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 American trip. I didn’t take a lot of photos this time around. My camera stayed in my pouch. My fingers were busy gripping something else and there was an urgency at which they did so. I had no control over that. It was a matter of curling up into a comfortable spot and watching how they dug deeper into the textures and contours of people, places and objects. Wanting to remember the smells and the feel of moments. Wanting to become part of the landscape and part of strangers. To be swallowed up, never to be the same self again, alone and separate. Thoughts were what stuck to my fingers. Thoughts that came swelled up and fat with determination and emotion. Read More
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.
Melbourne is steeped in winter at the moment. Her usual elegant lightness is weighed down with cold, her toes wet from the rain and dew. The mist that covers her is refreshing even as it is depressing. You can feel her heartbeat slowing down when you get up in the morning. You want to stay longer snuggled up with your duvets and pillows. She doesn’t seem to mind.
There is something about Melbourne winters. They remind me of the first time I moved here – the strangeness of the days I spent trying to woo her heart, trying so hard to make her fall in love with me. But there is a mysterious magic to falling in love, isn’t there? A mystery because we never quite know when, where or how it will happen. I like when it happens with someone I know. Someone whose heart I have learned and memorised as my own and then one day as I’m sipping hot chocolate with my fingers delicately curled around the mug, I feel everything in me pulling towards the person. It is quiet and strong. The realisation of a love that has been building from day one.
I’m cold every day in winter. My fingers are desperate for autumn and so is my heart. Both always seem so dazed by the cold. As though it doesn’t come every year. I smile watching them because it amuses me and endears them to me. My own being becomes something to encounter, as though discovering it for the very first time. And I swear the nostalgia that fills my heart is like a ball of fire. It should keep me warm all through winter.
And you. I have been thinking of you.
Often when I write I want to say something meaningful to you. I always want to leave words that you can wrap around yourself and know you are loved. And important, and special. I always want to pour my whole being onto the page so when you cradle it between your fingers feeling for its texture you can feel me too. That is the only way I know how to write. I am becoming comfortable in this skin. And I want you to be comfortable with this too. With me. I haven’t said thank you in a long time. The other day I sat down and thought about each one of you behind the names and numbers I see on the computer screen. Real people. And I was grateful that you are here. That you read me.
I remember when I started and I had 3 readers, 2 were my relatives. So know that I am gushing over you. That I pray for you. And that I need you. It is a scary thing to need people you have never met before but if you have been reading me for a while you know I am not afraid of scary things so I will say it as it is: I need you.
Being properly human is a big deal to me. The words and their intent grace the preamble of this blog. I live by those words. They hold together such a simple concept yet it is the hardest thing to put into practice. We can’t hide our humanity. It is something we carry with us no matter where we go. And so all I’m saying is why do we go all out to be the best at everything else but this?
“You don’t find a person being lauded for just being a human. There is no pat on the back for just trying your best to be one”said my best friend the other day. And she is right. But here, in this space, this is what we do. We laud each other for just being human. We pat each other on the back.
I struggle too. Like you, I do.
Right now I am re-drafting my PhD dissertation and it is painful. The stretching of the work is like being pulled to the limits. PhDs are like that. They pull taut every part of you that has feeling. I stand facing my fears about finishing, about writing a good dissertation, about the future after I close all my academic books and this journey ends. I am terrified.
Yet there is something breathtakingly beautiful about seasons where you are on the floor huddling yourself, these seasons of winter…they pass. And we grow from what they leave behind. We rise again. And the next time that season comes around we do it better. This is what it means to be properly human – the always reaching for the stars without forgetting the ones we already hold in our hands. This is a phenomenal skill. But it is crafted quietly and slowly through the way we live our life every day.
This winter is brewing things in me. I feel like a kaleidoscope. Sometimes I have moments of sheer awe with splashes of colour and other moments are filled with absolute terror. But when you undress this whole thing it really is very simple for me: I just want to love human beings. I am a big softie and I am at my best when I am loving someone or something. It is the core of me. And so when I grow up I want to give a love that is amazing.
And maybe when I die someone will say:
Wow. To be loved by her was an extraordinary thing.
I sit on platforms and wait.
I wait for trains. A thousand other people wait with me. Their sounds, I internalise. Their humanity I recognise. For I am a manifestation of the same spaces they dwell in, in their minds. I am them. These people who wait for trains with me have sweat beads dancing on their foreheads, familiar smells of bodies and foaming life.
Even when they offer me unfamiliar, cold stares, they speak of only one thing – flesh & blood. Humanness.
I recline my head and turn my attention back to my writing. I continue waiting for trains. Because I know that as long as I wait, the train eventually comes.
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.
Melbourne winters are cold & wet. the rain arrives at your doorstep, dressed up. whether you are or not. whether you are ready or not. there is a sense of determined purpose about it; about its showing up, appointed to its season; about its feeding the earth with its life-giving nutrients.
It pours & drizzles, floods & ebbs. sometimes it hails & screams & threatens to destroy. these are the times we are reminded how small & vulnerable we are; puny specks on the face of an earth that has the power to swallow us up in a second. nature can overwhelm us with a force that is often times incomprehensible.
But the rain is a blessing too. it comes bearing gifts of freshness & renewal. it feeds the earth in ways you & I would never know to do. we have no clue what the ground we step on needs – we don’t listen to its woes & cries. we are not privy to its pain. the rain is. & it comes to wash away that hurt. it comes to nourish & heal. even in the places we ourselves have hurt.
The earth knows a joy no human syllables can hold in their hands. we have no language for it. we see it on the face of roses that have been kissed by raindrops & in the deep green of tree leaves that have drunk deep from the earth’s bowels.
Stand in your house & watch the rain fall from heaven. sometimes it’s solemn. smells & memories of childhood come flooding in. that smell of the earth soil after the first rains – rich & full-bodied. playing in swamps with no care in the world. long gone sights & sounds of happiness & glee.
Life is an ever expanding canvas. sometimes we can paint with our paintbrushes however we like. & other times, life pushes us aside & masterfully, sometimes even painfully dazzles us with its big brush strokes from one end of the fabric to the other.
Like the rain, there are moments that come washing into our door with packages of blessings & bliss. & there are other moments when everything falls apart at the seams, failing to hold on to each other in that lovers’ embrace. the safety in what we know threatened by a deluge of fear.
But every day is a day to be washed. to come clean. the rags come off. the deep rooted stuff confronted. the confusion the world hands you on a silver platter returned to sender.
Every day is an opportunity to live as you would live if you would live. there is nothing about it that says safe in the conventional kind of way. but there is a safety in being genuine about your flawed self. it has little to do with how amazing you or your life looks on instagram. it is everything to do with the person you are when no-one is looking in on you; the person you are in the darkness when the lights turn off & the crowd have all gone home.
It is everything to do with integrity – something we can learn a thing or two about from the rain.
in its showing up there is no feigning importance or glory. there is no fakeness. it shows up not to be seen but to do a job. to water the earth & replenish us all. we witness its might once in a while but season after season, its quietness in fulfilling its purpose is almost overlooked. sometimes it’s even a pest as we angrily open our umbrellas cursing it to the death. it’s unpredictability casting a shadow over our Sunday brunch & picnics in the park.
There is a giving inherent in rain falling. the sky opens up its heart and gives over & over again. no questions asked. its soul is uncorrupted by the nastiness we do to each other. the acts of them it witnesses day in & day out. even when we don’t deserve rain, it shows up. undiminished & whole. for now. soon the earth moves on its axis & winter in Melbourne gives way to spring. another season for grace & hope & growth.
In the meantime, we give thanks for the rain. we hold out for it. we let it remind us of the things that feed & nourish, giving strength to our bones. we learn to hold out our hands for the richness we cannot grow for ourselves. the one that lives unquantifiable in things of the soul & the relating of one to each other.
We learn to whisper, come, rain. even as we stumble in the paddles, because we know that the world is beautiful after the rain. Come, rain.