Tag Archives: Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because emotion isn’t all negative emotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You kill that, and you kill me.

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

 

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

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

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

When I need to cry – let me cry.

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

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

There is always darkness before the dawn.

But the dawn will come.

Beach Dawn

 

 

Knowing me, knowing you

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

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

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

As a student at a particular school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

febmarch-039rs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

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

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

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

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

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

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

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

above-beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

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

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

Whatever it takes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pooh-and-piglet

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally

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

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

shine-jesus-shine

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

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

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

dirty-dancing

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

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

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

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

So, yes, I have seen the film.

always-look

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, now it is.

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

Sometimes letting go is indeed better than holding on.

holding-on

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very strange times indeed.

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

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

november-09-pac-fair

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

Then 12 year olds who are now 19 year olds.

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

And so must I.

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

“What is the universe trying to tell me?”

His response: “Be quiet and listen”.

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

 Verse 9 picks up the tale:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O still, small voice of calm!

A gentle whisper

“Be quiet and listen”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how does this all connect?

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

Candle brighter

Which really got me thinking.

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

“It only takes a spark

to get a fire going

and soon all those around

can warm up in its glowing” 

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

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

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

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

Candle Lighting other candle copy

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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)