosophy, it is a true grit becoming the best version of you there could ever be.
We like to think of power as so many things that have nothing to do with us, things that live in camps outside of ourselves. Money. Wealth. Privilege and position. But real power is how you sit within yourself. How you hold the reins of who you are and learn to connect all the parts of you in a tapestry that makes beautiful, not only your life but the lives of those around you. When you possess your soul – knowing where it has been and where it is going- and when you can hold together your core, you settle deeper and stand firmer. You create and give from that place that is not shaken by the winds of the world.
I think this is the stuff we need to be taking into our work, into our every day. The power that is much more than we think and realise.
14 mornings ago men arrived in my street. With their big trucks and heavy, metal drills. They camped out on all the surfaces in our little corner of the neighbourhood. It was so packed that we had to squeeze inbetween machines and bodies to get anywhere. It has been chaotic, disruptive and exciting.
On normal days Toward Street is quiet.
It sits atop underground swamps which release moisture when the ground is threatened. Long, long ago, when Australian land was barren, there was a river that went through this area or so the story goes.
Sometimes I leave my house at 12 o’clock in the afternoon and each step I take is treasured. I can feel my feet thinking with me as they meet the street beneath them. The silence always comes close. And mixed with the sunshine I always want to keep walking forever. There is this spirit to the street. A soul. And you feel it.
The street is wide and fat, stretching on all sides as if she is a lady who could eat more. And I would willingly indulge her. But 14 days ago, men came to break her belly and dig her insides. They are doing something to our water pipes. I have become used to having these men there, in their blue and yellow uniforms and white hard hats. I have grown attached to them and their work. And so I know the street will feel strange when they are gone, until that strangeness grows back into the usual quietness again and it no longer feels strange.
The work they do – the digging, drilling, shovelling, cutting and patching up dry ground, the fixing of water pipes and of finding a path for them under the earth; it is not work my mind or body knows intimately but its beauty I can see and its value I can appreciate. What would we do if there were no men or women who behind the scenes pieced things together so when we turned on the taps water actually gushed out in all its liquid glory, magnificent and abundant?
I stood in front of a panel yesterday. My job was to convince them that my dissertation was making a worthy contribution to the annals of human knowledge. As I stood there in a conventional room with conventional lighting and projectors, I knew I could not occupy academia the way I occupy my soul. This knowing was sharp and it pressed in the insides of my mouth forcing other words to come out. Words that I had prepared to speak in defense of my unconventional thesis. As soon as they left my mouth they proclaimed me doomed and free all at the same time. Free in ways I do not yet understand.
Unlike the men in my streets, the work I do is not as visible. I collect things and patch them up together, stringing meaning and heart to the things that beat with life. I live in nostalgia. I stand and observe. Take in and then give it all back. Sometimes in words and sometimes in a touch. It is a quiet work, the work that sits behind the visible.
And this is how precious work is. It begins before it begins. We each bring reasons, hopes, dreams and expectations to what we do for work. It is never a blank page, and it is never worthless.
Tonight as I walked home, my street was quiet in the dark. The sky above was flooded with stars, the kind that make you smile and wonder about all the other people who are seeing them at just the same time as you. I felt the cold air in my face and spread out my arms to embrace and be embraced by nothing and everything. The big machines that flanked all the edges of the street pressed me on all sides directing me home.
One day this work will end, I think to myself. And the men with all their big tools will leave and go dig up another part of the earth. I think of work and what it is meant to do in the world. But what I see instead is a toiling out of necessity that governs our lives. And how it holds us prisoner within the limitations the world sets on us. I feel for all of us.
Maybe it is time to reimagine a different relationship with work. A bubbling need to go back to the basics; to the appreciation; to the falling in love with the pieces of the puzzle we each hold. For work is the place we get to hold our piece and turn it around in the light to notice all the ways it is wonderfully formed. Work is the space we can stitch our piece to another’s piece to create something beautiful.
Maybe it is time to reimagine.
I fell in love with him because of his voice.
It seemed to sit on air like velvet. And the moment it touched my skin, I would melt. A deep rumble of undulating rhythms that always went down my spine. I was a different person around him. I was putty in his hands.
But more than his voice, it was his words.
The syllables that tumbled out of his sweet mouth, falling over each other. The letters that formed words. He made love to each, with his deep voice. I could listen to him all day.
But my journey with words did not begin with him. It began in a house. A pan bricked house in a farming village not far from the centre of the earth.
When the skies were bluer than blue and the grass sang beneath the feet, I was the girl who thought words could save lives. That words could change the world.
There were no dolls at my house when I was growing up. We could not afford them. So I spent most of my time frolicking with pencils and blank pages. I imagined the world at the tip of my pencil, and when it touched the page, bliss was my home. I found freedom. I found solace and hope for my small, tender heart. The page could take me. It could hold me. All of me. There was no getting to know one another better first. We went right into the thick of it all. I didn’t have to explain why my eyes were big and round with wonder. Or why my heart felt like God had poured a thousand other souls into it. To hold and to carry. These were mysteries the page was willing to accept. The page said, welcome home darling, welcome home.
And so I scribbled all over. My letters, small and unpractised, but alive and breathing, tracing canvases of paths only hearts could follow. Words etched onto paper became my first love. I learned respect for them. Even as a five year old, I knew that words written could not be unwritten. If you used a pencil, you could erase them, but there were always those marks that remained. The ones you could eloquently trace through again, the words indented into the page. If you used a pen, you could only scratch the words by crossing them out with your ink. That was usually messy.
As I grew older, I learned that spoken words were like that too. Often they could not be taken back into your mouth. Your tongue could not take what had been uttered back into its fold.
I learned that words were powerful beyond my wildest imagination. People used them to win votes, to persuade others, to incite hate, to break hearts, to soothe a bleeding soul, to build another being, to encourage, to show love. I had been wielding a weapon right in the palm of my hands and I had not known it.
Words are powerful.
We know this and yet I don’t believe we truly understand it. Words can pierce the soul of another human being. And they can cut. They are spiritual even as they are physical. Tactile and visceral. We dish them out in the manner they sit within us. They reveal the things that brew internally. They mirror the secret corners of our minds.
Words…whether we hear them verbally or in our heads, shape the humans we are. And the humans we become. There is still time to be beautiful with our words. To love others with them. To offer grace and receive it in return. Let’s start with the simplest:
I will listen
Maybe words have not been all that important to you but realise that they are an indispensable element of what makes this world what it is. At the core of some of the mess and misunderstanding that reins in our street corners and houses; behind some of the anger and pain, and even sitting at the centre of some of the beauty and hope, are words spoken and those withheld. I hope we understand that one day.
As for me, I want to lie naked with my words. I want to live with them. Open them up, a treasure chest. I want to dine with them, complete with elegance and checked table cloths. I want to make love to words. Everyday of my life. Because words…words can save lives. They saved mine.
Today is my birthday.
What is more important though is that my Mom did all the work.
But also that I am here. Here in this land, 6 927 miles from the place I first called home. Here. Far, far away from the savannah grasslands and the unfathomable blue, blue Zambian skies.
There are blue skies here, too. In this city.
Melbourne. She is elegant beyond belief. Yet, she is also shrouded in aloofness…a denial of the mess that lives at the core of her. She doesn’t want you to see so she pushes back so you can behold her from a distance. Always at a distance. Those who blend into her being fall into step with her here. Walking in oblivion and bliss. She rewards those who do not go looking for her mess; who concentrate on her beautiful elegance.
So another birthday reminds me that I am here. In this city, and this country I have called home for the last six years.
In the last ten years I have lived in three different countries. Their boundaries invisible yet so clearly marked. The textures of each unique as they weave in and out of every corner of the defined edges, the demarcations. A history imprinted and collected in a body of people who breathe in the same air, eat the same food and share the same stories that the only way left to be is to form a common identity, a national characteristic.
Each country claims pre-eminence and significance. This is the thing of countries. The shovelling and jostling – it is the thing as it is. Each claims to be special; to hold a people, different and unique.
The truth is, people are pretty much the same everywhere. At the core of us is a beauty and a mess that is universal, which no geographical boundary can hide or erase. This is the point where countries become illusions and delusions. And the fact that I can live in 3 different countries and still be me, with the same old issues proves this point to me.
Here is where the delusion begins: the unconscious belief that somehow we choose where we are born, that somehow we put in an order and God is this big people-making and country-shaping Being who scampers to work at our very specific request of birth country.
No. We are not that brilliant.
Our national heritage is given. It is not earned. It is not chosen. It is not a right nor is it an indication of where you stand in the human devised chain of hierarchy. Contrary to how we express our nationalities, they do not confer any special human abilities on us. As much as we would like to think so, it is anything but.
This fact alone should pump out the dross and bring us to our knees in humility. Yet, humility is the one thing that every country on the face of the earth lacks greatly. I can’t change that. I’m just one small girl who turns a year older today.
I can remind you though that the thing that makes you human in your country is the very thing that makes me human, here, in Australia. And that child in Syria you see on TV, huddling itself in the cold.
And that humanity comes before you are handed paper documents with your name and country on it.
Being human is the number one problem every country in this world is facing. It is the mother of all problems. Not doing it right and well is what has led us to this historically catastrophic point.
I don’t know how you live in your country. But I hope it is with humility; with that acute awareness that your country does not make you any more special than that guy down the road in another country. I hope this awareness fills you with gratitude for things you have. The things given: life, God and home. I hope you don’t shy away from the mess that lives at the core of you and the country that houses you. But that you face it, head on, with grace and compassion. I hope you will offer the same to others. And I hope you teach your children to do the same.
I hope you pay attention to yourself. To your humanity and everyone else’s.
As Socrates reminds us, our humanity is not given to us by virtue of belonging to a biological species; it is something we rise to. And this is how you live in a country.
May we all rise to the occasion.
Today, I am flying to India.
This is as exciting as it is terrifying. Because places have a way of leaving marks and traces on you. Like stencils deep into your skin. Into your soul. Places have forces. Heartbeats. Pulses.
I have spent the last few months preparing for this trip. I have considered every possible option of existence I could occupy in this foreign land. The effort was exhausting and it wrote on my heart. Things I wish I could erase. And things I want to keep forever.
She said to me, “Go as you. Go as Sunshine.”
She, this friend who has all of me and loves all of me, she said, “go as Sunshine.”
It sounded simple. Yet it was radical. For to be myself, to be Sunshine is precisely what I have been told would get me into trouble in places like India. Because being Sunshine means being like that is my sole heartbeat. It means looking with deep eyes into the well and trying to pull things out…trying to pull people out. It means breaking down again and again and again if my heart cannot contain it. It means feeling with a rawness that burns.
See, they say India functions according to its own rules. Order in the chaos; things will be bad. Things will be good. There will be sights. There will be smells. There will be poverty. There will be wealth. And no one, NO ONE can do anything about it. This is the story etched in the rocks for this giant country.
I don’t know friends.
Why do we go into these developing countries? To save them? To feel better about ourselves and our lot in life? To help? To feel like we are doing something? Or maybe it is all of the above…
I am ashamed of myself. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. All of us. For failing in our thoughts and attitudes towards these “foreign looking, third world beggarly countries.” We should be sorry for our assumptions about their lives and our supposed expertise on them. We should do right by them.
It starts here:
“When going into another country to do development work or even visit, we should never storm in and claim supremacy, thinking that we are here to change things, to make things ‘more developed’. First things first, it is not to change. It is to learn, share and give. And the first step is to delete all preconceived notions and start listening. Listen.”
So I’m going to India to listen. I know nothing about India. No, not really. Yet the knowing I will experience when I stand on her land, walk some of her paths and feel her feelings will be greater than all the knowledge in the guidebooks combined. Because it will be real in my being.
I don’t know friends. Maybe we are supposed to save one another. And God saves us all. I have no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answers. I only have my heart and that is what I will use. I cannot do the work for you. Or for anyone else. I can only be Sunshine. That is the only thing India will get from me. That is the only thing you will get from me.
It is my everything.
The world is hurting.
I know this because I am right in the midst of it. Just like you.
Sometimes I stay up at night listening to the wind. And the voices it carries. There are cries and sirens and I wonder about the people connected to those sounds. And other times, there is this surreal stillness. The night is silent. Everything quiet. Breathing. Alive. Well.
Much of the pain of the world is behind closed doors. In people’s houses. In their living rooms and bedrooms. In their hearts and minds. We all share in that.
But then, every so often we are catapulted into the open wounds of the world. Into those parts of her that no longer make sense. Where the whole humanity thing is suspended in a timeless vacuum. Some of the those parts are falling apart at the seams, coming undone, bleeding like that is the only thing left to do.
Syria comes to mind. The Central African Republic, Yemen, Sudan…India.
See, humanity’s wellbeing…it matters to me. It matters greatly.
I am invested in it. Deeply so. I wish I had the eloquent words that would explain this to you…in leaps and bounds right to the core of you. That you wouldn’t question me. That you wouldn’t disregard my regard. That you wouldn’t think me crazy. That you wouldn’t shoot me down.
But there are no words.
However, I have faith in you dear reader. That even though you might not fully understand the pieces of my heart, you will still let me exist. That you will still show up with me in the world. That you will let me make this pledge:
I will make it brighter. Wherever I step into. Wherever I speak my words into. I will make it brighter for someone else.
I tried to hide from my responsibility.
I hid from you. From the words. From myself.
I didn’t want to overwhelm you. So I went in search of a rational explanation for the words I weave together. The words I send out into the world. The words I leave in your bosom.
There is none. No rational explanation.
And so here I am. I will just be. And I need you to just be. And maybe in our just being we can do something about the hurting world.
We can notice the pain. We can notice the indifference. We can notice the apathy. And we can move away from that. From building walls to protect the happiness of some from the misery of others.
We can learn to practice empathy. To love like it is the only thing we were created to do. To find our humanity and to warmly extend to someone else.
This is radical.
This will take a lifetime.
But it’s too late for isolationism. It’s too late for pessimism.
The threads that connect us cannot be severed. Flimsy they may seem but they are the wires of life. The blood vessels that pulse beneath the skin of the world linking bodies and souls across time and space. And one day the fate of this our world will be felt by all. At the same time.
It will be beautiful.
It will be disastrous.
But those links will become evident. Undeniable. Raw.
Until then I will make this pledge:
I will make it brighter. Wherever I step into. Wherever I speak my words into. I will make it brighter for someone else. I will be properly human.
We should take a moment. And be silent. For the beginning of a new year. For the gratitude we must be feeling. For the chance to be alive, still. And for the power we have.
The power to love.
The power to give.
And this other power that has me sitting up in my chair and paying attention;
The power to break other people’s hearts.
Yes. It is as dramatic as it sounds. And it is as true as it is dramatic.
We walk into relationships all the time. This should never be a blind walk. Our eyes should be wide open. Our ears perched up. Our hearts naked and soft. Ready, steady, go.
I think we forget.
We forget that we are having relationships with other people. Real people. Not machines, not aliens. People just like us. Who at the core of them want the very same we do; to be loved, and to belong.
Society doesn’t seem to help us with this. The air waves are saturated with messages of love as personal gratification; looking after one’s own heart; making sure you hold back something for yourself. There is some wisdom in this, sure. But believe me it’s only a tiny bit. It is so tiny it wouldn’t even save a small city.
We have turned love into something that only works for us. And the moment it fails in this self-serving mission, it ceases to be love. We have turned love into armour that protects our heart, and from our vantage point, leaving the other person’s heart exposed.
But love is…love is…
It is not armour.
That we can hide behind. Love by nature is open. Unfettered. And without fear. Love is careful in the holding of another heart. It cares about the other heart in the relationship. The moment you choose to love is the moment you become custodian of another person’s heart.
There is responsibility in this. There is. No matter how many times the world tries to convince us that we are only responsible for ourselves. As good as that sounds it doesn’t actually work like that on the ground.
I am because you are.
We are interconnected in a way we will never fully understand. But we have to try. So we can get it right this time round.
Responsibility is power.
Just notice. Notice how relationships fizzle and crinkle when there is no care. No nourishment. No attention. No love. Notice. Notice the long-lasting pain when a heart is broken.
This is not about having perfect relationships that have no hurt or pain. No, no, no. that is unrealistic.
This is about you and I facing the fact that the moment we decide to love someone else, anybody else other than ourselves – friend, family, lover, and child – we receive the power to break their hearts. Anytime.
Let that sink in for a minute.
No, this is not about perfection. This is about having real relationships that recognise the choices we have to make within them; that honour the power invested in each of us to safeguard, protect, love and learn to love each other’s hearts.
You are not dispensable.
I am not dispensable.
People are not dispensable.
This is why love is important. This is why this matters.
And the day we carve that onto our skins. And onto our hearts. Is the day we move a step closer to being properly human.