Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Humanity

As mentioned last time, I've recently been on holiday. And joy of joys I was camping along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria aka my happy place. Lot's of hikes, gorgeous weather, stunning scenery, a visit to a seal colony - what more could a girl ask for. Oh yes, did I mention some good coffee, better cakes and many a beer in the beer garden. Like I said - it was a cracker of a break. My batteries were officially recharged.

We had chosen to return home on saturday. The weather reports were threatening an extreme temperature, but we'd recently had a whole weeks worth of 40 plus degrees. More of the same, we thought. As we drove along the freeway towards Melbourne, the wind was a fierce northerly. It was so hot and had picked up much top soil making the air hazy. I said to my boyfriend how much it reminded me of Ash Wednesday. I was 13 then, and it seemed terrifying that so much of the State was on fire. There had been stories of the fire making its way to the beach, and the heat of the flames had turned the sand into glass! I was always amazed by that thought. I felt really unsettled and discovered that my flight or fight response is heavily weighted to 'flight'.

As we got closer to home, we turned on the radio. The news updates began and stories of the fires came rolling one after the other. I could hardly fathom the heat I was experiencing in suburbia. What was going on? As we watched the evening news, I couldn't believe some of what I saw. As the days progressed the complete and utter horror of what had occurred came to light. Whole towns burnt to the ground and turned into crime scenes. Homes, livestock, native animals, pets and people were lost. People died in their cars trying to escape, and they died in their homes trying to defend everything they owned. I, like so many others, were left speechless. And worse still, the fires kept burning, and suggestions of arson arose.

But slowly, reports of amazing escapes, immense bravery and good luck began to fill the news. Then the reports of fund raising to help the survivors rebuild their lives. Donations rolled in from across the State and Country. Clothing, toiletries, caravans, food for pets and livestock. It all kept coming. By the one week anniversary of the fire 100 million dollars had been raised. In this time of global financial crisis people gave and gave and gave. Queensland had extreme floods, and the victims gave their emergency money to the victims of the fires.  I feel like I've cried every day since those fires, as the variety of stories come to light.

What it makes me think of though, is the very real feeling of humanity.  It makes me think of other news stories from modern times.  In many ways they feel like yesterday and in other ways, like a bad dream that time is slowly erasing.  I remember how I felt on September 11 2001. Disbelief.  Then footage of people jumping from the twin towers.  Incomprehension.  Footage of hostages being beheaded.  Numbness.  When I think back to that period in recent history, the Dinosaur Jr song 'Feel the Pain' always floats through my head.  'I feel the pain of everyone, and then I feel nothing'.  The unthinkable was happening everyday and it felt very much like something inside me broke.  It was too hard to comprehend and everyone was terrified.  Sadness or anguish does not explain it.

I am pleased, in a way, that I have cried every day about the fires.  It means that the numbness has gone.  However I wonder if I am able to, as a natural disaster seems quite different to the grief you feel when the horror is man made.  I am unable to this day (and I assume all my life) to understand how some people can hold another human being down and cut their head off, just to make a point.  Even writing that takes me back to a very sad place - as there's a recording of it in my mind.

I know arson has been suggested as one of the causes of some of the fires from that day.  But perhaps as there are options to contribute to the rebuilding, and memorials held for those who were lost there is a direction for our collective feelings to go.  There has been an amazing feeling of community throughout Australia and that reminds me that the power of humanity is amazing.  Unlike those other terrifying recent events where I felt alone and scared.  Together people will heal and I hope we all keep giving and giving and giving.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Making friends and influencing people

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks, as I’ve not been near a computer. I’ve had a lovely holiday, but more about that next post. I’ve just done something, which kind of seems quite silly and bizarre. I’ve enrolled in Uni via Distance Ed. I was talked into it by one of my bosses. And even now that I am on the verge of beginning my study, I’m still wondering exactly what I’m doing. It came as an even bigger shock to find that I had to GO to Uni for a few days to attend residential school. Call me crazy – but I thought that it was called ‘distance’ education because you did it at some distance from the institution you had enrolled in. Silly me!

So off I went, interstate to live on campus for a few days and find out what I’d gotten myself into. In reality I was terrified. Not only nervous of making all the right connections with trains and buses, but I’d be staying with strangers. Hmm…it’s time to admit something. Even at the ripe old age of 38, I was anxious about the social side of enforced confinement with unknown people. I had prepared myself to be self-sufficient and not really talk to anyone for the four days. I had a good book, some music and was having flash backs of high school. I imagined myself sitting alone to one side, hiding behind my fringe and just observing those around me.

Shyness, as I’ve mentioned before, still looms large. I may be older, but I can find meeting new people simply excruciating. After a four and a half hour train ride, I catch a bus onto campus. There are many other students from Melbourne with me, and we wait while the Sydney train arrives. Once we are delivered to our residential drop off, we individually line up for the key to our new home for the next few days. Off I trundle in the scorching heat, suitcase rolling behind me, to find my cabin. There would be seven others allocated to the same cabin. I take a deep breath and open the front door.

Now this is where life gets strange. There were already two people inside. And slowly over the next hour, the others arrived. We ranged widely in age, and came from all over Australia (1 WA, 1 QLD, 1 ACT, 3 NSW and myself and one other from Victoria). The most surprising thing of all, was that everyone was wonderful. As the days went on we worked on a theory that perhaps some genetic sample was taken from our applications and they had brought like-minded people together. As we attended lectures and saw some of the other students, we began to be more thankful for our fateful grouping. Yes, there were a few people that I did think were likely to inspire some mob mentality, and a public lynching or two. As in real life – some people are just fuckwits!

There was much laughter shared in our cabin, and conspiratorial whispers during lectures. We were supposed to find other students from our own state, and see who lived closest to us, in the hope of creating a study group. Even though we are spread out across many states, we were happy in our little crew. We had formed our own study group. It was more than simple Stockholm syndrome – these people were honestly lovely, and I thank them for making the four days in extreme heat, a long way from home, an experience to remember.

However, even stranger than just hitting it off with these people, was the fact that I think I have made a really good friend. The other person from Victoria was a guy named Peter. I don’t quite now how to explain this. Within minutes of meeting him, we were laughing at the same things. We would stare across the room, grinning at the same joke that no-one else seemed to get. By the second day, Peter said he’d like to take me home to meet his parents so they could officially adopt me. By the third day, it was beyond siblings, and oddly within a few hours, we had both been told separately that our cynicism and humour were like Judith Lucy. The Two Judiths. Were we actually the male and female forms of each other? On the forth day, I began to wonder if we spent more time together, would we actually morf into one person? A sarcastic, coffee loving, self-depreciating hermaphrodite with four legs? Was it possible?

What this reminds me, is that I’m very lucky. I don’t have an enormous amount of friends, but I have an amazing bunch of really great friends. In the last couple of years I have also made friends with a colleague. She’s much younger than me, and I’m lucky in that we have the type of relationship where we can be completely open. We have told each others things we don’t tell other people. She’s challenging and inspiring and just gets me completely. I adore you Nej.

My oldest and dearest friend Denise, once said how wonderful it is to have a ‘new friend crush’. I think that sums up what I’m feeling at the moment. It’s amazing to make that connection with people. There are times when life does seem like a Seinfeld episode and that we already have enough friends. But occasionally, along comes someone new who you wonder how you ever survived without them before.

I have wondered what it is that is so special about true friendships. I have often pondered how it is we appear to other people. How you feel on the inside is never the same as how others see you. Is it that through these friendships we see part of ourselves reflected back? And perhaps if we’re lucky, we might see something we like.

A salute to you my dear friends, old and new.