Week 2 of Self-Isolation in the Viral Era


The days seem to blend into one another; time and dates have blurred edges. It is becoming harder to recall our lives before everything changed. All the things we took for granted! Meeting up with friends… Restaurants… cafes and hugs, travel and visits from loved ones. Classes are grieved, as are extracurricular activities. Who would have thought toilet paper, masks, sanitiser and disinfectant would be such hot items?

I attended my first online funeral earlier this week. It added to the sorrow of the life lost, seeing eight people gathered in the large chapel, the chairs spaced so that even a husband and wife weren’t actually sitting together. There were no hugs, and no huddling together. A person who had hundreds of friends and family scattered throughout Australia was sent off by eight people, and those of us who watched online. It felt strange; disconnected from reality. It’s our new normal, I’m afraid.

The next evening, a group of us were invited to sing Happy Birthday to a four year old on Zoom, as she cut her birthday cake. As I saw the squares light up with familiar faces, my heart swelled. We have to be distant, but we certainly aren’t alone. It was joyous, getting together from the confines of our home for a little girl.

I had to go up the street to have my flu shot. After two weeks of confinement, it really hit me, seeing the places I usually frequent, shuttered and empty. I thought of my friends, who work in these places (or own them), and the sole traders who supply these shops. It was a melancholy feeling; how could it be anything but? It’s all the little things that you miss. I miss the chatter amongst patients as they sit next to one another, whilst waiting for the doctor. I miss the smiles of the staff, now hidden behind masks. I miss catching up with the friends you bump into down the street. The few people I saw were guarded, hurrying about their business, so that they could get back home.

This update from Bill Crews just about broke my heart. The most vulnerable sector of our society, made to eat their meals out in the rain. Surely we can do better, Sydney? This tumultuous period reinforces the absolute truth that we are connected. What happens to one, can ultimately, happen to all. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and being at the mercy of this wretched virus. Why can’t we put up the vulnerable in accomodation, now that the city is devoid of tourists? Now is the time to soften hearts, rather than harden them.

 

I am thankful for the wonderful souls who have delivered food and groceries to our door. I almost cried, when I saw that the service I used was able to purchase toilet paper for me. It’s the little things that mean so much! I am thankful for the concordant birdsong outside my window, and the sun filtering through the myriad of trees outside my door. I am thankful for teachers who are doing double-duty, organising online lessons, whilst also teaching in a classroom. I am grateful for those who check up on each other, ensuring that everyone has what they need.

There have been involuntary tears, and moments when I feel helpless. Not being able to see loved ones is tough, particularly when they are going through so much, for a myriad of reasons. I worry about those in quarantine with toxic family members. Not being able to escape into their job, or through a social outing, is excruciating, when trapped inside a chaotic household. Life has contracted in. We need to uncover small joys, where we can. Whether that be going for a walk, or by having coffee on the porch. It may mean listening to music, or watching a comedy. Our movements may have been limited, but free pleasures remain. Your thoughts belong to you, and can’t be contained within the four walls of your home. They can see you making plans for when this time is done, and help you to clarify the future you yearn to build.

I keep thinking of what it must have been like to go through the era of the Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague. Without phones, internet, television, running water, sanitation and Netflix! No updates forthcoming, and with limited resources. I can’t even imagine how cut-off each household must have felt from one another.

We are in the early stages of self-isolation, and still have Winter to come. Winter; the season which ushers in frosts and bitter cold, grey skies and barren trees and gardens. It seems to drag, and then one day, Spring arrives. We can get through this harsh winter, if we work together. All this shall seem like a distant nightmare; one we shall recall for the young, in fifty years’ time. They will ask us what it was like, and what we did. Let’s ensure we have ripping yarns to share with them. Tales of how we looked after each other, connecting online, and sending messages to old friends. Tales of getting back to basics, and making do with what we had at our disposal. Stories of mateship and making the best of a bad situation. We are making history, each and every day of 2020.

 

 

 

SistaCare 2017


My daughter, her friend and myself were invited to SistaCare 2017, held at the Exodus Foundation. Rev. Bridget Perkins-Ocean organized the day, along with a bevy of helpers. Students and teachers from Ultimo Tafe did hair and makeup for the ladies in the church. It was a delight to see the women and girls see themselves through fresh eyes.

Dress for Success Sydney gifted the women from the Exodus Women’s Group new outfits, and boy, they looked gorgeous! Dress for Success is an amazing initiative, dressing and styling ladies who are looking to get into the workforce, or need outfits to attend weddings, funerals etc. The ladies then see themselves through fresh eyes, imagining all they are capable of. What was inherent and hidden, buried under trauma and life events, has been reclaimed. My girls were thrilled when asked to lead the fashion parade!

The girls with Reverend Bridget

Reverend Bill Crews was there to greet everybody, and both the beauty school at Ultimo Tafe and Dress for Success gave a talk about their services. It was then time to eat, something my two models were very much looking forward to!

Two very brave and inspirational ladies then told us of their pasts, the details of which were gut-wrenching. To look at their radiant smiles, you would never know what they have endured. Women need to tell their stories to one another; to have a circle of mighty and courageous souls to depend on. I would like to thank everybody who made this event possible. To walk into the food hall and see it so lovingly decorated, was glorious. I was the first seated and it gave me such happiness to see the look on their faces as the guests entered. The tables were set for them, resplendent with china tea cups and flowers. The first step to having a woman recognize her value is to treat her as a precious, valuable person. Giving her back what was once taken. The Exodus Foundation, Dress for Success, volunteers from Ultimo Tafe and the speakers did just that.

 

Come as you are, See me as I am


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My daughter’s Godfather is Reverend Bill Crews, an icon in Sydney, admired for The Exodus Foundation and The Bill Crews Charitable Trust. At the end of a service at the Uniting Church in Ashfield, we all hold hands, forming a circle. In part, he says the following “come, come as you are… This is not the door of hopelessness. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what sex you are, who you are or what you’ve done.” We all feel it. A bunch of eccentrics, poets, misfits and empaths, we feel that we can indeed come as we are. The ego is a silly thing, misguided and sometimes seeing to it that we neglect opportunities. Neglected, because at that particular time, we don’t feel 100%…Our house is a mess, we lack the funds to put on a fancy spread for dinner, we need a haircut or we feel we need to present better before having people over… I didn’t think I had allowed my ego to misguide me, but I certainly had! I have planned dinners in my head, and am waiting for the perfect opportunity. I have planned to have people over, then neglected to actually invite them! I look back and in all honesty,  perfect gatherings were unscripted. I have drunk cheap wine out of jam jars, and had a drizzle of olive oil on bread with friends by candlelight, vying for space amongst magazines and cushions. Those nights were sublime and unforgettable.

I have a problem with my right foot (where nerve damage has occurred from my spinal injuries), and am having surgery next week. In spite of this, each day I have showered, done my hair and put fresh clothes on. I have cleaned my home, and put everything in its place. Last weekend, the pain got the best of me, and I had heavy-duty painkillers and put myself to bed, where I stayed. Sunday, I was surrounded by empty bottles of water, clothes and medicines strewn all over the floor, the Sunday papers covering the bed. I was still in my pajamas, and looked a sight with unbrushed hair and teeth. Of course, this was the day that a friend I haven’t seen in ages came for an impromptu visit. She didn’t bat an eyelid at the chaos; rather she got herself a chair and sat by my bedside. I didn’t feel self-conscious; she had come as she was, and so had I! It actually felt good, to visually demonstrate the chaos that was happening within. I felt authentic, un-judged and valued. She not only tread through the detritus when my mask fell, she also gifted me this magnificent umbrella!

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Apparently, it had spoken to her at the shops, and she knew she had to buy it for me! We avoided niceties, delving into the deepest parts of our lives and the society in which we live. My friend gifted me a reminder to stop the avoidance of extending invitations to people because my life/house isn’t perfect that day/week. No life, house or veneer ever is, and those whom love you don’t give a flying fig about any of that. They will step over the clothes strewn on the floor to reach you. Come as you are.

 

A Whirlwind Week


On Sunday, we watched a short film that Rev. Bill Crews is putting into a festival. It centred around the homeless residing in two parks near Central Station. How it must feel to be out in the elements in heatwaves and bitter cold… Many in society have a tenuous grip on their security, and it would take but retrenchment or ill health to plummet them into the homeless community. Perhaps that is why many look away. Fear will do that. A lady talked about her daughter’s high school, how they went to one of the parks, armed with sleeping bags. The kids asked questions and listened to the people table their stories. The people became human beings with back-stories, rather than ‘the homeless.’ What a wonderful thing to do!

In the evening, I took my daughter to Govinda’s, a vegetarian restaurant in the city. My daughter proudly ate a lettuce leaf, and some sunflower seeds, and then devoured a bowl of ice cream! She has promised me that she will try new food every day, and I am holding her to it! It would be great to expand her repertoire from beyond Vegemite, apples and Lavash crackers! Okay, she does eat more than that, though barely. Kids can become fixed with their eating habits. I have found that when I leave it up to my daughter to uncover the joy of a new food, it ends much more happily than if I had forced her to try it!

On Monday, I was waiting for the bus with my daughter, to go to drama class. The lady I befriended at the bus stop a few weeks ago pulled over and offered us a lift. Bless her, she went out of her way to take us to the train station. My daughter was impressed with her Hello Kitty seat covers and the delicious air conditioning.  It beat waiting in the blazing sun! Australia is having a very hot week! How wonderful it is when strangers become friends.

We were at a show yesterday, and I was seated next to a stranger. She was an older lady, and she asked whether my daughter was having a  day off school. I explained how she is home schooled, and that it has been great for her dyslexia, to be able to take her time. She told me about her grandson, and how he is dyslexic. Sadly, he has no confidence in his abilities, and left school early. I was able to give her some details about the Exodus Tutorial Centre-among other resources -whom may be able to help. Her eyes lit up, and I knew it was not by accident that we were seated together. She lives not far from me either! Life is a strange and wonderful thing!

It has been a whirlwind week, and it is only Wednesday! More activities have been heaped onto my plate, and at the moment, I am eager for them. I haven’t started the medication for my nerve pain as yet. I have been warned by my doctor and those on it, that whilst it is effective, it will certainly cause drowsiness. I am making hay whilst the sun shines! It is going to be factored in within the next few weeks, making home time necessary. Life is cyclical, isn’t it? I am in the season of crazy-busy, and within a month, I will be in the cycle of repose whilst I get used to this new medicine. Nothing lasts forever; not the whirlwind, nor the sleepiness. Its a matter of adapting to your situation.

 

 

 

 

Bill Crews


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My spiritual home is Ashfield Uniting Church, always has and will be. There are times when I don’t know what I believe anymore, and yet I gravitate back to Ashfield. People speak their mind here. It is gritty and real and full of love. The sermon was about celebration, and understanding that there is something to be thankful for every day. It may a rainbow appearing overhead or the breath in your lungs. At morning tea, Bill put on an Australian Story from 16 years ago. He stood to the side of the hall as the matriarchs of the church appeared on-screen. He watched as Speakers Corner in The Domain (a lively corner of Sydney in the 60’s),sprang to life. Pictures of him as a young engineer were presented. Here he was, in his 20’s, minding his own business, when he had an epiphany. He left it all behind to live and work in The Cross. I had tears. I remembered watching the show all those years ago, and deciding that I needed to go to this church, to meet him.

He also showed us a 7.30 Report segment on the literacy program. I can’t adequately describe how it felt to watch children who had been discounted and neglected by our educational system come back to life. They were beaming, their shoulders back and heads held high at their graduation ceremonies. This program has changed their lives and futures. It is being extended to Liverpool in the near future. Bill was there when I went into premature labour with my daughter at twenty weeks. He sat by my bedside and celebrated when the rupture in my waters sealed and the contractions stopped. He was among the first in the maternity ward when she arrived safely at 36 weeks. He held her and prayed over her.

Here, they do real. They argue and get cranky, and cry and laugh. Your life can be in ruins and you can be dishevelled and you will still be loved. That makes it a rare and special place. To donate or find out more, head to Bill Crews’ website.

Redemption


I know quite a bit about addiction. I have had experiences with it, seen people I love go through it. Some survived, others did not. I loathe drugs. I would love my daughter to live in a world without illicit drugs. Ten years ago, two young men were picked up and arrested in Bali. In the early hours of this morning, they were executed. Monday night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking of this, their last full night on earth. When you know the end is coming, and when, those hours must have stretched. Their homes in Sydney were not far from where I grew up, their high school nearby. Throughout the past decade, they have touched many lives, and have changed countless prisoners’ hearts. I was feeling quite sick last night, and couldn’t attend the vigil in Martin Place, a source of immense frustration. I wanted-needed-to be there, amongst others who regard the sanctity of life. I slept fitfully and as dawn broke, news came of their execution. I couldn’t breathe. By noon I was diagnosed with pneumonia. With a heavy heart and heavy lungs, I offered up prayers for these two men and their families. At the end, only an artist and a minister  faced the firing squad. They had long ago transcended being prisoners on death row. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, you will be remembered. Your redemption will be referred to in the coming difficult days and weeks.

My daughter’s Godfather posted the following, the words and sentiment perfect and heartfelt.

http://www.billcrews.com.au/index.php/2015/04/29/chan-sukumaran-death-what-we-can-learn-from-all-of-this/

My Friend in her Nineties.


We used to go down to Ashfield Uniting Church each Sunday, a trip that took an hour each way. It was worth the travel, to see our friends and be a part of a wonderful community. A dear little lady, Joan, joined the community, and had a vibrancy about her. Shortly after I discovered I was pregnant, she slipped me a card. It was addressed to “The lady with the long blonde hair, who brings her little dog to church.” Mitzi Winstopple- our miniature schnauzer-adored our Sundays and we made sure he was always a part of it. I opened the card, to read of her delight that I was having a baby. It touched my heart so. Eight years later, Joan is still in contact, and in her late nineties. She still lives independently and is a source of inspiration to me. Her recent letter, “Your daughter is a miracle baby-one that was born despite hardships. You would have enjoyed the Bill Crews Trust Film Festival that was on last month. Very provocative films-social themes to make you think and perhaps change your views.” How wonderful that a woman in her nineties embraces change and loves being challenged! Salt of the earth.

Another dear soul I think of often is Betty. She was in her eighties when we met, and everyone thought I was her granddaughter as we had the same features. She was so excited on hearing I had given birth, that she took two trains and a bus to come visit. She ended up in our town, wandering the streets. A dear couple took her home, fed her, then dropped her into a mutual friend’s store. This lady in turn, locked up her store, and drove Betty around. The joy when she picked my daughter up… It still fills me with overwhelming gratitude, that a dear elderly lady went to such lengths to celebrate my daughter arriving. Bless all the feisty, spirited older ladies. Now and always.

Betty.
Betty.