Monday, 1 September 2014

The Love Challenge!

I've been reading about "slacktivism" and the ice bucket challenge, which I'm sure you already know about, so I'm not going to bother explaining. I guess, though, my take on it is that surely anything anyone does that is positive, rather than negative, is a good thing? I was thinking about that on the drive home today from Sydney. I was also thinking about an elderly man I do work with. He is such a beautiful person, and today I saw him sitting on the toilet. I'm a volunteer, not a carer, so I don't have to do any of the bathroom stuff. But today I had to hold a roll of toilet paper while a carer ran off to get an absorbent liner thingy. The carer indicated that the man wouldn't mind if I saw him on the toilet. Thankfully he didn't notice me, because I minded on his behalf! Ageing really does suck.

But that's not my point! I was driving home thinking of how damn lucky I am to have privacy in the toilet! When I remember to lock the door, that is, and the kids don't bust in. Working with elderly clients has made me so appreciative of so many things. Mobility, freedom, privacy! Wow, these are all things I really have taken for granted. I am trying not to. I am trying to remember how important every second, of every minute, of every day is.

So, here's my point. I've come up with my own challenge! And perhaps it comes under the heading of "slacktivism", but I don't care. And I know that no-one actually reads this blog, but I don't care about that either! I am "putting it out in the universe", and that's all that matters. This is a personal challenge. I am sharing it because I hope other people might decide to take it on as well. There's no money involved, no-one to sponsor, and no cure! But I think this is really important.

Here's the challenge!! I challenge myself, and anyone else out there who reads this, to let go of the silly negative thoughts, to stop complaining at work, at the grocery store, at school pickup, at book club, at restaurants, at yoga, at home, at airports, at kids' birthday parties and on and on and on! I will try to think of my elderly friends and all that they represent, and all they have lost, and all they will continue to lose. I will try to be grateful for privacy and mobility and freedom, for being able to drive myself home, to make myself a cup of tea! Life is so simple, but we make it complicated. I don't want to complain anymore. I don't want to be part of the bad news I read and hear about. One of my heroes, Alice Herz-Sommer, who died recently, said this: "I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I look only for the good things."

I have a choice! We all have a choice. And I want to chose the good. I want to see the good, talk about the good, sing about the good, read about the good. The bad will come! It always does, and I'm not afraid of that. But I refuse to seek it out by complaining unnecessarily! Join me in this challenge. It's easy. Smile at people, be friendly, be joyful, be positive! Find something good about work, school, friends, family. Count your blessings, sing someone's praises. Say please and thank you. Ask people how they are. Hug someone. Slow down! Look around. Get off Facebook for a while. Look up from your phone. There is a beautiful piece of graffiti on a building in Newtown. I have it on my phone. It says: Love is the answer. When I spend a day with elderly people who are grateful for a smile and someone who notices them, I know this to be true.

My challenge is free and it's easy. I know that this isn't an original challenge, but when I was driving home, I had this thought of how great it would be if people complained just a tiny bit less. Of how nice it would be to walk into a grocery store where people were smiling and not looking sad or angry. Of newspapers that report positive stories as "news", rather than features for the lifestyle section. Of trains where people aren't afraid of making eye contact for fear of being abused. Of workplaces where people aren't complaining endlessly of being tired or caught up in the myriad of dramas that seem so important. Of family get-togethers where people aren't comparing houses, or jobs, or children, or achievements. Imagine that!

In the end, none of it matters. We are all subject to the same wheel of fortune, turning ceaselessly. So, choose happiness, choose love. Love is the answer! I will leave you with one more thought. This from Victor Frankl:

Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ... to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Let me know how you go!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Do You Know Where You're Going To?

“Not all those who wander are lost.” 
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I am on a train heading into Sydney with a group of people from various other countries. They are being familiarised with taking the train to Sydney. The irony is not lost on me. I am, in some ways, probably more scared than they are!

I don't know them. I am not part of their group, but I am part of their journeyas they are now part of mine. Why should I be scared, you might ask? I have been in this country for many years. I am, for all intents and purposes, a privileged English-speaking white woman.

The lady across from me is outlining future excursions: a cooking workshop, a day spent decorating boomerangs and learning about Aboriginal culture, a bicycle trip. I am a bit envious. They all seem so eager and fresh and young! 

It brings back memories of my arrival in this country, of being plagued by a terror and a loneliness that threatened never to abate. Of course, I had the huge advantage of speaking the language, of understanding most (but not all!) of the customs, and the culture. With that, however, came assumptions. It was "understood" that I would fit in, that I needed no introduction, no explanation or assistance. And I felt obliged to hide my fearsto deny (even to myself) the depth of my insecurities, my isolation. 

Everything felt similar yet different. I was painfully aware that the onus was squarely on my shoulders to fit in, to belong. There was no interest in where I was from. It was as though my life had begun upon arrival in this country. My homesickness seemed inappropriateungrateful even! I felt the unspoken truth of what wasn't said out loud but rather implied: This is your life now. You are lucky to be here. Remember, though, because you weren't born here, you're not really one of us!

I survived the homesickness, the loneliness, the fear. I found a job, made new friends, had children, bought a house. I am lucky to be here! I have a truly wonderful life. And yet, that fear of arrival in a strange place has never left me. I am eternally the stranger, the visitor, the foreigner. I can't quite settle and relax completely. Everything still, after all these years, feels tentative. I have to "work" at feeling like I'm a part of things. I can't (I don't) take it for granted. I still get lost easily. I have just learned, after all this time, to drive to the outskirts of Sydney. I'm not yet ready to drive in the city. I'm running out of time though. I dare not leave it too late!

I am still scared of many things: being alone, homesickness, sadness, getting lost. The people on this trip are young. They are brave. And they have much greater barriers to overcome. I am glad they have a guide! I am glad they have each other. I am hopeful they will find their way, that they will have wonderful lives. I am inspired by their joy, their curiosity, their willingness to explore. Perhaps, I will never really feel as though I "belong" here, but being the witness, the observer, the stranger, gives me an awareness that I wouldn't otherwise have. I notice things others take for granted. It has made me more tolerant, more sensitive, more empathetic, more understanding. In short, it has made me a better person!