Category Archives: Family

A noisy gong or a clanging cymbal

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This is possibly one of the most famous passages in the Bible, found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It is frequently read at weddings, even non-religious weddings, where more often than not it is picked up at verse 4: “Love is patient and kind” with the implication that the “Love” spoken about is the love between the “Happy Couple” being wed. Religious purists would claim that this is not the type of love the author was referring to at all. However, I do not intend to delve into those type of intricacies here.

I have been pondering lately the thorny concept of how it is that people who we love, and profess to love us, can really get under our skin, can wrong us, can hurt us, can be thoughtless. But yet not mean to. Or not intend to. Or have good intentions. But yet, the damage is done. However, underneath, that person still has a relationship with you – they might be your friend, your family member, your colleague. And they are not necessarily a bad person.

Yet in their thoughts, their words, their actions, they have done damage.

How do you reconcile that?

How do you deal with somebody you love but who is volatile? Can you love somebody but ultimately not trust them?

I had a difficulty with one such person recently. Afterward,  I confided the situation to a mutual friend, who had known both of us for literally decades. I lamented that there was so much good in this person, but if she could only change….. His response: “But that’s just what she’s like”. “She will never change”

What about the reverse? A person who you love. But is not always particularly warm to you, that you wonder sometimes if they actually “approve” of you, that sometimes makes you feel unworthy, but is utterly, utterly dependable and you would trust with your life? But that you wish would be more demonstrative? Who would show you that they notice? Maybe tell you that you are appreciated?

Similarly I confided such a desire to a relative of such a person recently. “But he’s always been like that, all his life. It’s just his way. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.”

MOPS Article 17-5 crop
We made the local paper!

A dozen years ago, when my son was a baby, I was a member of an excellent group called MOPs (an acronym for “Mothers of Pre-schoolers”). It was a Mothers Group with a difference – sponsored by a local church in the Regional town in which I lived at that time. The organisers provided a crèche for our children so the women could spend adult time together. Many of us, some with newborns and therefore suffering interrupted sleep and surrounded by nappies, lived for those two hours per fortnight where we could feel semi-human.

At one stage we took on a parenting course, as many of us had a toddler as well. One unit dealt with appropriate discipline of Toddler behaviour, and I remember well an illustration where a see-saw was drawn, with “Wilful Disobedience” at one end and “Childish irresponsibility” on the other. The distinction was made that a child should not be severely punished for, say, simply being clumsy – such as knocking over a drink. Equally the FIRST time they “misbehaved” the parent could “give the benefit of the doubt” that the child did not KNOW the behaviour as “Wrong” or inappropriate. However, once the child DID understand this, then SUBSEQUENTLY, it was a different story.

The other thing reinforced in “Parenting 101” was to “Focus on the Action, not the person”. Hence, (and sadly this is all too common) the scenario of a toddler screaming in a supermarket, frustrated mother yelling “YOU ARE A NIGHTMARE” is Wrong. Admonishing the child: “It is not acceptable to hit your sister” = Correct.

How does all this tie together? As the Corinthians passage puts it, “11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

As adults, “Conflict Resolution” techniques also teach to “Focus on the Action, not the person”. Sadly in my experience, adults can be extremely bad at this. All too often, when there are difficulties, problems, disasters, or personal conflicts, very quickly things degenerate into a “Blame Game” and it becomes more about “Saving Face” and “Might over Right” and the first casualty is often the truth. The smallest and most fragile and vulnerable are often trampled and the victim blamed, while there is a scramble to cover-up.

As rarely problems only occur due to one single factor, the honest thing to do would be to appraise all the components, see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and see what could be improved next time, with each in good conscience and fairly taking responsibility for their own part, no matter how big or small – plus acknowledging other circumstantial factors outside anyone’s control. However, for this to happen, there needs to be a large serving of honesty, humility and grace, which is sadly lacking amongst many.

And, as the old saying goes, Power Corrupts. The more powerful an individual, the less likely one is to see them put their hands up and utter those three incredibly difficult words to say…not “I love you” but “I WAS WRONG”.Messy

This may all seem very deep and profound, but, as I suggested, I have been doing much thinking and contemplating of late.

I’ve also been reflecting on this. What is my own part in various difficulties that have beset me over recent times? To what extent do I need to take responsibility for my own problems?

Am I, indeed, the problem? Am I a lightning rod for problems?

Have I caused much of my own misery over the last 18 months because of the person that I am and/or my own actions? Has the conflict I have suffered in that period of time – and at various times over the entire of my adult life – actually largely been my own fault?

Am I wrong to see myself, at least in some instances, as “the victim”?

Am I, indeed, the cause of my own misery?

Last year, in the midst of a lot of personal turmoil, an authoritative person tried to counsel me over my “faults”. Which he detailed as “Your passion for what you do can overwhelm others. Your singlemindedness about your work is something that people find difficult”. At the time I was relieved, as I thought that there were plenty of worse “faults” I could have been criticised for.

But then, this month, I have been accused of talking too much and listening too little (a recurring theme of which I know I am frequently guilty) but also of being “pushy and aggressive” which startled me. As I have never perceived myself as an aggressive person. And again the issue of promoting something I believed in has been raised, which reminded me of this other man’s words. Perhaps he actually meant “Pushy and aggressive” but was being kind.

Fables abound as thoughtful life lessons…most children will know for example, the tale of “The Hare and the Tortoise”.

Here is another which I find most telling.

The Fable of the Frog and the Scorpion:Scorpion-and-the-Frog

Once there was a beautiful frog who was about to make her way across the river.

A scorpion came to her and asked her “please may I ride across on your back?”

Frog refused, of course, because she was afraid the scorpion would sting her. But the scorpion assured her: “No, I promise I won’t sting you, I am grateful that you would help me. Why would I sting you?”

The frog then decided that she would trust the scorpion and take it across the river….

During the swim across the scorpion stings her.

The frog yells in pain and asks WHY he did that.

“It was an accident and won’t happen again.” said the scorpion.

The frog continues to allow the scorpion to ride with her and keeps swimming.

“Thank you for being kind” said the scorpion. “You’re welcome” said the frog.

And just as the frog was reaching the other shore of the river the scorpion stung her again.

While in pain the frog yelled “WHY would you do that?? Now we are both going to die! We will drown!”

The scorpion looked to her and said “It is my Nature.”

 To what extent can we modify our nature?

We all have certain character traits, natures if you like, and also innate skills and attributes.

Sometimes the gene pool is strong. In my own family my 12 year old is, in many ways, his father’s son, in looks and in perhaps his hot-wired traits.

But he is not a total clone. For one thing, he has had my influence as a mother – both genetic and nurturing, which must surely have rubbed off somewhere. Plus he has had different opportunities in life than his father had. One good example is that we have been able to encourage his innate cricketing skills and he has played at Club level from the age of 7 – an opportunity in a different era and country (England) his father did not have.

Recently my 15 year old daughter received an Academic Award at school for “A” grades in four different subjects. P1080480 cpdSome boys in one of her classes apparently paid her some clumsy compliments, then were a little embarrassed when they realised they might have implied (she is attractive and blonde) that they didn’t realise she was smart. “Oh”, Miss15 replied brightly, “It’s Okay. I might be good at Chemistry, but I have no Common Sense.” And then went on to disarm the young men by telling some anecdotes against herself.

 

 

Our basic character types – categorised various ways by experts – are something which I do not believe we can much change.

However, I believe what we can change is our behaviour and attitude.

So, therefore, for example, if we are creative, relaxed and happy-go-lucky by nature, but therefore not innately a good timekeeper – which frustrates others and makes us appear unreliable – it is possible to learn to set alarms, write diaries and develop organisational techniques.

Similarly, people who are not naturally warm and personable characters are not going to have a personality change overnight – but this does not mean that they need to go through life – and workplace situations for example – bullying and demeaning others in order to get their own way. It is possible – and certainly desirable – to learn and exhibit more appropriate “people management skills”, whether or not they “come naturally”.

I believe we can choose our behaviour and can make choices in our actions. We might not be able to change our basic character type, but we do not need to be slave to its flaws.

And, as adults, surely we can learn to think before we speak, plan courses of action and endeavour not to hurt others.

One of the things I struggle with the most is unfairness and injustice. For others, and to a lesser extent, for myself.

Like my daughter (although she is evidently younger, prettier and definitely slimmer), my ditzy blonde image belies the fact that I am not quite as dumb as I may appear. I believe I possess quite some logic, education and intelligence. My world needs to make sense to me and it really rankles with me when it does not.

Therefore when I see dishonesty, cover-ups and blame-shifting or simply people not playing fair, it really disturbs me. What I, on a personal basis hate most, is being blamed for things I have not done. Of course, it is awkward  for anyone to be criticised, and when we know we are wrong or have contributed to a bad situation and there is an aspect of guilt, it is uncomfortable. But I think I am big enough to take responsibility for and “own” my part. What disturbs me is when others will not, and especially when they look to deflect blame elsewhere.

So I will go back now and attempt to answer my own questions.

  • How do I reconcile that a person who loves me can hurt me, through their thoughts, words and deeds? And, importantly, should I forgive them when they do?
  • How do I deal with a person who I love and trust but who does not demonstrate that they love me?
  • How do I recover from the trauma left by being abused by those who appear completely unrepentant, indeed apparently continue exactly the same behaviour towards others, having not learnt or modified their ways despite past difficulties?
  • How do I cope with being blamed for difficulties which I believe I did not cause? (Or only partly caused)? And being accused of things I have not done?

I have come to the conclusion that the best I can do in all these scenarios is essentially the same, and both profoundly simple and extremely difficult at the same time.

Practice Love.

The first two are really the simplest. Frustrating as the “sinner” might be, having seen the error of her ways and understood what she has done wrong, she has apologised and deserves forgiveness. Hanging onto what has gone wrong will achieve nothing. And the person is more important, ultimately, than the action. However, the consequence is that you need be wary of trusting that person in the future.

For the second, the underlying relationship is in the long run more important than overt displays of affection – nice as that may be. And Trust in relationships is ultimately more significant than outward appearances.

The third is one I have most struggled with, debated strongly with trusted confidants for literally hours, and literally cried over. Unfortunately, in my experience, some people just do not take responsibility for their actions and continue to inflict hurt on others. Continuing to forgive the unrepentant really is “Cheap Grace”. For true reconciliation, I believe there (at least from Christian perspective) needs to be understanding of wrongdoing, some repentance, and at least the intent to not do the same again.

Living in England in the early 1990’s when the IRA was active, you would periodically see a grieving parent go on television generously stating forgiveness to an IRA Bomber who caused the death of their child. The fact that parent could forgive, rather than hold that bitterness and even hatred in their heart, will ultimately be healthier for them and perhaps help them to deal with their grief.

However in many cases there is never any true resolution, or problems are only solved superficially, or “papered over the cracks” between two individuals because the root causes are never tackled and properly resolved. In my experience, I have unfortunately had repeated conflict with certain individuals for this very reason. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

I finally had a personal breakthrough on this issue, paradoxically through a light-hearted chat recently with a mutual contact. It was mentioned in passing that a person who I had suffered great difficulty with, and I had been blamed for past problems with, and had come to the position I held responsibility for a large part of those issues, was, in many ways still exactly the same “whether you, Kylie, are here or not”. This lifted a great weight from my shoulders as I finally came to a recognition that, at least to some extent, like the scorpion said: “It is [their] Nature.”

And dealing with being blamed for things I have not done? Much as this rankles, to be wary of those who do not deal with me fairly. To learn to better trust myself, to have faith in myself as others have faith in me.

Because the one thing which I have not noted – thus far –  is how truly humbled I am by how many people have supported me in good times and in bad, have shown faith in me even when I have doubted myself, and have been there for me when I have truly needed it. Because I, too, am imperfect. And they have demonstrated their love for me.

This month I celebrated a round-number birthday and my husband and I our 25th wedding anniversary.

Cake Cut

We had relatives come to join us from Melbourne, and a long term friend from Perth. Others drove long distances from Queensland locations.

Cousins
With elder sister Jill and cousins Miriam and Elisabeth. Also reunited were the Wedding and Bridesmaid Dresses after a Quarter Century.

We coupled a party on the Saturday night with friends and family with a formal restatement of vows in Church on Sunday morning, which was my actual birthday.

We were especially blessed that the wonderful Minister who conducted our original wedding ceremony, now long retired, made the trip from Adelaide for the weekend, just because I asked.

As both my husband and I have had our own separate difficulties in recent times, the presence of Pastor John was literally a Godsend in our home for the weekend for many, many reasons.

The very fact that he would come was incredible, but his calming presence and quiet wisdom on many fronts was just what we and others needed.

SSS 001
James with Pastor John

So, what to ultimately make of all of this?

When all is said and done, life is imperfect, people are imperfect,

Do not be dragged down in by those who would draw you into darkness

But cherish those who uphold you in the light.

For we are surrounded by Love.

Wedding Group Guthrig (1)
Our younger, shinier selves.

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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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:

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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. 

You’ve got to give a little, take a little

Recently a number of people dear to me seem to have been struggling with one thing or another. Yet these people are those who are always giving to others, of their time, effort, wisdom, skills. They are used to being the strong ones, to being the ones others lean upon.

But what happens when they are ill, or down, or struggling, or upset, or grieving? Who cares for the carer?

A few years ago when my children were small we lived in a country town, Ararat, in Western Victoria. At the time the whole area was drought-declared and there were strict water restrictions. Residents were encouraged to collect run-off from their morning shower in a bucket, and use this to wash the car. And then only the windows, mirrors and number pates were to be cleaned. No sprinklers or hoses on lawns were permitted, so all the grass died back to a dusty barren brown until the occasional rain shower.

The only way of watering plants was by watering can or bucket. Not even hand-held hoses were allowed.

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The children and I tried valiantly to keep our garden alive. We had certain plants that we favoured and others that we ignored. It truly was a case of “survival of the fittest”. Those watering cans, big and small, were soon emptied onto the favoured blooms and then came the repeated trips back and forth to the tap. The biggest bugbear was the need to continually fill up the watering cans and containers so that the life-giving water could be very quickly used again.WC 2

Each of us in our daily lives is like one of those watering cans. We give out. Give out of our time, our energy, and our skills. We favour certain “plants” in our lives. Perhaps those that we planted ourselves and so especially want to nurture. Perhaps the sickest and frail which have the least chance of survival left to their own devices, without special care and attention.WC 1

There comes a time in the lives of many when our “Watering Cans” are empty, or have frequently been “running on empty”.

Every drop of our water has been devoted to:

  • The business to which we gave our all, but which still did not succeed.
  • The elderly frail parents who require constant effort and attention, day 
after day.
  • The small children who still don’t sleep through the night.
  • The marriages and relationships that need nurturing, but we are too exhausted by the business (and the busy-ness) of our lives that we have no time, no energy to give to the people we love.

You see, we cannot continually “run on empty”. It is necessary to trudge those watering cans back to the tap and refill them. But many of us just give out continuously. Often it is a difficult thing to learn and accept that we need to receive back from life too. We should not feel guilty about doing and participating in things and activities that “top up” those watering cans. Even if that topping up simply enables us to give out some more.

All of us need, indeed we deserve, a happy, healthy, balanced, fulfilled life.

So, what is a life “Fulfilled”?
 The “Oxford Dictionary” defines the word “fulfil”:

  • Achieve or realise (something desired, promised, or predicted): “He wouldn’t be able to fulfil his ambition to visit Naples”
  • (fulfil oneself) Gain happiness or satisfaction by achieving one’s potential: “Arts grants go to young people who say they wish to fulfil themselves”.

Alternatively, the definition offered by online dictionary “Vocabulary.com” resonates with me beautifully:

“The verb fulfil means to fill a need or want. To fulfil yourself personally means to follow your inner passion, like flute-playing, no matter who thinks it’s silly.”

A fulfilled, balanced life needs to be made up of a number of components. We need to work towards happiness and fulfilment (and yes, set goals) in a variety of areas.

“8 Key Areas of Life” are detailed as:

  1. Relationships and Family (Socialisation)
  2. Relaxation
  3. Recreation
  4. Health and Wellbeing
  5. Personal Growth, Knowledge, 
Education (Intellectual Pursuits)
  6. Spiritual
  7. Wealth and Finances
  8. Work (Career?)

Experts say, for a Balanced Lifestyle, we should include at least some of each of these 8 areas, although the priority, proportion and emphasis will vary from person to person.

Relationships and Family (Socialisation):

Each of us needs to have social contact on a regular basis with people we enjoy spending time with and who can be a support system for us.

And this, importantly, must include FRIENDS as well as family. Many people think that, as they have a close family, that is surely enough, but not so. A Grandmother for example may dearly love her teenage Grandson but also worry about him and his risk-taking behavior, including too many late nights and frequent Skateboard accidents. Family connections are most times a mix of opposites: love and concern, rights and responsibilities. Whereas true friendships are largely weighted towards giving positive energy.

There is a growing area of neuroscience proving that social bonding sharpens brain function. It also extends life, according to a recent Australian Study, which followed 1500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent. [Reference: http://seniorliving.about.com/od/lifetransitionsaging/a/longevity.htm]

My Grandmother, Muriel, exemplified this. Widowed in her early 50’s, she and her 3 close female friends Maudie, Marge and Jean were inseparable. The trio became essentially additional relatives to all us kids as they attended my cousins’ sporting events, our music performances and various family functions. The four ladies roared around in my Grandma’s car “The Red Terror” and met weekly for Lawn Bowls and Bridge Card Games as well as other activities. At one stage a gentleman from the Bowling Club took an interest in Grandma and various family members encouraged her to “Go for it”. She famously retorted, “I’d rather have a Cuppa Tea!”

Myrt and friends
Marge, Jean, Maudie…and Grandma Muriel (right).

In the last few years of her life all this changed. The eldest of her close friends, Jean, moved into Aged Care some distance away. Her closest friend Margie died. Maudie became more frail and relocated to live with her son. Grandma started turning up unannounced at our place for no particular reason, just stating, “I’m sick of my own company”. She gradually became unwell herself and spent the last year of her life in Nursing Care, although doctors could not diagnose any specific illness. We believe the loss of the “Gang of Four” had contributed to this marvellous, capable matriarch of the whole family simply losing her zest for life.

Certainly, the amount of time we spend socialising varies with each of us, but on the average, experts recommend “one or two activities per week”. Such experts also suggest “If we are in a “couple” relationship it is important that we engage in independent socialisation, i.e. coffee with a girlfriend, or golf with the fellows, so as not to become overly dependent on our partner. It is also important in a couple relationship to spend regular fun time away from the children so that we have time to develop and strengthen the relationship”.

Those of us with young children and without nearby family and support systems choke on our coffee at such “advice” and see such frequency as a forlorn hope.

However, it is important to make the effort and at least TRY.

Relaxation:

Relaxing the muscles and quietening the mind are important stress management techniques. Various techniques are available including yoga, meditation and deep muscle relaxation. Making a daily time for relaxation is vital to allow our bodies to re-charge. The important part is being able to learn to relax your body and turn off your thoughts. Sleep is critical (remember, in warfare, Sleep Deprivation is used as a form of Torture) but sometimes good sleep is elusive, due to shift work, travel, or care of aged relatives or young children.

However, it is important to try to have some Rest (not necessarily sleep) as part of your daily routine. This sage advice, taken and always remembered, was given to me by a caring healthcare worker when I was struggling with a three-year-old and a newborn.

Here I am with a week-old baby, too much make-up and a Glazed Expression.

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Recreation:

If we look at the word recreation, we can see that it is made up of re/create/ion. Many people think that “Relaxation” and “Recreation” are the same but they are not. Ten years ago I attended a marvelous group: MOP’s (Mothers of Preschoolers) that had, as part of its focus, that the babies and young children were cared for out of sight while the Mums bonded together over coffee, but they also insisted on “Craft Time”. Personally I found it a bit twee, but the organisation insisted it was important: the process of creating something, of completing something tangible, they decreed was extremely valuable, as stressed people, [Mums of preschoolers in particular] often found this lacking elsewhere in their lives.

Recreation does not need to be craft. Recreation includes leisure activities that help us feel rejuvenated. Pottery, woodworking, dressmaking, knitting and crossword puzzles are just a few suggestions. Gardening, for those with a green thumb, is also “recreational” as a difference “Before” and “After” can be observed – a specific achievement.

Although I have no evident talent in craft or gardening, Birthday Cakes are my thing. Fortunately, I only have two children with one birthday each a year!

One of the things I love most is their unwavering blind faith (especially when younger) and absolute confidence that Mum can do anything.

There are many examples, but here are just two:

“A Rainbow with Fairies and Unicorns?” – “No Problem”

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“For my cake, please Mummy, would you make a Green Dragon with Purple Spikes?” “Of Course”

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OK, I agree. That’s a bit excessive for an object with such a short life span. But look at this little face. Priceless.

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Of course the important aspect to realise when accepting these types of projects is that you aren’t really decorating a cake, or blowing up balloons, or painting the letterbox in stripes …you are, in reality undertaking the much more important mission of:

“Creating Memories for your Children”

Health and Wellbeing (Physical):

The physical side of a balanced life style involved several aspects: proper nutrition, which includes three healthy meals a day and watching our caffeine and alcohol intake. The “fight/flight” response of the body to stress is intended to end in physical activity. It is important that we engage in a regular type of physical activity such as swimming, walking or jogging to use up the adrenalin that might otherwise harm our bodies. (Admittedly I am pretty bad at following through on this one)

Personal Growth, Knowledge and Education (Intellectual):

Our minds need to be stimulated so that we have a variety of focus and do not become involved only with our stresses and ourselves. It is important to continue to learn throughout our lives. Intellectual stimulation can take many forms – reading the paper, attending courses and lively discussions are all good. People of all ages and stages of life are capable of learning new skills – it is not true the old proverb that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. In Australia, the “University of the 3rd Age” where Retirees take short and long courses in Computing, Languages, Workshop skills and a myriad of other fields are flourishing.

Spiritual:

Looking at the spiritual side of our life does not mean that we all have to attend Church. For some, regular attendance at Church is in fact appropriate. A spiritual activity, though, can be as simple as taking a walk and appreciating the natural beauty of the area. It is valid to periodically examine our beliefs and values. We need to be able to look beyond ourselves and appreciate the world around us in a meaningful way. The other night here, we noticed the sky glowing red at night and the whole family dashed out onto the front lawn to look. “Has somebody remembered a CAMERA?” demanded my daughter. We have taught her well.

.wc 9

Wealth and Finances

It is important to have sufficient finances to live, to have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. In the western world we expect a reasonable standard of living. Our aim should be to be able to live comfortably from our earnings and savings, not worrying every day about bills, but still keeping a clear picture of the difference between our true “Needs” and “Wants”.

The old adage is that “Money does not buy happiness” and sadly for many this is the case. Stories abound of lottery winners around the world finding, sadly, winning a truck-load of money on the lottery, any lottery, comes with a heap of baggage. Daydreams of a millionaire lifestyle seem to have a habit of turning sour, as isolation, paranoia; drugs, crime, poverty and prison await those who fail to adjust.

Career and Purpose (Work):

Last but not least “work”. You may say, “work is a stress for me!”. The word “work” basically means that we all need to engage in activity that we have a sense of satisfaction having completed.

Near the end of the film “Pretty Woman”, Edward (Richard Gere) has come to a new realisation about his work:

Edward: You know what I used to love when I was a kid, Phil?

Phil (Stuckey): What?


Edward: Blocks. Building blocks. Erector sets.


Phil (impatient and exasperated): What’s the point?

Edward: We don’t build anything Phil. We don’t make anything.

Phil: We make money, Edward!

“We make money…”

If our work is in fact too stressful we need to look at either changing our attitude to it or changing our job.

Now, my friends, it’s YOUR TURN!

Look back at those 8 areas and apply them to your life, and how you foresee your “better” or “perfect” life being in 5 years’ time or 10 years’ time.

It is important to realise we cannot give equal time to each area, and that sometimes priorities change. The aim is to have SOME component of these as a regular part of your life. The proportions of each will also vary from person to person.

If you assess that your life contains very little – or none – 
of one of these key areas and a large
 proportion of another, you may need to think 
again about your current priorities, even your future ones.

“All Work and No Play makes Jack a dull boy” is a proverb which may resonate with your past or present situation.

However, to some extent the opposite can also be true. Will whiling away endless days lying by the pool, idyllic as it may seem for some, truly give you the Fulfilment you need?

How full is the Watering Can of your Life?

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Exactly a month ago, I was contemplating a return to school after 7 weeks of holiday. After spending the previous year’s Summer break moving house, this year we had basically “chilled” – a couple of days we barely made it out of our pajamas, others we went out and about: to favourite places, and places new. Caught up with friends. Watched movies. Discovered “Raspberry Crown” pastries and new-style luxury donuts.

All wonderful things.

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For most of this time, I decided not to “wish my life away”, instead focusing on the here and now, and opportunity to spend time with my kids, but, come 19th January, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that “This is It”.

In the words of my former violin teacher Bogdan’s favourite joke: “Tea break’s over, back on your heads”.

And so, off to school we went. Checked the kids into Vacation Care. Fronted up to the School Auditorium where the Staff Chapel Band was finishing rehearsal. Hung back as the place slowly began to fill with largely familiar faces. Watched silently as staff greeted each other, smiling, renewing acquaintances and catching up their news. I stood quietly, to one side, feeling a little like the kid who is picked last for the sports team – scanning for a friendly face. Unconsciously looking for “my people”. Instead, my eyes settled on a couple of individuals with whom things have not always been “smooth sailing”. My heart sank.

What further sunk in was that “My Team” was no more.

Despite weeks, months even, of planning for this day, of trying to reassure myself that everything would be OK, that I was prepared for “the new reality,” I was hit by the realisation that it really wasn’t going to be easy. I felt like picking up my proverbial bat and ball and going home. Then suddenly a familiar face approached. A friendly, open person who embraced me and ushered me to sit with her. Who exchanged a few words about each of our 10-year-old boys’ mutual cricket-tragicness. I didn’t follow my instincts and back out the door. I stayed for the opening staff session, praying a silent “Thank-you” to this staff member who had touched me by sharing her commonality as a Mum.

I was determined to “get it right”. A lot hinged on establishing positive working relationships with my new boss in particular, and also getting to know 5 new staff members in our expanded Music Department. I was impressed, early on, when the new boss called a meeting or two of all the Instrumental Staff and tutors – at one point having us all in the same room at the same time, a feat which I don’t think had been achieved in the previous 7 years – when there were many fewer of us.

She talked “Team”, of everyone having a place. Barriers were coming down and people were starting to pull together. I attempted to keep my “big mouth” shut, remembering that it was “New Year, New Broom”. I was resolute in my desire not to be like a stereotypical irritating old biddy, often found at churches who my husband refers to as “Gatekeepers” – who says “but we always do it this way – we’ve done it this way for the last 50 years”. I was impressed with what I saw, and relaxed somewhat.

Maybe this would work after all. Perhaps my fears were unfounded.

Over the next week or so, though, I was not so sure. Being the only staff member with continuity from last year to this, naturally everyone asked me how to do this or that, where to find things and so on. And I was so self-conscious about not wanting to step on anyone’s toes, or stray into the territory of others, I was conflicted about how much to assist, whereas this time last year I would have walked the new guys through every step of the first few week’s start-up without a second thought.

With so much to do and so little time, there were moments of tension and frustration, heightened by the fact that I felt, to an extent, that there was “re-invention of the wheel” going on around me, and much being left undone, largely because nobody [aside from me] knew exactly what needed to be done, nor what the priorities were.

This I could understand, the myriad of new staff scrambling to get up to speed, and all on a sharp learning curve, but what rankled with me was I DID know and I DO know but I wasn’t asked.Person feels appeciated

This made me feel undervalued and that I wasn’t trusted by the new regime. A number of times – in my head or, on occasion, vocally – I spoke out: “All you had to do was ask”. Finally, things came to a head on Friday 29th January, when an “executive decision” was made without reference to me, about an issue I cared about, which I felt to have been pre-emptive.

I was seething, and shot back an email expressing disappointment, and giving “chapter and verse” about how I felt the situation should have been played. A further email exchange followed, during which I guess I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. By the time 7.30pm rolled around, I was frustrated beyond belief, mainly with myself.

Things had escalated quickly. We were 9 days in. I had not taught one single student, but yet all my good intentions were in tatters.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Saturday morning, I got up early, preoccupied with the fact that, within all this, I felt I had not been a very good mentor or guide to my new colleagues. In holding back and, to my mind, treading on eggshells, I had not been as informative as I could have been. I also had a sinking feeling that I had “cooked my goose” and may well be “out of there” come Monday. So I spent a couple of hours flicking emails to the new staff – sharing procedures, forms and tips. So at least, I reasoned, if I was sacked on Monday I could leave feeling I had at least equipped my replacements.

Later that Saturday morning, I needed to go to school to take Miss 13 to a rehearsal. Due to rain, a tradie vehicle blocking an exit, and poor sight-lines, I managed to back my car smack-bang into a yellow bollard. I got out to look what the hell I had done, and was picking bits of my tail-lights up off the roadway as some of my own students, also arriving for the rehearsal, looked on.

Great. Just great.

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My serenity of the holidays only two weeks before was now completely shot to pieces. All my worries and anxieties and fears came tumbling around my heels.  I sought the advice of a trusted friend whose ears I battered with every she-said-she-said of the scenario, until my friend gently pointed out that after a few hours of patient listening, my verbiage started to become “White Noise”.

I was sleeping poorly, I was anxious, I was stressing…not a good combination. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose, so set out with a new agenda – to properly settle in and look after my new colleagues in earnest, so at least when I was no longer there (which I saw as a real possibility) they, at least, would have a fighting chance of getting a toehold, and furthering the work of the department, so dear to me, that I had assisted in spending many years building up.

Partly due to this new focus, I felt happier. Tension had been slightly released, too, by the scheduling of a meeting with my new boss, to attempt to sort out differences, which I felt a “necessary evil”, while wondering how it had come to that, so early in the piece.

I was, however, no longer sure of my ground, of how I fitted in. I looked back on a proposal I had written in September 2015, laying out my concerns about the new structure, vacuums in authority and knowledge, and fears I had, that this might prove unworkable in a day-to-day context. And how I was concerned that lack of clarity in roles, responsibilities and boundaries would lay open the potential for misunderstandings and conflict.

I felt I had been positively prophetic.

By the end of the week, though, I was exhausted. I had just worked too hard to try to juggle too many balls in the air. I was stressed. I was hyper. I didn’t know which way to turn. The car accident had thrown and depressed me. (Not to mention the looming $1500 repair bill). I wasn’t sure what I wanted any more. And without putting too fine a point on it, the prescribed tranquillisers and sleeping draughts I was taking to help keep me sane weren’t helping my demeanour and ability to keep up appearances and smile through work days, when I felt like anything but.

I was pretty well hitting Rock Bottom. And I was kicking myself. So much thought, planning, preparation, agonising, “talking through”, good intentions, hard work…. all seemingly wasted.

I had tried and failed.

And I just didn’t care anymore. This was pretty well the “Worst of Times”.

Then some of those “Serendipity” things just kicked themselves in. Our invited babysitter for Friday 5th February (a retired friend from church) asked if she could bring a friend – who turned out to be a lady who was very kind to us when our children were small, and the two had often babysat as a team. This second lady had moved away interstate, but was visiting, and they came together. Just like old times. It just seemed “Right” to leave them with our kids.

Then, the occasion we were going out to, which had been booked some time before, was a rare “Date Night”. Instead of either my husband or I on some work-related business, we were actually going out together for leisure – quite a rarity. We had discovered that the ‘80’s girl band “Bananarama” were appearing nearby at the Twin Towns Services Club in Tweed Heads.

So I put on my “posh frock” and off we went.

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At first, I just sat during the (excellent) support act. The volume was loud and the speakers were pointed in my direction, as they always seem to be at these things. I was sitting, my thoughts wandering, dwelling on my various woes, and silently crying.

stress music

How had it come to this?

But then, after a bit, I realised I wasn’t achieving anything, and decided to get my act together and just listen in to the music. The concert just got better and better with the Bananarama girls essentially parodying their younger selves, reaching a climax when they had a number of audience members up with them on stage to dance to “Venus”. Despite myself, I had relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the night.

I had turned a private corner.

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Monday morning was the “Conflict Resolution” meeting. It was difficult, but ultimately necessary and cathartic. I took the opportunity to express my feelings and points of view.  Forgiveness was offered and accepted, fences were mended and hatchets were buried. Since then, communication, consultation and the general atmosphere has markedly improved. A new dawn – thankfully.

Then, later that week, more of “the Best of Times” – with the visit, from Europe, of my younger sister and her 5-year-old daughter, after a gap of 4 years. We attempted, over a few days, to give them a taste of Queensland, and it was lovely to have two parts of my family under the one roof, and see first-hand my sister’s development and growth as a Mum.  She has a beautiful little girl who is a credit to her.

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And then the “Piece de résistance” ….

I had put together a school excursion to see the “Australian Youth Orchestra”, who were performing locally (a rarity). At first, I had not intended to go, in deference to my sister’s visit, but, when speaking to the AYO office and letting slip we were both alumni , they insisted on offering us tickets from their allocation so we ended up attending after all.

Two things were significant for me about this – firstly, that I had not experienced the vitality and exhilaration of AYO’s playing for many years, and it transported me back to my youth.

Secondly, I met up with the AYO’s CEO, who I grew up with (we had the same childhood violin teacher) and who was part of a close circle of friends when we were Uni students. I had not seen him for 25 years, but those years melted away in a moment.

Somehow, I found myself reflecting to him that I had struggled with National Music Camp, that I had found it overwhelming, and felt I had failed in not coping with the intensive 2-week January summer schools I had attended as a teenager. To my amazement, he (the current CEO!) agreed that aspects were tough back in the day, and he hadn’t always enjoyed it either.

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National Music Camp, The King’s School Parramatta, 1987. Schumann Piano Quintet.

 

Later that night (during the wonderful music) I reflected on this, and found it strangely freeing.  I realised I had not properly embraced my personal musical history, as my love of being included in wonderful experiences such as NMC and AYO had been mixed with my feeling of failure in these same spheres. That, to some extent, I had not kept up contact with many of my old friends because of this.  That many of my friends had gone on to have glittering musical careers, while, to an extent, I had settled for second best.

But did this mean I really was second best? Was I now “just” a teacher and “just” a Pastor’s wife?

As I marvelled at the piano soloist’s incredible rendition of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto, the realisation hit me.

THIS is my world. I belong here.

My work at the school is not done. In all the personal and professional turmoil, I had almost lost sight of my vision and goal there – to give my students a taste of this AYO-style magic.

And, you know, I’m not necessarily “Second Hand Rose”.

Maybe I am prickly sometimes, but there might still be a whiff of some pleasant fragrance remaining.

If I stand still long enough.

Rose

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)