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..


Treaders said…
You're right Jo, and the older I get the more important I realize community is. I grew up poor but there was "community" and since everyone was the same it didn't bother anyone. I always remember one of Billy Connolly's performances where he described growing up in the slums in Scotland, but he loved it because everyone pitched in and there were always plenty of mates. Here in France I have wonderful neighbours and we all pitch in and help each other - it's lovely. I know we don't all have that but sometimes YOU just have to put yourself out there first. I have two sons who live within 30 minutes so I can always call on them of course but as most younger people are working I think we also need to look elsewhere for our support. Glad Paul (and the wine) are OK. Anna
Jo said…
Anna, yes, I think it is so much easier to forge community ties where we need each other, and I think that is probably the one stand out advantage of growing up poor. In middle class suburbia it is all too easy to buy your way out of problems, which means everyone can be independent, but those webs of community never get built, and then where are you on the day you have a problem you can't buy your way out of?

And you are right, family is good, but there is safety in numbers, isn't there? Also, here on our little island, our children tend to grow up and move away for study and work. I hope they will move back one day, but in the meantime us oldies left behind all have to stick together to provide support for each other:)

Yes, I am so glad Paul and the wine came through that experience more or less intact..
Deborah said…
Jo, you've hit the nail on the head AGAIN! My mother's dear friend, who was 95, hit the accelerator instead of the brake last Sunday leaving church and had a dreadful accident. She never regained consciousness but her death has shattered my mother. Her friends, neighbours, minister and other church friends have rung her, visited her, fed her and taken her flowers, knowing what dear friends they were and understanding her loss. She is a wonderful friend to so many people and I feel so reassured by the way they have rallied around her.

I'm sure this is what will happen for your lovely friend, too, and you will valued just as much from caring for him as he will from your help.
Wishing you both all the best!

Jo said…
Deborah, life changes so quickly, doesn't it? I am so glad your mum has such a supportive community around her. It makes all the difference, I am sure, to our health and well-being, to know that there are people who are looking out for us. Also, I am always impressed by the care shown by my parents' generation, with cards and meals and practical support. We could learn something from that in the midst of our busy lives..
Anonymous said…
Pics of Paul? We'd love to see you both
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Some people do indeed bounce! Glad to read that your man was safe from the accident. Cars are dangerous things.

I wonder about the community issue too. If it means anything to you, I suspect that work falls to those who are already busy! Down the track I'll have to get a local food network going or something like that. Firstly, there are major infrastructure projects to do and I have to increase the diversity of plants grown.

Jo said…
Anon, hmmm, will contemplate that request..

Chris, I am thinking of community on a much more simple and direct level, that of one to one friendships with neighbours and people who we cross paths with. A web of reciprocal favours and kindnesses leads to friendship leads to people we can rely on. Groups can be good and useful, but not as useful as the friendships formed within a group, in my experience..

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