Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Swings and Roundabouts

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.
Forrest Gump

When my lovely man, Paul, rang me last Friday afternoon I didn't know that he was calling me from the back of an ambulance, that he had crashed his car in the rain on a notorious winding stretch of road on the way back to his mountain cabin. Somehow, miraculously, he avoided major injury. I don't know how, because he flipped the car and crushed it out of recognition. The doctors at the hospital patched him up but refused to let him go home, partly, I think, because they couldn't believe he could survive such an accident with only some ligament damage to his shoulder. They were convinced he must have concussion or be bleeding internally, or something, surely? But no, apparently, like Tigger, Paul can bounce.

Still, however bouncy, he has injured his shoulder pretty thoroughly, and won't be able to use it for six weeks or so until the ligaments have healed. I hauled him home so I could play Florence Nightingale, a role I have always enjoyed, and the poor man has had to put up with being ministered to by me, and fed soup, and being bossed mercilessly for days.

The whole experience has made me think very seriously about community. We live in a world where we are very mobile and move about for work or on a whim, away from family and support networks, but what happens when things go wrong? What happens when you injure your shoulder and are then sent home from hospital and there is no-one there to do up your shirt and make you dinner and tie your shoelaces and fetch your medication and drive you to your physio appointment? I mean, it must happen all the time, but it would be pretty bleak and difficult.

Paul is an anomaly in modern life in that his family all live within a five kilometre radius of his home. This is not so uncommon in Tasmania, where families tend to stick together in small communities. I like it. There is a real safety in a large family and circle of friends that you have known since childhood. There is always someone to lend a hand. Paul's mum's partner happened to be driving home a few minutes behind him on Friday afternoon, and so he was able to stop and lend a hand. He collected all of Paul's things out of his car, including his week's groceries which had flown all over the road. He took them home, and Paul's mum spent the evening washing mud off all the groceries, including several bottles of wine which had flown into the ditch on the side of the road. Miraculously, although the car was crushed and all the windows shattered, the wine survived, lids dented and labels obliterated by mud and rain. We have spent the last few days dining on 'car crash' peaches, 'car crash' beans and broccoli, squashed tins of 'car crash' coffee, and drinking 'car crash' wine. There is always a silver lining..

I think that one of the imperatives for us all in our lives as we plan for the future is not so much stocking our impregnable bunkers with freeze-dried food and ammunition, as making sure we have strong and resilient communities of people who we love, and who love us. This can be family - I asked my parents to come and live close to me when they retired, and I am very glad that they were brave and adventurous enough to retire to another state to be with me and their grandchildren. Or it can be friends - since moving to Tasmania twenty years ago I have formed a very close knit community of friends who are like family. We are there for each other when needed. We make meals and clean each other's houses and share cars and trailers and help with building projects and look after each other's children and do the shopping when needed. This kind of friendship takes time and commitment. It is not always easy, but it is awfully important. It is how humanity has survived so far. It is a web of reciprocal kindnesses and favours given without thought of return, but it comes back in the end, when everything falls apart. Paul is the kind of man who is always, always there when a friend needs him. I am so glad to have been there for him when he needed me, but even if I hadn't been here, he would have had a lifetime's worth of friends lined up to help, in fact, he still does, although, being independent and bloody-minded he is already back at his cabin trying to do everything himself. I expect quite a lot of help will make it in under the radar though, because his friends won't be able stay out of his life, because that is how friendship works..

So here is my question for today.. who is there in your life who you can call after the accident and say, "Please come and help me put my shirt on..?" and if no-one springs to mind, what kind of community can you begin creating with that end in mind? I think there is probably no more important undertaking in life than working on that kind of deep friendship, because that is the only thing that really lasts..

Monday, February 12, 2018

Quietly Heroic

Dahlias and sedum at twilight

It takes a good deal of bravery and skill to keep even a very ordinary life going. To persevere through the challenges of love, work and children is quietly heroic.
Alain de Botton, School of Life, Good Enough is Good Enough

I am surrounded by so much quiet heroism, in so many permutations and combinations. Love, work and children are significant, but by no means the sum of possible categories of life's heroic challenges. Here are some of the blessings and challenges faced by a bunch of lovely people close to me: Children, love and ill health. Uncertain work, love and giant projects. Being young, love, looking for work. Being young, uncertain health and love. Work, unrequited love and what is life all about? Getting older, uncertain health, work, love. Children, work, looking for love. Creative endeavours, uncertain work, love. Getting older, creative endeavours, uncertain health, being alone.

Every one of these splendid people gets up every day, steps out into the world and makes quietly heroic waves. Care for family, friends, colleagues, community, strangers, peace, justice. Hilarious stories, good cooking, being nice to cats. It all adds up.

Me: creative endeavours, uncertain work (they go together, somehow!), children, love. All the challenges and all the blessings.

To all of my quietly heroic friends and lovely readers - congratulations. And keep going :)

Talk to me about the combination of blessings and challenges you persevere through.. does it help to consider yourself quietly heroic? I feel very kindly towards any effort to elevate the significance of the minutiae of daily life to epic proportions. Because after all, it is what we do when we get up every day that creates a whole life, in the end..