Category Archives: Appreciation

Don’t Cry Out Loud – learn how to hide your feelings

“There’s no need to get emotional” and “Crying won’t solve anything” are both things that have been said to me on various occasions, almost as if “being emotional” is a crime, but, what’s so criminal about being emotional? Why is “being emotional” a bad thing?

In some cultures when there is a grief situation or when somebody dies, people cry openly, in fact there are professional mourners brought in as “wailers”. We western people find this very disturbing. In fact we find open displays of emotion hard to deal with. When we go to something like a funeral where people are upset, the sight of upset people makes us upset.

I have attended, in a professional capacity, where I have played the organ, the funerals of many people that I don’t know, or that I don’t know very well. I have often been quite touched by the emotions displayed by such people that I may not personally know, yet I’ve picked up on the feelings of that person for their mother, for their husband – and sometimes when the grieving person has been overwhelmed, when they have been making a speech or a eulogy and their voice cracks, or they tear up, and everybody is very uncomfortable, but I and many others are sitting in the pews of the church and just willing them to continue on. And you are not wanting them to cry because you do not want them to be upset, but here is the question. Do you not want them to be upset for them, or do you not want them to be upset for you? Because we don’t like to see that, because we don’t deal with it very easily in the Western world. Despite our discomfort, however, crying is actually good for you! Actually, crying releases endorphins. Crying does actually make you feel better.

Little children – babies – have very few ways of reacting. It is said that when you have a small baby and you are a new parent and your baby cries, it is their only way of communicating and you need to go through a list, as a frustrated new parent, of six possible things.baby-boy-crying-photo-420x420-ts-56570356

Is the baby wet, is the baby cold, is the baby hot, is the baby hungry, or is the baby tired? Once you have gone about trouble-shooting all those issues, and you’ve tried to fix them all and the baby is still unhappy, you just simply go through all of them again. Sooner or later, you fix one of those things and eventually the baby will calm down and stop crying. (For the sharp eyed who noticed my “list” only had 5 things, from memory Number 6 to offer Baby was simply “Comfort”).

A small child falls over – they will immediately cry. As a child gets a little older, they tend to learn guile. I remember some years ago sitting with a friend in the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide enjoying a beautiful sunny day, and there was a young boy of about three who was dawdling along not that far behind his parents.Toddler

The child tripped over a rough piece of ground and fell over flat on his face, and I just naturally got up, ready to rescue the child if he was hurt. The boy just actually lay there, on his tummy for a moment, and I was waiting for the wail to come up of the possibly injured child. There was this moment’s hesitation. The kid actually put his head up, looked around for an audience, then saw that his mother had just realised he had fallen a few steps behind, and turned around to look. Only when he saw he had her attention, then did he let out a theatrical yell. And it was nearly comical that it was almost as if, had there not been an audience, he wouldn’t have bothered crying.

When I’m overwhelmed, very unhappy or depressed, I have a number of things that I do to try and keep myself going. Some would call it “self-medicating” I guess. None of them are overly dangerous, but I realise there’s a list of things that I tend to commonly do when I’m in a difficult stage. That I do to try and buck myself up, or assist me to cope, and perhaps they have some medicinal effect, perhaps they just have some psychological effect. But I find that in a period of real stress I tend to do these things:

  • I eat high sugar foods such as doughnuts and frozen coke
  • I drink more coffee – the caffeine hit keeps me going
  • I succumb to “Fast Food” such as Hungry Jacks

More positively (or what may possibly win approval from my ever-patient GP)

  • I take myself out to nice places, such as sitting by the beach, importantly in isolation, so I am alone with my thoughts. And so I can reflect, so I can think. If need be, so I can display emotion, so I can cry and nobody can be concerned or can criticise.
  • I spend time with people who are important to me and I feel I can confide in, that I feel will listen including, as the quiz show used to say: “Phone a friend”.
  • I have been known to just go off to a quiet place, even sit in my car, and have a good, old fashioned howl.

And simply the release of emotion is something which I have found extremely therapeutic and I wonder, if more people did that, if we might have fewer people that are actually resorting to ultimately much more harmful drugs and alcohol overuse.

Yet we are afraid of emotion and, strangely, people are valued and praised for “not being emotional”. Women, especially in the business world, or in positions of power, are almost expected to  be aloof, such as Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly in “the Devil Wears Prada “ (2006)  Meryl Devil wears PradaForty years earlier, 1964’s “My Fair Lady” asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Yet those people are the very people who I find, not so much that they don’t have emotion, but that the emotions I see are coldness, cruelty, lack of feeling, lack of empathy, narcissism, wanting to have their own way, not being interested in other people and valuing right, might and power over the feelings of others. And not seeming to allow themselves to feel passion or joy – if they actually do have those things within them. Not valuing good.

Because emotion isn’t all negative emotion.

If you can’t allow yourself to feel, if you can’t allow yourself to feel at all, yes, you may avoid somewhat the danger of the depths of despair, but you also dull the exhilaration of passion and joy.

Around five years ago, we needed Passports for our children. I attempted to take their photographs myself. They were used to the “say cheese” variety of look, but this time I exhorted them not to smile. My daughter immediately assumed a very glum expression. “Too much” I exclaimed. She tried to look slightly happier, but to still not smile. This proved quite difficult and soon she was giggling, then laughing out loud. Before too long I had the perfect, most natural, happy photograph – although totally unsuitable for the passport regulations. Passport Photo Best

As we discovered, it is not easy to turn on and off one’s emotion or even expression like the proverbial “performing seal”.

Did the song have it right, with the advice “Don’t cry out loud”? As a younger person it was one of my favourite songs and I guess because as a kid and as a consumer and an owner of 100 books by Enid Blyton (inherited from my Mother and my Aunts) I was a bit of a fan of the “run away to the circus” concept, and the notion of “dancing high upon the wire” was something that I always aspired to.

Having the dream, living the dream. And if you failed, you hadn’t failed to try.

And have I failed in my life? Sure. I’ve failed plenty of times. But have I failed to try?

No, I still try, try again. There are plenty of things that I haven’t achieved, and there are plenty of things which I would still like to achieve. But have I completely let go of the possibility of the dream? No. Because the day that I completely let go of “The Dream”, I may as well let go altogether.

And maybe the things that I haven’t achieved…and I don’t want to be a horrible “stage mother” here…what I haven’t achieved for myself, perhaps I can achieve as a parent, by having my kids achieve their potential. But not in some wish-fulfilling “My Dreams” or “My Unfulfilled things” on them, but by helping them achieve their own dreams, and their passions.

So, despite being one of the least sporting people on the planet, but having a skilled son, having him achieve his sporting dreams, as a cricketer,as a hockey player – even if this means I become (much to my amusement) a “Hockey Mum”, that is something which I can work towards.

Having a creative daughter who authors wonderful stories? Who sings delightfully? Who revels in Fandom? Who adores books? These things are her passions. If I can help her follow her passions, I have succeeded as a parent.

But these things are passions, they are dreams, they are emotions. They are not “nothing”. They are not squashing people from being people. They are not having no passion. And we are certainly not celebrating people that do not display emotion.

Does someone who does not display emotion actually not have emotion? It’s actually a very interesting question. I would say that someone who does not display emotion doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have emotion, it more means they have suppressed it that far that it is actually quite unhealthy.

And again: we are scared of emotion, we are scared of people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, because we see them as uncontrollable – we like to control things. And certain people who I’ve had friction with are people who want to control me, and I’m not someone who wants to be controlled. And I admit to reacting to people who want to control me, and I guess I do not show my best side in those instances, and they may not see the best in me.

People who bring out the best in me are those who give me some room to wriggle and some room to grow, and encourage and support me, not people who try to kick me when I’m down, and try and put me in a box and try and stifle any essence which is me.In the Box

And the person that is me is the person that has emotion and passion.

You kill that, and you kill me.

So, “Don’t cry out loud?”? That’s not me.

 

“Don’t cry out loud” Is that something we should aspire to do? No. I don’t believe that is so.

I think we should all recognise that “scratch I and I’ll bleed” but also “build me up, and I will soar”.

Do not be afraid to cry. Sometimes crying is necessary. Crying is honest.

When I need to cry – let me cry.

When you need to cry, let me be your shoulder.

But also – Stand with me and we’ll be joyful. I will celebrate life with you.

There is always darkness before the dawn.

But the dawn will come.

Beach Dawn

 

 

Knowing me, knowing you

It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.

know-002This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.

I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.

As a student at a particular school.

know-008
Hilary,Kylie, Frances, Caroline in “Die Musiker Studio” days

As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.

Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.

But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?

My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a img500quarter-century ago now,  when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”.  She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.

On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools.  The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.

I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.

febmarch-039rs

In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.

“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.

I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.

She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.

Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”

So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.

I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.

However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.

It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.

Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

I am the See-the-need-and-do person.

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)

above-beyond

For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:

Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!

I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:

Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)

The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.

And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.

Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.

On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.

So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play?  Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.

One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs –  for “Aladdin” in one weekend.

Whatever it takes.

However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English  being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]

Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)

Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.

But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.

And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.

Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.

matter-mindFortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.

At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.

To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.

To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.

And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.

This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.

Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.

None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.

This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.

But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.

And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.

pooh-and-piglet

The sun will come out tomorrow

I have been accused of being a Facebook addict. In fact I have had people contact me and say “Is everything OK? I’d wondered, because I hadn’t seen you on Facebook for a few days”. So yes, I do check in pretty frequently. It’s my way of keeping an eye, of keeping in touch. And with a few people, I do literally use it to keep in touch, as an essentially “Free” communication method. I “touch base” with them in the “Private message” section fairly regularly.

The other night I sent a casual “Hey, trust all is well with you” greeting to a friend and received immediately back: “No. Feeling suicidal to be honest”. My immediate reaction was “Are you somewhere where you can talk?” “Can I ring?” “5 mins.” “Call me. PLEASE”. My friend did. Had she not, I would have. Repeatedly. Until she picked up. We talked. I didn’t clock-watch and I didn’t care what time it was. She is important to me. She is important – full stop. Important. Unique. Special. Valued. And needed to hear it – know it.

Part of our conversation – and what had triggered her feelings of depression in the firstyoure-beautiful place – was her seeing somebody looking cheerful and indeed pleased with themselves. What is the matter with that, one may ask. Well, in itself – nothing. All power to them. But, in this instance, the person was someone who had wronged and contributed to hurting my friend.

I counselled her that this person may not even have had any conception of exactly the effects of their actions. And certainly now – some years after the traumatic incident, were unlikely to be reflecting back on it and considering their contribution. That person – and others involved – had seamlessly moved on with their lives. Had continued in the same trajectory. While part of the reason why he – even a photograph of him – had the power to hurt and “twist the knife” for her was that his hurtful actions – and those of others at a former time had far-reaching consequences for my friend. She had not “carried on as usual”, as if nothing had happened. Because, for her, something DID happen. Which altered the course of her life. Which she has still not fully recovered from. Which she still grieves.

The Biblical Chapter of Luke 23 details the final hours of Christ’s life. He is placed on a cross between two criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

the-passion-of-the-christ-the-crucifixion-3-crosses

Is ignorance, though, truly an excuse? Are the people who hurt us completely ignorant of what they do? And do we forgive them solely on that basis? If I have been “a victim” does this give power to “an aggressor” simply because they may be “ignorant”, at least from my point of view? I remembering lamenting to a close friend at a very problematic, low point in my own life, when I was having a particularly difficult time and struggling desperately with one individual: “I hope she is getting something out of destroying another human being, because I’m certainly not enjoying it much”.

Many years ago, a very wise woman suggested to a study group of which I was part, that sometimes, no matter what we do, there are people that, try as we might, there is nothing we can do to change a person or their attitude to us – that it is truly a case of “It’s you, not me”. And that, in his instance, the way to reassure yourself is to say silently “He/She is a D.P.”. I asked, innocently, what the initials “D.P”. stood for and I was told they were short for “Difficult Person”. At the time I had a prickly colleague who I tried hard to please. Somehow, saying to myself “Kylie, you have done your best, but she is a bit of a D.P.” assuaged my natural guilty conscience and reminded me there were probably things far beyond me affecting this lady’s demeanour and attitudes.

Having started this piece with (almost) admitting to being a Facebook addict, I do tend to pick up on various things that “Go Around” on “Newsfeeds”. About a month ago a few people posted this:

maturity

I must say that I do not agree with this in many cases. My reaction was: What if “Their Situation” is that they take no responsibility for their actions? And that you wish them no personal ill but they continue to hurt YOU, over and over? Is it “Maturity” to be a continual victim?

Instead, understanding that the perpetrator is possibly a person with self-esteem issues who lives a life in which they continually need to prove to themselves that they are someone, should help to forgive them. Often we then have to extract ourselves from their sphere of influence though.

One can “understand”, but for self-preservation, sometimes Separation is the only answer. “Maturity” needs to happen on both sides. If the Perpetrator of hurt never sees it from any point of view than their own, you can be as “understanding” as you like, but it is foolish to remain in the line of fire. Even in the Bible in Matthew 10:14, Jesus instructs his 12 Disciples: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

There are some people in life who do indeed seem to have the world “revolve around themselves”, who indeed even fit the profile of the “Sociopath next door” in Martha Stout’s excellent book. [This puts forward the rather frightening scenario that about one in twenty-five individuals are sociopathic, meaning, essentially, that they do not have a conscience. It is not that this group fails to grasp the difference between good and bad; it is that the distinction fails to limit their behaviour. The intellectual difference between right and wrong does not bring on the emotional sirens and flashing blue lights, or the fear of God, that it does for the rest of us. Without the slightest blip of guilt or remorse, one in twenty-five people can can do anything at all.]

Or these traits might be symptomatic of, or mask some inner actual insecurity, that such people actually try and look important and make themselves feel better, more secure or important by wielding authority over or even bullying others. But this is hollow, because genuine respect and loyalty is earned, not demanded and I do not believe true leadership can be commanded.

There are still others, though, who aren’t necessarily “Bad People”, who are caught up in situations not totally of their own making, or are “part and parcel” of a difficult time or situation which holds negative connotations for us. But they were not the “aggressors” as it were. Still, for us, they are connected with a bad situation or negative time. For us, the hurt person, they are part of the negative past. And they too may have moved on.

The last week or so has been interesting for me. I only half-joke that I am “working on mycass-first-day-2017-006-copy Aversion Therapy”. I do find physically going to the school where I worked for 8 years more or less difficult at different times. I cannot avoid it because my two children attend there. And currently I do the “school run” – drive them there and pick them up, daily.

Paradoxically, my main difficulty is it is all so familiar – I know the place like the back of my hand. And having left there only recently, the vast majority of the staff and many of the students are also known to me. On my son’s first day of school it was extremely busy in the carpark. I met a friend, so we shared coffee and caught up in the onsite Café for an hour. After a short time the High School Staff all spilled out of the adjacent auditorium. We realised that the High School Students did not all commence until the next day, so the Staff were likely still in Assemblies and meetings. Some went by and waved. One came up to my table and had a lovely conversation with me, expressing how nice it was to see me. Through the window I could see dozens of others all in earnest conversation. All known to me. All going about their business. All at work. All moving on……

Getting my own kids back to school has meant trying to establish some sort of routine and finally getting some “Head Space” in an empty house. And the phrase “Physician Heal Thyself” has rung in my ears since my late night conversation with my distressed friend.

Earlier I mentioned Christ on the Cross where he referred to those persecuting him, saying:  “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The passage goes on to say: 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

Now, Heaven forbid that I should claim any special status for myself, but there is also the secular idea of being able to “dish it out but not take it”, and I have realised that I do tend to give out much advice.

And this week has been interesting, in that I have had not only the important exchange I have mentioned, but a number of other conversations with various people all seeking my help, advice, or just a listening ear.

I also am blessed with very wise people in my life who are much more sensible than I. Who I lean on and they look after and advise me. But do I really soak in their advice and live it?

One such person, who I respect greatly, once gave me these words to think on:

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Every question does not require an immediate answer
  • You give too much of yourself, keep your own counsel.

When people ask me how I am, and what I am doing at present, I tend to say “as little as possible”, as I am yet to find a specific “day-job”. That said, although I have made applications, I have concentrated on spending time with my family during the school holidays.

And also, I have decided to be more pragmatic. In a couple of cases my instinct has been to chase after something imperfect, but then I have stood back and decided not to. To not force something, lest it become another difficult situation or trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole”. Because if something is “meant to happen” I believe it will. That is not to say I will just sit back totally passively and expect the world to come to me – that is not in my nature.

But I need to learn to listen more, in more ways than one.

To not just jump into what might be “easy” but perhaps look to the more lateral.

But still, look to gradually “fill”. Because I believe that one of the reasons we fail to “move on” is that emptiness caused by loss, by essentially grief, is not filled by other things. One situation cannot exactly replace another, but, as noted by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colourless, odourless air.

Thinking about vacuums (the scientific type, not the cleaning sort!) helps us to understand the importance of what Paul was saying to the Biblical Ephesians when he prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith and that they would “know the love of Christ . . . that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).

In a practical sense, we truly “Move On” from things which have hurt us, grieve us, pre-occupy us, even those unresolved things which are “running sores” by working on replacing the vacuum of nothing with new and positive things to occupy that space.

Because otherwise it is all too easy for the negative to rush back in, in the form of anxiety, worry, negativity, and dwelling on the past, and being “stuck”. Being unable to get “past our past”.

So, positives for the last week or so for me, ironically, have come out of negatives.

Being unemployed, yet having my children back at school six hours a day, has meant I have had, finally, uninterrupted time. I have spent this tackling some organisational work for some projects mid-year. When those friends have contacted me with their own concerns I have had the time to listen and counsel.

I am being given the opportunity to “Serve, not to be served”.

A final thought. Adversity, in all its forms, is hard understand, and it’s easy to say “Why me?” and be ground down by unanswerable questions such as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

But life is full of contrasts. And to some extent, it is in contrasting one thing against another that we can truly see where we are indeed blessed.

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Featured photo credit: with Thanks to Alistair Ross-Taylor. 

 

Don’t Stop Believing

I joke that my children are on “January Avoidance” and are in no hurry to pick up their textbooks and update their uniform items, because that will mean that the glorious long summer holidays are drawing to a close. That the reality of starting a new school year, of responsibility, of work, of schedules, of daily grind, is nearly upon them.

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Within a matter of days all my former colleagues will return for “Staff week”. Something that has been part of my life at this one school for the past 8 Januaries. Those few days where the staff get together, the week before the students return, in preparation of a new school year ahead.

Where the staff children grumble at the necessity of a couple of days of “Vacation Care”.

A few days of preparation, of planning. Of fresh beginnings, of a meeting of old and new.

The calm before the storm.

The juggernaut about to begin.

But this coming week, this year, I will not be there.

It’s a freedom I want, but then it’s a freedom I don’t want.

Because it means I don’t belong, that I am no longer part of it. That is the practical truth.

In the bigger picture of the heart, what it feels is that I am not needed, not wanted. It is still a bitter pill to swallow. The circle of life continues, but suddenly my place in it, where I fit, is less clear.

We all need a purpose, a reason to do what we do. An incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Self-help empires have been founded on this concept. In Christian circles, writer Rick Warren purpose-drivenhas made a fortune from his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, which has spawned sequels, courses and programs all looking at what the point of our existences may be – how the little cogs in the various wheels might fit together.

What is the point of it all?

Nobody’s life is plain sailing, and it is naïve to believe it will be so. And it is well documented that periods of adversity and failure have helped shaped many who have gone on to better and greater things. Because, ultimately, they have risen above their critics and still followed their dreams.

I too, have had a varied life with some incredible successes and highs, especially in years past, but some real bumps in the road along the way as well.

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And I know all too well about having a sense of purpose. And positives being “Just around the corner”. And “Good things come to those who wait”.

However, these past 12-15 months have been possibly amongst the most consistently bruising I have experienced. A hallmark being that, try as I might, issues I faced were ultimately not resolved and the solution was to finally admit defeat. However this lack of closure and critical lack of “success” has led to something more profoundly personal which, although time has dulled, I cannot fundamentally shake.

Here is the problem.

All the Optimism. The “Glass Half Full”. The “You can be anything you want to be”. The “Work hard and you can achieve the sky”.

I essentially know this stuff.

I have read it.

I have studied it.

I have counselled other people about it.

I have written about it.

Bolstered the confidence of dozens of students.

Given numerous “Pep talks.”

And convinced other people of it.

But now I struggle to believe it.

As Natalie Imbruglia, an artist of my era, sung in her heart-rending ballad “Torn”:

I’m all out of faith, this is how I feel: Nothing’s fine, I’m torn

 

As often happens, despite I describe myself as “A Reluctant Pastor’s wife”, a Scripture reference floats into my head. Today Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind. It says: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.

“Confidence” “Assurance”. Terms I used to use when writing reams of Instrumental Music reports to encourage students in my care.

But as an adult, where does that confidence, that assurance come from? Most of us, without realising it, receive some positive feedback from other people in our lives – from our families, from our friends, from our colleagues. We receive a sense of satisfaction from what we achieve, on a daily, weekly basis. We can look back and see evidence – hopefully – of what we have done and achieved. This feeds into our confidence, assurance, and sense of worth.

Many years ago when we lived in Borehamwood, North London, our first parish was a small church on a large piece of green.

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St. Paul’s, Borehamwood, 1993. No need to mow when there was snow.

This entailed a great deal of mowing – the grass had a water course underneath it and some of it was quite lush. In all, the mowing was a 5 hour task. Although arduous, I used to quite enjoy it. In part, because it was measurable achievement. You could stop part-way and see visually what you had (and had not) accomplished. I would think back on this in later times – especially when I had two preschool children  – when it was possible to be constantly busy parenting and juggling all manner of things, but seemingly with nothing to show for it.

These past months – much as I can find plentiful things to enjoy about being “Gainfully Unemployed” – there is still a double-sided ache.

One is the lack of purpose.

The other – just like when you put your fist in a basin of water and then withdraw it – and you can’t see that it was there at all – is whether I even made much of a difference (in my years at the school). As the juggernaut continues on without me…. was what I thought I contributed actually wanted?

Was there a point to any of it?

How do we cling onto faith and hope? How do we maintain confidence in ourselves and what we might have to offer, a sense of worth, even, when outside evidence appears to be telling us otherwise?

In the last couple of years I have reconnected with a handful of people from the past – “Old Friends” if you will – after not communicating with each other, and certainly not seeing each other in person for ten, fifteen or more years. In November 2014,  I attended, in Adelaide, my 30 year school reunion which was a typically formal catch-up and opportunity to see where the years had taken a number of people.

But, for me, the greatest impact was to see again two significant teachers, and have the opportunity to thank them for the influence they had on my younger life, and let them know how important they had been to me.

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With favourite teachers, logically a generation older ( but who have barely aged) Ray Clark and Kevin Seipolt

More recently I have met up with other individuals, including, this month, a girlfriend who I went to Primary School with. I am certain I attended Sue’s brother’s 21st Birthday, but not sure we have seen each other since about 1990 – that’s a good 26 years.

When contemplating meeting up with somebody after more than half your lifetime apart, female vanity kicks in and I guess you are acutely aware of things like being a few pounds heavier and having changed your hairstyle. But when the meeting actually happened, the conversation flowed easily and the time together just flew by. It seemed impossible, sitting on my back patio, that Sue and I had not seen each other for longer in our lives than the ages we were when we were last together. And we made plans to certainly not leave it so long before getting together again.

There is something special about someone who knows you from long ago, and perhaps the fact that they DID know you as a “bright young thing” before life hit, that their clearer memory and “knowledge” of you is still at a younger, more vital, perhaps more openly more successful, higher achieving time, when your lives were all ahead of you and optimistic and full of potential. Their view of you transports you back in time and enables you to see in yourself the person that you once were – and still are – beneath the layers of the intervening time.

Equally I have made two recent visits – in October and January down to Victoria, where I have spent time with my relatives – Aunts/Uncles/Cousins, and people dear to me from various walks of life where I previously lived in Ararat. (200km west of Melbourne).

In this most recent visit I shared the Joy of a friend’s country wedding where the Bride was joined by her own family, including her four sisters who had all flown in from points Interstate and Overseas.

Being surrounded by “Old Friends” who know me well, by family – relatives –  who have known me all my life, and, back here, by newer friends who also care and understand, has made, for me, all the difference. When someone else refuses to give up on you, even if you seem ready to give up on yourself, the other person’s affirmation can renew you, make you reassess what you think about yourself, and lead you to see yourself more as the other person sees you.

I have been humbled and honoured by people who have stood by me, spent time, listened, talked, laughed with me, cried with me, allowed me to vent, made plans, talked me into things, assured me that things are Okay, assured me that I am Okay.

And for those who have made me feel appreciated, and needed, and valued, especially at times when I have felt none of those things, I Thank You.

Although we are already a fortnight into January, 2017 is still in its Infancy.

May I charge you all: to hug your family members closely and often. Tell your friends how important they are to you. Verbalise to your colleagues when they have done something right – and praise them for it. Be quick to commend, and slow to criticise, rather than the other way around.

Be a little warmer, be a little kinder, be a little gentler with each other.

And with yourselves as well.

As Fox Mulder would say:

I Want to Believe.

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Homeward Bound

To what extent does what you do, define who you are?

Variations on this theme have been swirling around in my head in recent times, and, serendipity being as it is; I seem to have come across this same question in various forms in the lives of others as well. [And it is one to which I will return on another occasion].

But for now, I’ll stick to the “up close and personal” as it were.

As most of you are aware, three weeks ago I resigned from a position I had held for nearly 8 years, in a school I support, working with students I love, which had been fulfilling and positive for the majority of that time. It has been a huge step.

While I recognise that, for many reasons, the time had come for me to move on, actually NOT being intrinsically involved with a place and a group of people, which has been such a major part of my life is something very difficult for me to reconcile. I looked at my son the other day and it sunk in, that he is now eleven and we moved to the Gold Coast when he was three. I have been part of that one workplace, and it part of me, for the majority of his life.

My husband had the view, and expressed it on a number of occasions that  “the school pays you for three days a week and you work for them for seven” which was largely true. Because, for the first many years we were short-staffed in our department and essentially three part-time people ran it as a team, with many additional hours of work in our own time. Because, if we had not done so, we could not possibly have achieved the growth and success which we did. But the important thing is that we did so largely willingly and cheerfully, and it was always for the students and the school and the joy of the music making. Sometimes the sheer enjoyment of it made it all worthwhile. It was never “All About Me”. I didn’t do it for the Greater Glory Of Kylie.

And I think the people close to me, the people who mattered, understood that. Although of course I received satisfaction from what was achieved and certainly from being part of the students’ lives, and building them up and inspiring them to achieve something approximating what they were capable of.

So, a fortnight ago now, Term 4 started, and all the students and staff went back to school, but it isn’t “my school” and “my job” any longer. So this reality wouldn’t be too stark and smack me in the face on a daily basis, I decided to be proactive and create for myself, as Diana, Princess of Wales once famously said, some “Time and Space”.

So, I saw my kids off to school, and got on a plane.

The last two weeks I have explored being “Gainfully Unemployed” down in Victoria, taking respite from my life, based at the home of my beautiful cousin. It really was the best thing I could have done, because it removed me from my normal environment, while still having me surrounded by family. But also providing genuine quiet and reflection time, because the household where I stayed all went off to work early, leaving me in what must be one of the world’s quietest homes, with the only sounds an unevenly ticking clock and the occasional snore from an elderly diminutive dog.

Without giving it too much conscious thought I then took a weekend side trip to Ararat, 200km West of Melbourne, the Regional town where I previously lived for 5 years. This was either an extremely good or a very bad idea, as from the first minute I arrived, Ararat people embraced me as if they had seen me the previous week, rather than 8 years before.

p1070416One by one, friendships were picked up and even some quite personal things confided (for example I heard the sad tale of some departed horses in the first half hour). Now, far from being depressing, I actually felt quite honoured, that after this length of time, my girlfriend would still feel the strength of connection to share things of importance to her.

And so it continued over the time I was there. All the adults seemed identical to when I had seen them last, although the children were a jolt…. While logically I realise that my daughter’s friends I had last seen aged 6 would now also be 14, in my minds eye they remained frozen as youngsters. I was unprepared for the parade of beautiful teenagers and young women all now able to look me in the eye.

Why potentially “a very bad idea?” Well, it struck me that I felt considerably more “at home” in Ararat, a place I had left for the Gold Coast 8 years before, than in many ways I feel in the place that IS now home, and has been for that intervening time. That I had more friends there (and had kept in contact with many) than I had in Queensland. And, what hit me hardest, was that my Ararat connections were quite broad.

Even amongst those who I met up with last weekend were: Members of the Ararat City Band (in which I once played the Trombone badly), delightful Local Doctor and his wife, Semi-retired couple who had been James’ carers and their daughter, a number from the Mothers of Pre-schoolers Group (from when James was a Baby), Former Workmates, and Church folk…and I didn’t make a point of chasing down everyone I knew. (In fact, I had forgotten how long it takes to do something in Ararat like pop out for a paper, because you spontaneously RUN INTO people you know – and this happened despite 8 years away!)

In contrast, up on the Gold Coast, I realised that everybody I count as a friend is either connected with the church congregation (and most are more acquaintances than friends) or the link is with the school.

And it’s not “My School” any more.

So I’ve had a lot of well meaning people ask, “What are you going to do next”.

And my genuine answer is: “I honestly have no idea”.

I know I need to stop. To re-focus. To take stock.

To rediscover –

To what extent do I define who I am by what I do?

Because I do define myself as a Musician.

But to what extent has the Musician become buried under layers of teacher and parent over the last dozen years? (And I count my time in Ararat amongst that).

And, although I seem to have some skills in teaching music, I have never pretended to be the most skilled Strings teacher in the world. But what I hope I have brought to my work is a sense of desire, of passion, of “You can do it” of Inspiration to my students. Even if they have lacked in technique or theory or practise skills or drilling in scales. All of which some teachers may have insisted they study to a greater extent than I largely have. But my first priority has been, in recent years, to help the students “Catch the fire” of music, to be motivated, to want to do it, to “join the revolution”. Knowing the fingering for E flat minor can come later, in my book.

So, what next?

I usually try to avoid “Naming names” in Serendipity but as I once devoted an entire Blog entry to my teenage “Bestie” Margie [“Old Friends”] I trust she’ll indulge and forgive me for dropping her in it once again.

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The Blonde Violinist who is NOT “the Pastor’s wife”

As perfect timing would have it, the exact day I flew into Melbourne to escape from my life, Margie also got on a plane in her current home base of Perth, also heading to Melbourne. She is contracted by Opera Victoria for the orchestra of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” which is currently in Rehearsal, the massive undertaking of which will eventually be performed at the Arts Centre, Melbourne between 21 November and 16 December 2016.

Margie and I are only two months apart in age, both blonde, and were very much contemporaries in our younger days, learning violin from the same teachers and participating in Adelaide’s Secondary Schools Orchestra, State and National Music Camps and the Australian Youth Orchestra together. Our first official “Paid gig” was the same – second violin in the State Opera of South Australia’s production of “Don Giovanni”. I well remember how amazing it was, after years and hundreds of hours as School and Uni students rehearsing in orchestras on a “voluntary “ basis to be handed an envelope containing a pay cheque (and they were proper cheques in those days) for that first “Three Hour Call”.

Not long afterwards our paths diverged, as Margie took on professional work with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, then later Tasmanian, Melbourne and West Australian Symphony Orchestras amongst much other high-level performing.

As I had been doing some teaching, I returned to Uni and took a further year to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education (which proved over the years to be a smart move).

Subsequently, I did a variety of “Stuff” including, yes, some pretty cool music-making in Cambridge and other British locations, but later quite a bit of “this and that” as we moved frequently due to my husband’s Pastoring and I worked in retail, and administration, and did periods of nothing much, and eventually produced two beautiful children.

All the while Margie has been the dazzling performer, and I guess she has always been, for me, somewhat of my personal benchmark of “How it could have been” or my own “Sliding Doors” movie plot. Because I believe that I had, at least at one stage, the potential to be the same type of professional musician (maybe not of quite the same calibre), had I chosen to pursue that life course.

But the important point is, that I did not choose the lifestyle. I also recognised early on, that with my Husband’s vocation as a Pastor, it was never going to work if I had to have the dazzling career, which needed to always come first.

Imagine the scenario. Pastor gets called out at midnight to dying Parishioner in hospital. Me: “Sorry dear, you’ll need to mind the kids, I have to be at the Opera House”.

But this has been a choice on my part.

And so, I have come to realise, the music-making, teaching, planning, brain-storming, organising, all of those things that I have undertaken in the last however many years, have been me finding situations where I have found a way to use whatever skills and talents I may possess in a positive way.

And it has dawned on me, unfortunately this past week or so in a rather crash-bang-wallop sort of way, was that the reason I was so happy at my only-just-categorised-as-previous job for the first half-dozen years was that I found a niche where I could use those gifts. And, ironically, the fact that the Instrumental Music Department was short-staffed for a school of its size, that much of the time it was all-hands-to-the-pump, that I pursued much outside of my unwritten job description, ironically these were the very things on which I thrived.

And during those years we achieved much, much, more than, by rights, should have been possible. But we did so, with our hearts in the right place, and verve and passion, and if necessary dragging those kids up by the bootstraps, to prove to them just what they could achieve.

We worked tirelessly to build programmes up. For example, in the case of Strings, I started with only two girls who played cello reluctantly, to this year having 20 Cellists enrolled, so we could successfully make a case to employ a Specialist Teacher, having a full day’s available teaching load. And that (the employment of a Cellist Specialist Colleague) has been a marvellous boost for the school and the students.

Back in 2009, I took only 9 proficient students to the Gold Coast Eisteddfod, the oldest aged 12, mainly violins. Recently we took a full String Orchestra of 46 Students.

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Finally, staffing has been expanded to get closer to what is really required for a school the size that it is. But there is still much more to be done. The phrase “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” has been uttered a few times. Those “giants” toiled long and hard to put in place what is there to this point.

But there is no time for complacency because there are now more “hands”. We achieved what we did with a lot of hard work. And if we didn’t know exactly how to do something, we learnt. And perhaps we didn’t always get it right. But we gave it out best effort. And I think we can be proud of what we achieved. Now it is up to others to carry on and respect, not betray, that legacy.

Returning, however, to my original question.

To what extent does what you do define who you are?

To what extent does what I do define who I am?

Is a teacher without anyone to teach still a teacher?

Is a performer who does not perform still a performer?

Granted, if you have children, you are always a parent, but once your children grow and walk and talk and dress themselves, your hands-on role diminishes.

My husband is organised and can shop and cook and iron and taxi the children around. Which he has demonstrated very capably this fortnight while I have been absent.

So, then.

If I don’t teach, If I don’t perform, if my kids are pretty well independent, if my house is cleaned by somebody else, if it not strictly necessary for me to cook and shop and iron…

Then, am I really needed?

Okay, do not panic here…I am not reaching for the vodka bottle (although people in Melbourne did seem to place a glass of wine into my hand on a regular basis – I wasn’t sure if that suggested a certain look on my face but I’m told its “A Victorian thing”)…

Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile reflection that even after two weeks away and having taken quite a lot of personal strides, I’m still pretty vulnerable and not out of the woods yet.

Proving, as if there was really any doubt, that I have left something that was not “Just a job” to me. And perhaps demonstrating a poor life balance beforehand. But one that might prove more difficult to rebalance than for some. Because it’s not like your Bank branch closes and you transfer to doing the same work the next week in another bank branch. I invested a lot, perhaps too much, in that school. Now I am reaping the “reward” of that… because leaving it has left a much bigger void than it might have for somebody else.

In a way I feel “homeless”. I have been a guest of extremely generous relatives and friends in Victoria, but I know I basically went to “escape” and I can’t hide forever. I felt scarily at home in Ararat despite not having being there for 8 years and so embraced by people there, I felt I could walk back in as if I had never been away.

In contrast, although the Gold Coast is “Home” I don’t feel as if I have very much to “Come Home” to. Even the majority of my Gold Coast friends are connected with the School, although there are significant people who, although the initial link was through the school, did some time ago cross that invisible line from acquaintances to friends.

It was, [and is], for me, still a pretty stark picture.

For someone who realises she needs a purpose in life.

All of this weighed pretty heavily on my heart while in Melbourne. Then two significant things occurred to help focus my thinking.

One wise friend counselled: Take time. Do things which make you feel better. Sit on a beach. Drink Coffee. Eat Ice-cream. But don’t take too long. Then pick yourself up. “Fake it ‘til you make it”

“Go where you are needed”.

The evening of the same day I had this conversation; I received a message from a musician friend telling me of a vacancy for one day a week’s String Teaching in a local school. She wanted to know whether I would be interested before putting me in contact with the school. This was no ordinary vacancy, however – it had come about in the most tragic of circumstances.

A family had been on vacation, in the recent September School holidays in New Zealand. They had been involved in an horrific car accident. The woman was seriously injured, her 9 year daughter injured also, but not so badly. But distressingly her husband and two sons, aged 12 and 14 all died.

It was this lady, a violist in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, who had been teaching part-time in a local school. Still in hospital in New Zealand, she is unable to return and complete the year. The school thought that at this late stage they would be unlikely to find somebody suitable to take on her students.

So here I was. Having vowed I needed a break. That I was not ready. I was out of energy. That I needed time before I committed myself to anything. That I was, in a sense, grieving.

I realised very quickly that this teacher, this wife and mother, was suffering the worst grief imaginable. And her students needed a teacher under very difficult circumstances.

“Go where you are needed”.

Up on the 34th floor of an apartment block in Southbank, Central Melbourne, I gained some further insight into “How the other half lives” – with the knowledge that a number of my former orchestral contemporaries are currently rehearsing Wagner’s Ring Cycle around the corner.

Much as I could grow accustomed to this (some more of that “But for the Grace of God go I”), as I sipped my “G and T” on the balcony with Margie, one of my best friends, I was reminded of a home and three very important people in Queensland where I ultimately belong.

Two very special young blondes and one loving, faithful husband.

Yesterday I flew home.

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Today I started my part-time, (possibly temporary) new teaching role.

And, ironically, despite having taught on and off for many years, I have worked for the State Government System in South Australia and in London, in Private Music Schools, in Local State Schools and Catholic Colleges in Victoria and, most recently, for schools aligned with the (more Pentecostal) Australian Christian Churches. But I have never worked for the Lutherans.

Until now.

Despite I am a “Born and Bred” Lutheran.

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So, in the strangest way, in this sense too, I have “Come Home”.

It’s only a small first step, but more is sure to follow.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 says: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally

Sometimes I wonder if I am just the wrong age. Many of the people dearest to me are ten or even twenty chronological years older than me (or, in the case of my Mother-in-law, 30 years older).  Yet we share an affinity, things in common, a wavelength if you like, where those years on paper are completely irrelevant.

My tastes in some things “officially” belong to a bygone age – for example I joined a Facebook group called “I’m fed up with bad church music”, which has a membership of some thousands of mainly church organists across the world. Its central tenet is a prejudice against the rather benign Christian ditty “Shine, Jesus, Shine” (which I actually don’t mind), yet I find myself in agreement with much of what is expressed by its participants.

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One of my many obscure personal theories is that the popular music we are most familiar with, is that which receives constant airplay in our early teens. For me, that was Abba and local efforts Sherbet, AC/DC, and the ubiquitous John Farnham. Therefore, along with the fact that my own teenage years were devoted to many hours of homework and studying classical piano and violin, I have very little knowledge and understanding of popular music.

Once I stayed for the Easter long weekend with delightful cousins who have, in contrast, a very extensive collection of vinyl LP’s and a keen understanding of DECENT popular music. And, yes, are ten years older than I, so, therefore, blessed to be born into a more quality era of popular music. My relatives took me in, and even gave me “Homework”, a detailed listing of what I should listen to over the four days to improve my musical education.  There was, as you would expect, an album each from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but also some musicians I had never, at that time, even heard of, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.

This I did, and I still remember, to this day, some of the songs I was introduced to, and it has certainly helped broaden my horizons. Also on that same weekend I saw the newly released film “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the cinema.

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How time flies. I can remember that Easter, and its significance to me, as if it were yesterday.

Something else that I learnt on catch-up from from my older former boyfriends [with co-incidentally British connections] and then later my actual British husband and the English people I lived amongst for seven years, was an appreciation of British Drama and Comedy. So much more gentle and subtle than the offerings on television here, of both the Australian and American variety.

Although we had been fed, via our ABC, a steady diet of British fare, I had never got my head around “Monty Python”. But I needed to learn about it when my, again, slightly older mates at Uni would quote odd passages from it, and then fall about laughing. One-liners about Dead Parrots and Spanish Inquisitions and Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life.

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – the closing song from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”. Which I guess I “shouldn’t” watch because it’s considered to be blasphemous by some, and I am, after all, a Pastor’s wife. But, as y’all know, I am not really good at conforming to stereotypes, and I definitely have issues with the concept of “SHOULD”.

So, yes, I have seen the film.

always-look

And right now I am trying to embrace the sentiment of that closing song.

Again, as a teenager, I was a keen reader. One of my favourite books was “Pollyanna”, by Eleanor H. Porter, now considered a classic. pollyannaIt would be seen as quite old-fashioned now, I’m sure, with its dated language and somewhat quaint concepts. The story of an orphaned missionary’s daughter trying to find something to be “glad about” in everyday life, even when things were tough, and attempting to spread that concept amongst those in her community.

She quoted from her late father that there were apparently eight hundred times in the Bible where God exhorted us to be glad and rejoice. So he must have wanted us to do it. Like “Shout for Joy” “Be Glad in the Lord”. “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Sing to the Lord a new Song”. Her mission was to try and find SOMETHING to “be glad” about in each situation, no matter how bleak it may seem.

To find the proverbial “Silver Lining” in every cloud.

Readers of “Serendipity” will know that I have had my difficulties this year. But that I have done my best to work through them. That, despite a horror start to the year (detailed in “It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times”), I came to the conclusion, then, that: “My work at the school is not done”.

Sadly, now it is.

I have done everything in my power to make things work. But I have come to the end of the road. Much as it grieves me, it is time to move on.

Sometimes letting go is indeed better than holding on.

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These past few weeks have been very strange for me, with a number of huge contrasts and seeming coincidences (or out-workings of the power of Serendipity, if you prefer).

I had written to a composer acquaintance in Britain, Peter Martin, asking for suggestions for repertoire to teach my Year 4’s and 5’s, as previously we had used his fabulous compositions to great effect. He wrote back with a list of suggestions. Then, curiously, within days, I received a second email with the rather obscure query – was the term “Down under” – used by Brits to describe Australians – seen as offensive at all? Oh no, I wrote back, if anything we see it as humorous.

Before too long, I discovered the reason for this question. Peter had composed a brand new suite of pieces for Beginner Strings called “String Street Down Under” – all with titles inspired by Queensland place names (such as Hayman Island Hop) and dedicated:

 

My Grade 4 Beginners were very excited to try it out, especially when they understood that they were the first people in the world to ever play the music.

And then, when I got home, there was a beautiful bunch of flowers waiting, which had been delivered, from an esteemed friend overseas thanking me for my assistance with a project we had been working on together.

On the very same day, two different men, on two different continents, send me messages to say I am appreciated and valued.

And then, while doing some filing at home, I coincidentally came across a good-wishes-for-the-future message from my revered Year 11 Maths teacher (a small pink card kept for 33 years).

AND, stored with it, something I had not even seen for 25 years – a thin, white piece of paper folded multiple times.

When I carefully unfolded it I found it was the list of “Good reasons” I had challenged [now husband] Neil to provide for why I should go with him to New Zealand to meet his parents way back in 1990. (Knowing full well I would need to convince my own Mum of the same).

Being just as “bolshie” then as I am now, I had suggested ten good reasons should be the aim, but the handwritten list stopped at 8.

[But I remember the verbalised Number 9 – which I gave Double points – and the rest, as they say,  is history.]

Meanwhile, some local problems loomed on the horizon, and other doors seemed to be closing.

Very strange times indeed.

And then, in a further piece of happenstance, in a “Downloads” folder I didn’t even know existed on my computer, I found an image of a significant day I had previously reflected on.

November 2009 at Pacific Fair Shopping Centre. The day two colleagues and I took a bunch of students, an Electric Piano and a String Quartet, sang some carols with the odd Violin Descant, won a cash prize, and made good on our promise to the kids to reward them for their efforts. On the way back to the Bus stop, went to McDonalds and bought NINETY ice-creams.

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With the passage of time, my many 2009 Year 7 students who participated on this occasion Graduated in 2014, and are now in the workforce or well into their University courses. One Year 11 student of mine from this period has completed a degree and teaching diploma, and has now come full circle, teaching at the same school where she was a student! I posted the photo to Facebook this week, as I have kept in touch with a few former students. Soon comments came flooding in, not only from them, but from their former classmates – names and faces from the past, ghosts of my past.  “I remember this day! Such great memories!” “This was such a fun time” “Oh, my, wow, I remember this”, “Best memories, remember it like it was yesterday”.

Then 12 year olds who are now 19 year olds.

But no longer children but adults. They have moved on.

And so must I.

I described this cluster of rather serendipitous and confusing events and messages to a wise and trusted friend, and mused:

“What is the universe trying to tell me?”

His response: “Be quiet and listen”.

The Bible relates the story, in 1 Kings 19, of the prophet Elijah fleeing the evil Jezebel, who had essentially “put out a contract” on him. He literally ran for his life and hid in a cave in the mountains.

 Verse 9 picks up the tale:

The word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

14 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

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Sometimes when things are very bleak in our lives, it is easy to wallow in despair and even depression, to feel that nobody cares, that no-one understands, and, yes, to feel “I am the only one left” When you feel little sympathy or understanding, its easy to take that a step further and feel persecuted, literally “now they are trying to kill me too”.

But did God leave Elijah sitting wallowing in his cave? No, he did not. God sought him out. And gave him some quite miraculous signs that he was not alone – a powerful wind, an earthquake and a fire. But then God spoke, not in those dramatic ways, but in a whisper.

One of my favourite traditional hymns is “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”

Here are the last two verses. I wonder if they may even reference Elijah?

4 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

 5 Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

O still, small voice of calm!

A gentle whisper

“Be quiet and listen”

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“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there L.P. Hartley

Endnote: Main Photograph is of my daughter Cassie and her friend Jenn singing “I know him so well” from “Chess”, the first lines being:

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally, Perfect situations must go wrong, But this has never yet prevented me, Wanting far too much for far too long…

 

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow

Back in November 1995, my husband Neil and I happened to take a trip to Israel at the exact time that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Being budget travellers, we were staying in the Youth Hostel in the centre of Jerusalem, which had the very strict etiquette of Men’s Dormitory upstairs, Women’s in the Basement.

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Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem Old City, November 1995.

Coincidentally, we both had a case of food poisoning, so had suffered a fairly rough night, feeling pretty green when we met at 7.00am in the kitchen as agreed. There were already whispers going around that the Prime Minister had been shot. The First question everybody asked was “By WHOM?”. Because in the very volatile religious/cultural/historical mix of the so-called “Holy Land”, it was one thing to have a dead Prime Minister, but the identity of the assailant may or may not have plunged us all into the proverbial “World War Three”. When it became apparent that the shooter was an Israeli ultranationalist named Yigal Amir, who radically opposed Rabin’s peace initiatives, but was at least from “his own side” there was palpable relief, not only in the Youth Hostel, but in the streets and throughout the city. The mood turned from one of shock and fear, to one of grief and mourning.

And the first thing we noticed was the little makeshift shrines which began to spring up, on street pavements, corners, in shops, homes, anywhere, full of groups of candles, surrounding photographs of the departed Rabin.

In the years since, this has become more and more commonplace. Candles seem to have become a universal sign of remembrance, of grief. When there are people in trouble, or a cause to be brought to the attention of politicians or others in power, “Candlelight vigils” are held. Perhaps in a world where organised religion is becoming less commonplace, or at least has fewer dedicated adherents than in former ages, it is a sign that people still want to express some sense of spirituality, or otherness, or togetherness, without tying it to some historic creed.

But, of course, candles are commonplace in many world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism (the The Hanukkah menorah springs to mind). Arguably the most important festival in Hinduism is Diwali, the “festival of lights”. Its celebration includes millions of lights – lamps and candles –  shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed.

The idea of lighting candles – one for each year of life – has permeated Western social tradition, such that it seems wrong to have a Birthday without a cake with candles.

Candles are used in other ceremonies, too, including in weddings. I have appreciated the symbolism of each of the couple holding their individual candle, lighting a central candle, as the celebrant pronounces the words “the two become one”, then blowing out their individual candles, leaving the central, larger, brighter candle.

I once attended a most moving funeral, for the baby daughter of a friend. Born with a congenital heart defect, the little girl lived less than two weeks. But her short life was nonetheless remembered and celebrated. Although she had never left hospital, her parents wanted, rightly, their daughter to be recognised for the little person she was, and who had shared their lives, however briefly. Around the tiny white casket gathered various people linked to her – her parents, relatives, hospital staff and so on. Each lit a candle and, while holding it, spoke to their connection with the baby and her short time among us, until there was a circle of light around her. [I will never forget the sight of her father tenderly carrying that small coffin down the aisle in both arms at the end].

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The light of the candle is seen as mysterious, even alluring. Traditional English Nursery Rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” concludes: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, and here comes a chopper to chop off your head!” And candles are thought, even in this 21st century of every type of electric lighting, to be oh-so-romantic for that couple’s dinner, or relaxing bubble-bath.

A warning not to be too tempted into something which may hurt you, is described as “like a Moth to the Flame”.  Much to my amusement, this is even depicted in a “Wii” computer game. Amongst a suite of Sports simulations, there is one where a candle is portrayed in the middle of the screen, and a moth.

Moth 007 copy

The moth starts to buzz and move around the candle in decreasing, distracting motions. The aim is not to be dissuaded by this but to maintain one’s focus and posture. Those of you who know me and my lack of prowess in all things Sporting will share my delight, that I hold the “Perfect Score” in this activity, my special talent apparently being “sitting very still”.

Last week was one of personal extremes for me. On one afternoon I had a tough meeting with someone I have been working to improve relationships with. In this particular instance I was hoping for some understanding regarding a decision I had made. Accepting I had not followed best protocol, I had found an issue’s solution which, while slightly unorthodox, had the best motives for a positive outcome to a situation with a number of aspects beyond my control. Instead, at least to my ears, what I heard and experienced was criticism and condemnation. This really dismayed me, as I had felt in recent times positive progress had been made between us. I just felt really deflated. I felt so worthless.

On that same day, I received, out of the blue, a gift for no apparent reason from a friend from overseas, who wrote that she had been thinking of me and misses me. Then later that week I had a rare phone conversation with an old friend from University years who always knows what to say, understands me well, and lifted my spirits.

And then, on the weekend, in an unrelated realm, I was tossing around ideas, plans and possibilities for a future project with someone whom I esteem and admire. Who listened to and appreciated my thoughts and suggestions. Who valued me and my input. Who by their very approach built me up rather than tore me down.

In between all this, I have a beautiful family, and some wonderful students and their parents, and some special, giving friends who support me and uplift me, so I must be doing something right.

So how does this all connect?

I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason… within these same few days I came across this:

Candle brighter

Which really got me thinking.

There was a song we used to sing, back in the 1970’s, at our small Primary School entitled “Pass it on” [by Kurt Kaiser], part of which goes like this:

“It only takes a spark

to get a fire going

and soon all those around

can warm up in its glowing” 

A friend of mine last year described me as “relational” and suggested that I function best and achieve the most when I do so in combination with others whom I connect with and bounce off.

This candle illustration seemed to explain well my varied feelings when dealing with different people, and how I have felt that I have achieved more (or less), professionally, and personally, in combination with certain people, than with others.

Some people are naturally good at taking all the small lights of their individual candles, and adding them together into a greater whole. (And in doing so, getting that “fire going”). Those who do this best, are those who are truly “relational” (not my word), and often do so with the least apparent desire to be under the spotlight, to be the one “Centre Stage”, burning most brightly.

In my experience, some of the most wonderful people I have spent time with, I have worked with, have shared their candle-light so beautifully with others, that sometimes their personal efforts and contributions are not even fully recognised or noticed. But the people who matter, know.

Candle Lighting other candle copy

And those wonderful people carry out their roles with Humility and Grace.

I pray that this is something that I can learn better.

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“One measure of your success will be the degree to which you build up others who work with you. While building up others, you will build up yourself” – James E. Casey

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