How do we survive what life throws at us? It is miraculous, indeed, that a broken heart keeps beating. Hope is found in the friend who has retreated- missing from all social media-and whom reappears after their dark night of the soul. It is the dawn we thought we may not see, and waking after major surgery that we were warned may kill us. It is the rescinding and rebuttal of bottles of booze and cigarettes after being warned of the inevitability of an early grave. It is continuing in the face of grief, and the exercise we partake in, despite wanting to stay in bed. It is a mindset that urges us to keep going, and keep alive, despite a downward turn in fortunes. Hope has no need for evidence, it is timeless and often without basis in facts. It stands alone, without anything to cling to, as ephemeral as a cloud, and as mighty as a gladiator. I have strolled through areas of Australian bush, which had been decimated by fire. Hope is found in the green shoots and new foliage on charred trees and scrub. You only need a small area which is undamaged to cultivate new life, it turns out.
You can have it all, and then lose it all. Enjoy today whilst it is here. The one thing that you cannot lose is yourself, a fine purpose-built instrument ripe for remodelling. Soaring above the decimation and loss is a feeling of hope; that you have it in you to rebuild. The hour is not too late, nor are you too old. We are somehow driven to grow in mud and rise from the ashes, again and again. Hold onto hope, no matter what circumstance you’re in.
We have a new Prime Minister in Australia. It is truly embarrassing. I was at a class when I received the breaking news on my phone, and announced to everyone that Peter Morrison had landed the top job! I had been under the mistaken belief that Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were interchangeable. Perhaps, I was mislead in thinking that it was a shared role? With life feeling heavy, grey and frankly, ludicrous, it was time to escalate the whimsy factor.
I found some elf ears, much to my delight, and proceeded to wear them on public transport. Now, if you are a Sydney person, and have taken trains the past couple of weekends, you will know what a shambles it has been. Trips that would usually take 40 minutes were suddenly taking four hours, and that is if your train was running at all. Solution, elf ears! When I put these on, everyone started smiling, if not laughing. Conversations were started, and whimsy ruled supreme. There were even people stopped in heavy traffic gawping, as I waited for a bus.
That’s the thing about whimsy, it takes us out of our every day ho-hum lives. It is surprising, startling and without ego. It contains humour and frivolity, with no goal in sight, other than to delight. I was amazed at how a pair of elf ears could pick up the energy in a dreary space with tired and annoyed passengers.
Here are some other recent whimsical episodes of note:
We had a rainbow lorikeet feasting on jam left at our table and attended a mad hatter’s high tea at the Westin, Sydney. We fell in love with greenery draped over light fittings and up the walls at a bistro, and we ran through a water feature.
We admired the meticulous costumes of Cos Play characters on their way to some marvellous expo, and congratulated the raucous Kiwi’s on winning the Rugby. We listened to melodic buskers strumming their guitars and danced in the streets of Sydney. We were at the Body Shop, and nearly jumped out of our skin’s when one of the sales people let out a shrill scream. She jovially explained it was, in fact, a hiccup, and that it always alarmed people. She continued screaming, every minute or so, the poor darling.
I bought a solitary violet cream chocolate from Haigh’s, after unknowingly jumping the queue (which snaked out the door). I was mortified upon turning around and seeing the people patiently waiting, and was greeted with bemused smiles, bless them! I watched my daughter soar through the sky on an outside trapeze. Why did she want to partake of this class? It was to feel the sensation of flying; the sensation of being free of all incumbencies.
These are the moments we live for. The moments of unexpected beauty, the sublime and the ridiculous. If a pair of elf ears can make a carriage full of irate passengers smile, I may have to add an entire elf outfit to my repertoire. Life isn’t meant to be a series of annoyances and trials. The harder life gets, the more whimsy must be added. Whether that be in the form of a coffee mug or some novelty to make everyone smile. The moments of whimsy make life worth living.
The anniversary of my fall happened recently. I consider the date to be my actual birthday. It could have been the end date between the dash, stating when I was born and when I died. If he had his way, it would have been. I have done everything I could think of to get through this particular day. I recall one year, I visited a dentist, and wept uncontrollably in the middle of Bondi Junction afterward. It was only when I looked at a newspaper, that I realized it was the anniversary of the fall. It convinced me that we have a powerful subconscious reaction to anniversaries, even if we don’t consciously dwell on them. This year, I took my daughter to lessons by a beach. On the bus, a brilliant stream of sunshine pierced through the windows, bathing me with soothing honey and saffron light. I closed my eyes and smiled, just as I had done the morning after the fall. Sunlight had broken through the clouds, and reached its honeyed fingers through the hospital window. Tears poured down my face at the sensation.
I sat on the beach whilst waiting for my daughter and watched the waves crash in and then be pulled back. I was asked to hold close the following in the aftermath of my fall; ‘It came to pass…not to stay.’ For years I had imagined the waves crashing in, and then receding, taking with them all the challenges and pain. It was a marvellous saying, and an inspired piece of imagery.
There were many ways I could have died that particular night, and he spoke aloud all the possibilities. I was strangled into unconsciousness at one point, before being pushed after I regained consciousness. I was then dragged across the ground, my survival having been an affront to him. The people on the waterfront looked at me curiously as I grinned maniacally from sheer joy, incredulous that I am still here. I talked to strangers, and patted little dogs wearing winter coats. I pulled out my key chain; I had found the perfect reminder for this date.
I spent the rest of the evening looking through old scans, deciding what to take to my appointment at a pain clinic. I was of course, asked what had happened, and my throat grew dry as I revisited the trauma, trying to provide a recap in an hour. It is a saga that goes on, year after year. It demands time spent in surgeries and in surgery. Doctor’s surgeries tend to have the same inane and dated sporting, golfing, automobile and real estate literature, though if one is lucky, you may come across an old Reader’s Digest. I find it all laborious and tiring, and frankly can think of a million better uses of my time. However, I have an eleven year old daughter to whom I am the epicentre of her busy world, and I need to be on my game. I have to think of the future, and all I want to do with this kid. Spending time and money to maintain the wonder that is this vessel; well, it has to be a priority. On a positive note, I have reached the Medicare Safety Net for the year! Go me! My daughter and I were having a girl’s night recently, and she tried to teach me some of her dance moves. She did so slowly, and we were in fits of laughter at my uncoordinated efforts, until I fell to the floor in pain. She kept apologizing and my heart broke. It is always there, demanding to be acknowledged. Each time I require my girl to do things I can’t do without extreme pain. Each time I have to explain how I was injured.
After my daughter bid me goodnight, I did what I do most years on the anniversary. I poured a glass of red wine, lit a candle and wished myself a happy birthday. It is always a birthday party for one. That bitterly cold evening, I imagined I was covered in a blanket, a pillow underneath my head. I imagined I was safe. I sipped my wine, then blew out the candle. I tucked myself in, and fell asleep. Another year passed.
There is a marvellous website, called Live Through This where survivors talk about their lives post-suicide attempt. It is heartfelt, often joyous and resplendent with hope. I think of what my life was way back when, and how it is now. It is light years from there… I am light years from there. If you had told that young woman what she would still have to endure, including the loss of a relationship she thought would last forever, she may well have not believed you. Furthermore, she may have told you that she couldn’t imagine bearing a skerrick of that pain. Endure she did, and overcome she has. She didn’t do it alone. At a very low ebb, a friend came to her door with a pronouncement of concern and trailing the thoughts and love of many mutual friends. She held in her hands a box, wrapped in a red bow. Therein lay the tools needed to rebuild her life, both materially and emotionally. There has been much grieving and loss throughout the world in the past month, losing exceptional people to suicide. A movement grew on Twitter, using the hashtag, #livethroughthis.
I thought of my people coming to my aid. I had feared the unravelling of my wings may never happen; that I would suffocate in my tight cocoon. I feared I may never be freed to see what life could be and who I could become. Just when I thought the world might cease to exist for me, I became a butterfly. My fervent hope and dearest wish is that we all continue to live through this, spurred on by acts of kindness, both big and small. A smile at the right time may save the life of a stranger. It is never too late to start again, and we are never too old. We need to keep communication open and searingly honest with one another. Now is not the time for pretend nor gliding through life as though we are taking part in a masquerade ball. You can’t be human and not have wounds. Perhaps we need to share them with one another; not in the hope of a quick fix, but because the very act of sharing releases the pressure. Whatever it takes to keep you alive. You all deserve to see what life could be, how the colour can change from sepia to a rainbow after heavy rain.
Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting my new neurosurgeon. Indeed it was a privilege, to meet such a humble and kind man. I presented a selection of my favourite scans from the past two decades, and as he studied them, he asked how on earth I had managed to inflict such damage. I tell you, after a lifetime of answering this question, you get quite nonchalant and so I muttered something about a bad man, my falling, and things of that ilk. I should have just brought him a copy of my book. Once he was over the shock of that discovery, he examined my head, neck and shoulders, all of which contorted in pain. I was booked in for nerve blocks and associated tests, and bid him farewell. My morning had required me to be a patient, vulnerable and hurting. The following part of the day would see me reclaim who I truly am, which is somebody who gets transported by beauty.
My daughter and I took off on a grand adventure, firstly to the White Rabbit Gallery at Chippendale, a magnificent space that used to be a luxury car showroom. The exhibition The Sleeper Awakes had started that day, and we were so entranced by the colours and symbolism that we forgot to take photos! It would have seemed almost rude to have not been in the moment. Trust me, if ever you are in the city, it’s worth a visit! I did however, manage a snap of the glorious tea room. The best cages are empty ones; beautiful in their emptiness.
We walked with our lovely friends to Spice Alley at around 5pm, before it got busy. There was a wild variety of vendors, and the difficulty was deciding! There was plenty for a vegetarian like myself to choose from. I settled on the best vegetarian fried rice I have ever had! The heady spices were combined in such a way as to delight the taste buds. As we ate and drunk our bubble tea (and wine), we talked about everything from Nikola Tesla to Facebook, movies and authors.
When we boarded the train for home, I felt exhilarated, as one does at the end of a fruitful and satisfying day. I was exhausted and in pain, yes, but the over-riding emotion was gratitude. Gratitude for caring specialists, good friends, art galleries, delicious food, a new hangout and a happy child. My body feels frail; in need of reconstruction, and the pain is merciless. I was a patient, scans in hand. For the most part, I was still Raphaela, an irrepressible spirit who will not have her life dimmed. You can be both, and balance it well. The next day, I was in bed, but never mind. Last Friday, I was both a patient and healed.
International Women’s Day started way back in 1909, and grown into the massive celebration as seen today. My daughter and I attended a wonderful 30th birthday celebration of a womens’ hub this March 8th. The womens-only centre is the only one of its kind in an area whose population is growing rapidly, and it is very much-needed. Not only does it provide free counselling services, a nurse, doctor and legal advice, but also workshops and groups, caseworkers and a referral service.
We listened to eloquent speakers, and were asked to reflect on the women whom we have loved that are no longer with us. Those who passed after a life of service, and those whom we have lost in tragic circumstances. Suddenly, the wind picked up, and caressed our faces, as though our ancestors and friends had been summoned.
Last year on this date, a doctor I had been seeing was arrested for the sexual assault of several patients. Today as we rode to the women’s centre in a bus, a young mother struggled on with a double pram. She managed to fit the pram into a corner, but the fellow sitting near her refused to tuck his legs in so she could sit comfortably next to her young ones. He had a look of scorn on his face as he deliberately stretched out further, and she struggled to shrink herself into less than half the leg space she should have been allotted.
We got home a short while ago, and I was looking forward to a rest. There was no sleep had last night, due to pain; the result of violence suffered long ago. As we alighted our bus, I sighed. Our neighbour was with a group of men smoking and playing loud music out the front of our place, at the same time as they were revving a chainsaw. They saw us, and continued chopping down a shrub, watching it fall onto our driveway. They then walked over and stood in our drive, ignoring the fact that we were there and had to walk around them. We weren’t even greeted, just glared at, as though we were unwelcome intruders. I was too wary to ask questions, and it can be rather intimidating to have six burly men on your property. I just wanted to get inside, away from them. The irony of it being International Women’s Day wasn’t lost on us. We hadn’t even been informed that they were planning on doing what they were doing. In my room, the music from their van was streaming through the closed window, and so I put on an ambient CD at full blast, resplendent with harps and harpsichords. I can imagine it delighted them, as much as their actions delighted me. Is there any noise more hideous than a chainsaw or leaf blower?!
We still have a long way to go, women and men and together as a community. Attitudes must be checked. Women are allowed to take up space! In fact, we must! As I watched my daughter drumming this morning, my heart swelled. Here’s to women and girls, and here’s to friendships and the future. May our girls grow into women without shame, unafraid to speak their truths. May they have equal pay and equal rights to men. May old paradigms be vanquished and may we be able to stretch out comfortably in our seats next to men; afforded equal space. May we be able to walk into our front yard unabated.
She knew what it felt like to be owned, or rather, how it felt when others presumed to own her. She had never felt as free as when she placed her most treasured possessions in a suitcase and left the detritus of her old life. The wardrobe was crammed with dresses and coats she would never wear again. The comforts of times past were still sitting on the shelves, her linen on the turned-down bed. She looked around her room one more time, and then closed the door, not looking back. One suitcase and a pocket filled with dreams were all she carried. She would never again see photographs of herself as a child, nor read through old schoolbooks. Stories were contained inside her mind, recollected at a moment’s notice. It is much more fun to belong to oneself. She thought of who she might be as an older lady. She hoped that she would have honed her own style, after years of discarding what hadn’t worked. She hoped that she may have found what did. Whether that be becoming a Lady in Pink, or the Chick in Green.
Perhaps, there would be the wistfulness that comes when one has had to make hard but true choices. This Iggy Pop song would take her back.
There is a price to pay for freedom, whether it be emotional, material or everything in between. One must not think too much about the risks, or one would never be brave enough to leave. All it takes is a deep breath, and the knowledge that the centre isn’t holding and is actually giving way. The trip into the unknown is the only way to survive. To be one’s own master, not owned nor contained. Twenty years pass, just as in the song, ‘Candy.’ She is ever closer to reaching her golden years. Perhaps a lady in pink awaits, or maybe she will become a rainbow. She wonders whether she has used up her quota of colours in younger years; maybe she will instead cloak herself in charcoal and grey? She knows that birds, dogs, a wild garden and books shall feature heavily. Wherever she ends up, and whomever she is evolving into, she can say she has lived life on her own terms. She was always an unruly spirit, unconstrained and certainly never owned nor boxed in. No matter what they thought…
My daughter and I travelled to Auckland airport from Sydney to attend a wedding in Rotorua. It was our first international flight, so we were excited! We left home at 5am, and got to our lodgings after 8pm. Fortunately, I had prepared my spine -full of arthritis, spondylosis, etc- for this epic adventure, and after a hot shower, crawled into bed.
The next day, I needed a good walk, so we went into Rotorua, and had a marvellous time looking in shops (which are markedly different to ours), and talking to the locals. The cost of living is a lot higher here, which was evident in the price of petrol and food. Over half the population exist on the minimum wage, and rents are high. I worried about the local people, and how they manage.
My friends were married at the Black Swan Boutique Hotel, a stunning place overlooking Lake Rotorua. Black swans glided by as the vows were exchanged, and the grey skies cleared and sunbeams touched our skin. The bride was absolutely stunning, and I loved how we were invited to hold the rings, placing our love and hopes for the couple into them before they were exchanged. The reception was exquisite, as were our attempts at dancing afterward!
We left the Black Swan at midnight, collapsing into bed, and woke early the next morning for breakfast with everyone. The bride and groom were glowing and ever so happy. It filled me with joy. We decided to head to the Polynesian Baths to partake of a sulphur spa, naturally heated to 40 degrees. I lost track of time as my body relaxed and I floated with my daughter, and it was only when we went to get dressed that we noted the sign stating that you shouldn’t stay in longer than 15 minutes! Oops! We drank lots of water afterward, to avoid dehydration, and I went to have a nap, my pained spine temporarily eased.
As I slumbered in our Airbnb, my daughter uncovered what she called a fairyland, Mini Golf NZ, ironically on Fairy Springs Rd. The manager, Fiona MacGregor was an angel, she said, and I just had to go and see for myself. On the way, we stopped at the local shops for a takeaway dinner, and met many homeless youth. The weather had turned nasty, and a bitter wind whipped through their thin clothing. We gave them some of our NZ money, so they could at least get something to eat. This is the hidden face of any country, concealed behind the tourist attractions and natural beauty. The operators rake in the cash, but the poor see barely a cent.
I was already entranced by the music, bubbles and fairy lighting I could see outside of the mini golf centre, but when I went in, I was captivated! Flemish rabbits bounded up to us for cuddles and pats, and were very involved as we worked our way around the course.
There was also a tame dove and a rainbow lorikeet! I was in heaven! Fiona has been here a long while, and has not only raised her own kids, but looked after many others. She is very aware of how the community is struggling, and organizes canned-food drives and Christmas hampers for organizations like Food Bank to distribute. Fiona is a good woman with a huge heart. There was something very special about her and this place. She was here for love, an essence that shimmered like gossamer around this slight woman.
We met a lot of Maori’s, and they expressed concern about lack of job opportunities, homelessness, housing affordability and much more. I admire the local community organizations, who have set up linked charities to tackle the major issues. One of the major ingredients has to be a sense of hope; that things can turn around. If that is lost, mental illness creeps in, aided by alcohol and drugs. As long as hope and good people like Fiona abound, communities and their whanau shall prevail. The rest of our trip was spent in quiet contemplation and thankfulness that we had seen our friends marry, and that we had met Fiona. If you are ever in Rotorua, go see her!
We received an email from a lovely friend, courageously explaining that she had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She also mentioned she would be starting treatment at Chris O’Brien’s Lifehouse, which may gift her more time. We saw her shortly afterward, and my daughter wrapped her arms around the diminutive Scot. This lady knew that her days were numbered, and prepared those she loved. She showed her husband where everything in the house could be found, and planned her funeral. Her dearest wish was to die at home, and we were very grateful that she was able to do so. The petite bushwalker, social justice advocate, swimmer and birdwatcher fell into slumber last Monday, and yesterday, we celebrated her life. She had enjoyed a crisp glass of wine (or whiskey), films and music, as well as the company of children and animals. A life well-lived. After refreshments were served, my daughter and I went for a stroll, and came across the most magnificent bird mural. “It’s a sign,” she said, and I truly believed it was. Our friend was adaptable, moving countries and going on adventures as others might change clothes. She was also reliable and a meticulous planner. Her traits held her in good stead, as well as those of us whom admired them and hoped to emulate them. The Kingfisher is a member of the Australian Kookaburra family, and is a promise of peace, abundance and love. How apt that we stumbled upon a wall filled with such symbolism?
I stopped in at The Bower, a darling little shop in Parramatta that sells everything from pre-loved tea sets to furniture. To my joy, I found magazines for 30 cents each, some dating back thirty years. It was extraordinary, the information on the pages. So much has changed regarding everything from medical advice to technology. Here is a quick run-down:
May 5, 1986
Six cigarette advertisements in one magazine! In Hollywood, Dudley Moore and Christopher Reeve were out on the town with their respective partners. A feature on a lady who started a bread-making business boasted that her success lay in using only high-gluten content flour! Porridge with dried apricots was apparently a popular breakfast! Peter Russell- Clarke was our most popular television food presenter, and featured in ads for Australian cheese.
Sanitary ads featured smiling women in pastel shorts, running and swimming. Laxatives (that could unblock a drain), were liberally put on show, and used as an adjunct to a healthy lifestyle, whether you needed them or not! Monstrous vacuums were the order of the day, as were video clubs. Send a cheque, and you would be the recipient of several family video-tapes in 28 days!
April 27th, 1987
Princess Diana was featured heavily, as was 46-year-old Raquel Welch. Shirley MacLaine’s Out on a Limb autobiography had recently aired as a mini-series in the US. In cutting-edge news, there was incredulous talk of laser surgery to improve eyesight. Could it be a reality?!
Retirement plans were aimed at those aged 55 years upwards, with no talk of working beyond that age. Shoulder pads are huge.
Elizabeth Taylor was 55, mineral water and oat bran were served at health retreats and cane furniture was in.
Glass brick windows afforded light and privacy, and Brandy Alexander pie (complete with marshmallows), was a popular dessert! OCD wasn’t then a known term, and what was coined as a germ phobia was usually treated with heavy medication. The strongest sunscreen at the time was factor 15+