Corona Virus, Panic and Toilet Paper

If you had predicted at the beginning of the year that we would have a shortage of toilet paper (after a wave of panic-buying), I reckon most of us would have laughed. We had more important things to worry about, such as the bushfires and related smoke, choking Australia. Yet, here we are. I recall that one of my most controversial posts on social media, had to do with punch bowls. Yes, you read that right. I saw a photo on Pinterest which detailed how an old punch bowl could be repurposed as a bird bath in your garden. Thinking it a brilliant idea, I shared it. There was outrage! I received quite a bit of feedback from people, defending their grandmother’s punch bowl, and stating that they still use them as intended. It was at a time when our society was going through upheaval and grief. People were unsettled, and had nowhere to reconcile their jarred emotions, and so they jumped on the punch bowl post. I thought about this event, and realised that the toilet paper panic really has nothing to do with loo paper. Rather, it’s emblematic of our fears, and need to control what is happening. We are at the mercy of this virus, just as we were the bushfires, but hell, at least we can control how many rolls of toilet paper we have.

That being said, I went into five supermarkets and three pharmacies in the last three days, looking for pasta, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitiser, toilet paper, tissues and other necessary items, and came home empty handed. I was hoping to purchase these things, not only for my household, but for friends who have a myriad of conditions that would see them become seriously ill if infected. There is the lady who has a port in her chest, through which immunoglobulin is administered regularly. There are friends undergoing chemotherapy, and friends over 60 years of age. There are those with asthma, and those with other health conditions. Some friends can’t get out to the supermarket or chemist. Many of these items can’t be ordered through online shopping , as they are in limited supply or sold out completely.

I must admit, I was angered when I saw first-hand, the empty shelves, and thought of the people who’d bought more than they’d require for the next month. It means others miss out; usually those who are in desperate need. I had relatives who lived through rationing during WW2, and they didn’t hoard. Rather, they were issued a certain amount via their corner shop, and made do. They even ensured there was enough to give visitors to their home’s. I feel for the workers in our supermarkets, especially after hearing terrible stories of the verbal abuse they’d suffered. Some have had things clocked at their heads, after shoppers became enraged by the shortages.

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom, and also our health. We can all do our bit during this crisis. Check in on your elderly neighbours, or friends with health conditions. Reach out and see what they need at this time. Donate your extra cans and toiletry items to local charities and refuges. Ensure that nobody is left behind.

I met a medical receptionist in my neighbourhood, and she told me that she and the doctor she works for, are issuing patients in need with toilet rolls, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes from their stock. Others have reached out to check in on loved ones and reassure their friends who are anxious. Parcels have been left at front doors, and people have shopped for the vulnerable in their community.

This period of crisis shall pass, as all challenging times are want to do, but the kindness we exhibit, and the dignity of which we hold ourselves, shall be remembered always.

Characters on Public Transport

I like to take public transport whenever I can. Not only is it better for the environment, but I find that my day is uplifted when I engage with strangers.

Over the years, I have caught ferries, trains and buses with a litany of characters, all of whom taught me a great deal.

There was Dawn, resplendant  with her toothless grin, colourful dress sense and fascinators. She befriended me when my daughter was a baby, and was my companion on many a bus adventure. She would borrow money, and return it to my letterbox as soon as she could. I remember one time at the bus stop, she proudly showed me what she had gotten on sale from the chemist shop. There was makeup, but also a tube of Vagisil. When she pulled it out of its container, the man next to us on the seat was noticeably alarmed, and more so when this older lady went into great detail about she and her husband’s sex life! “My poor old vag!” she shrieked, then roared with laughter. I was taken aback when I saw a parcel in my letterbox, wrapped in a bag from the chemist’s. I prayed that she wasn’t sharing her tube of Vagisil with me, and was greatly relieved when it turned out to be a bottle of perfume! It was around this time that she invited me to a party at her place for her birthday. I was touched by her invitation, and dutifully arrived at kick-off. I rapped on her door, and her husband gruffly called out to “come in!” I did as he asked, only to find him sitting on the toilet with the door open, his trousers around his ankles! I asked after Dawn, and he said he didn’t know anything about a party, and that she was down the street, drinking beer and playing the polkies. I made a hasty exit, I can assure you! She passed away a few years ago, and many folk she’d met on the bus came to pay their respects.

There was another lady, Jean, whom I met during an hour-long ride to our local hospital. She was in her 80’s and volunteered there, taking the trip a few times a week. It kept her active and agile, she said. After her shift, she would walk for kilometres to keep her bones healthy and her mind sharp.

I met a woman in her 90’s, who’d been a dancer at the Trocadero in Sydney, over seventy years ago. She was quite well known back then, she assured me. She still had the composure and essence of a showgirl.

I met men who were widowers, and wrote instructions as to how to prepare easy and nutritious meals for themselves. I learned about their partner’s, and about their life together. Unforgettable stories of love conquering all. Even death itself couldn’t destroy the legacy of the life they’d shared.

I’ve chatted to teenagers, and taken notes (or should have), as to what music and fashion is in, and what their thoughts are on certain issues. It is always enlightening.

Today I met a dear lady, Madeline, who was waiting at the stop to get home. Radiant in a purple dress and glasses, she held an electric-blue walking stick. She is on the public system’s waiting list for further surgery, and in a lot of pain. This little Italian women told me of her family, and her place out at Orangeville, where she grows all her own vegetables and fruit. I could almost taste the tomatoes, as she described serving them with balsamic vinegar and basil leaves for lunch.

I have met performers, who entertained a carriage full of weary train travellers. There is nothing a performer likes better than a captive audience. My daughter practiced crying on queu in crowded trains for her drama class. It’s a great training ground for a career in the arts! I have been captivated by a songstress singing opera, and young men singing spiritual’s.

Last weekend, I travelled with two mothers on the train. One mum brings her daughter to a class in Sydney each Saturday from Bathurst, and the other brings her teen from the Central coast! Huge dedication from these mums, and quite inspiring. They would do anything to fulfil their child’s passion. As a parent, there is nothing quite like the joy of your child finding something that feeds their soul. Lunches and snacks are packed, as are books. They told me that it’s a luxury to be able to daydream whilst looking out the window, or have a nap after a busy week at work. It is indeed a gift, to be able to slow down for those precious hours and connect with their child. To just be, instead of do.

I have sat with new (and exhausted) parents and their babies, frail travellers, heartbroken lovers, the homeless and those in business suits. I have made eye contact with a reluctant girl who just wanted to disappear, and also those whom have wanted to be seen.  At the end of the day, I guess we all want to be visible. To have courtesy extended to us, and have our stories heard. We all crave a smile and kind word. Public transport allows us the opportunity to have an impact on a stranger’s life. We may turn their day around with our actions. Every where I go, I look for the Dawn’s; those with raucous laughs and fabulous tales. I also search for the recalcitrant, the lonely and sad. People are complex… People are amazing. Life is hard at times. We need each other. A community can come into being on a train carriage or bus. Community can be brought to life on a ferry. Every journey is an opportunity for connection.

A Gentle Bear is Farewelled

My friend often talked to me about her boys, her voice softening in timbre, her eyes glimmering. She was so very proud of her boys, the eldest of whom, Liam, was twenty. I looked forward to meeting this young man. I had heard he was a talented musician. This sensitive, gentle giant ended his life a week ago. I went to his funeral today, and I tell you, if love alone had been enough to save him, he would still be here. There were so many young people of his age, openly weeping. There wasn’t room enough in the chapel, and the mourner’s watched on screens outside. His brave parents stood up and spoke his name; spoke of the memories he has left behind, delicately wrapped in gossamer. I talked to his friend’s parents, whom are in despair that young people have waiting lists- stretching a year or more- to even be able to access youth mental health services, such is the demand. Where to go and what to do, to keep these precious young people alive? Liam was a commendable young man. Always helpful and kind, he was due to perform with a fellow rap artist, until he heard  that he had put his partner through a violent hell. He pulled out of the gig, spending that night with friends instead.

Oh darling one, I talked with some of your friends today. I heard them speak about you. You were loved and always shall be. May I never attend the funeral of another young person taken too early. May we have an open dialogue about depression and suicide. May whole communities look after each other’s young. May we rebel against sanitation on social media. Sure, I want to look at the aspirational pictures and hear friend’s happy news, but I also want to hear and see real and raw imagery when those whom I love are struggling. As the mourner’s said their last goodbye to you, Liam, they were urged to take a can of beer with them. They were asked to take it home, and on the 8th July (which would have been your 21st birthday), crack it open, and toast you.

You are loved, young Liam, always were and always shall be. May your legacy be openness and honesty and love, as you deserve. May your legacy also contain the willingness to talk of our trials and struggles. To be able to declare when we aren’t coping, or need support, whether that be needing company in our home or to be distracted by a movie and chat afterward. We need to lead the way for our young. You are not a burden and you will be heard. Liam, you will live on, and as the celebrant advised, we will look up at the night sky tonight, and locate the stars.

Liam’s music is on SoundCloud.

Community.

Flowers I bought munchkin.
Flowers I bought munchkin.

My little girl’s friend needed to go to the Children’s Hospital for some tests, and my daughter knew she would be a bit scared. I agreed to let her go too, for moral support. It is such a confronting place. Essential items like toothbrushes are sold in vending machines, for parents who had no idea their mad dash to emergency would end up stretching out to a long-term stay. We saw a princess in a wheelchair, her sparkly hair accessories setting off the glint in her eyes. She was escorted by her mum and grandmother, and they smiled and made small-talk because the other options weren’t appealing. They had probably cried themselves dry. Our little friend endured her tests with bravery, and we planned to take the girls for a treat. My daughter held a hand to head, complaining that it hurt. By the time we got to the café, she looked pale and uncomfortable. My friend drove us home, and my daughter went downhill. Scooping her up, we took her to our nearest hospital. By then she couldn’t tolerate light, and vomited violently. We were put in the children’s room to await the doctor. When kid’s get sick, it often comes on swiftly, catching you by surprise.

My friend Vicki, who works in food services, came by and chatted for a while, making the wait less lonely. Another friend, Lisa, who works as a nurse at the hospital, heard that Lizzie was there, and stopped in too. Their wishes of healing and the soothing words they spoke, helped my little girl. The doctor thought it may be a migraine. We were allowed home after a few hours, and as my daughter rested, I answered messages from friends enquiring about her, and those who wanted to know if they could sit with us at the hospital.

My washing machine stopped working, and the next day I had friends at my door asking if they could do a load for me. I had many enquiries online too, and accepted an offer of  a second-hand machine. My friend Gabby, came by with a parcel of goods for Lizzie. She sat up in bed and looked through the bag with great joy. “Aren’t people kind, mummy?”  “Yes, they are,” I smiled. She has severe tonsillitis, so is still at home with me. I am humbled at the love my community shows one another. If someone is ill, they are there. It’s a circle of kindness that goes around, without end. It is a risk to let love in, after disappointment and pain. If you do let love in, and accept offers of kindness, it can heal the gaping wound, sealing it without need for sutures. I am so grateful to our beautiful community, sitting on the edge of Sydney, where pastoral scenes resplendent with horses, vineyards and a river still exist.