A word from Mum

A message from Mother Earth. Quite frankly, children, I am appalled at your behaviour. I want you all to pack up your toys and go straight to your rooms. You can come back out when you can play nicely together. Don’t give me any back-chat or, so help me, you’ll really be in for it when your father gets home.

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Handicapped?

When I was still in primary school (grade school for my American friends) my father had resigned from his job. They were promoting younger men above him and he’d finally had enough. He was without work for, I think, about a year and in those days without the dole  we did it tough. It must have been incredibly stressful for my parents with four young daughters to provide for. I know they sold most of their “treasures” and we ate a lot of spinach and rhubarb because they were the most successful plants in the garden. I can also remember trips into the hills to find mushrooms and blackberries. I thought of those trips as a fun outing but now I realise they were a bit more significant. Eventually Dad was given a job by an old friend (now long deceased, as is Dad). His friend was a freelance journalist who worked for a number of trade magazines; particularly in the areas of wine, shoes, toys and sporting goods. Dad did all the research, escorted overseas visitors around the vineyards, ran the wine tastings, attended the trade fairs, interviewed the manufacturers and wrote up the copy. He was paid a basic salary but there was no long-service leave, no sick leave, no holiday loading, no bonuses and no superannuation. We all thought it wasn’t completely fair but Dad wouldn’t hear a bad word about his friend. What I didn’t know was that he’d been told, some time in his working life, that he was lucky to get a job at all because of his handicap. Dad was deaf. First of all, I was shocked that anyone would think like that. I know that people with physical and mental challenges still struggle to gain employment but, these days, there are also a number of groups that support them and help them find work. Also, I think – I hope – that society’s attitude has changed, or is changing. But, what shocked me even more was that people thought my Dad was “handicapped”. I never thought of him in that way. He was just Dad. He did the same sorts of things that my friends’ fathers did. Okay, before he got his really good hearing aids, you could say stuff behind his back and get away with it. And, if you wanted to complain to one of your sisters, you kept your head down so that he couldn’t read your lips. You also had to be quiet when the radio or television was on because he couldn’t process a lot of different sounds at the same time. But, when I was young it never occurred to me that Dad’s touchiness was about noise levels spiking through his hearing aid. I just thought it was Dad being bossy. He never said it was because of his hearing problems. Dad lived as though he wasn’t disabled and, therefore, he wasn’t. His attitude was that, if you have trouble doing anything, either find a new way of tackling the issue (he played the violin beautifully) or find something else to do instead that you enjoy just as much. He didn’t believe in throwing a pity party and watching life from the sidelines. You know, I think whoever told Dad he should be grateful to have any kind of job because he was “handicapped”, and all the other people who looked down at him and were mean-spirited towards him, were far more “handicapped” than he ever was....

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Suicide isn’t painless

‘Cause suicide is painless. It brings on many changes. And I can take or leave it if I please.’ J. Mandel, “Suicide is Painless: theme for TV show, MASH. I wasn’t going to jump on the Robin Williams’ bandwagon but then I figured, why not? Like millions of other people, I felt as though I knew the man. I saw him first as Mork, the lovely, whimsical alien. Then, over the years there were his many wonderful movies: Mrs Doubtfire; Dead Poets Society;  Good Will Hunting; Jumanji; Hook; Bi-Centennial Man; Good Morning Vietnam; Patch Adams; Aladdin and The Birdcage. And they’re just the ones I’ve seen. Then there were his numerous appearances on television, many of which you can re-watch on YouTube. I particularly loved an episode of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”. I laughed so hard I had tears spurting out of my eyes. And, of course, there were his Adults Only stand-up routines. I only saw one once on late night television (he used even more colourful language than Billy Connolly) but, apart from the blue language haze, it was riotously manic and face-achingly brilliant. Somehow, because of all the joy he brought to the world, this makes his struggle with depression all the more tragic. We can’t believe that someone who took such delight in the world and in people, would succumb to this illness. Why would he do it? How could he do it? More importantly, what could we have done to prevent it? Suicide isn’t painless. Oh, the mode of death might be painless for the victim, but for those who are left behind it’s a painful, hideous nightmare. My brother-in-law committed suicide many years ago. Even I, his much younger sister-in-law living half the country away from him, was plagued with the constant thought of, “What could I have done to stop this?” His wife, my sister, had three little kids under five years of age and her fourth due in a couple of months time. It took her years to come to terms with what happened. It had a lasting effect on her poor, sweet, confused children, including the one not yet born. I think it’s one of the hardest deaths to deal with because of the horrendous, “if onlys”. So, I pray for Mr Williams’s wife and children and extended family who will be in pain for a long time to come. Could he have chosen to live? Maybe. That’s as close to a definitive answer that anyone can give. I’ve experienced bouts of depression (nowhere near as deep or profound as Mr Williams) but there was only once that I seriously considered suicide. It was the memory of my brother-in-law’s death and the effect on his family, that stopped me. At the time I, too, had young children and I didn’t want to put them through that. I’m glad I stayed. Things gradually got better. Depression is like living in a deep, dark hole. If it’s not too deep you can eventually pull yourself back out. The deeper the hole, the more difficult it is. You need a ladder in your back pocket. You need a friend with a ladder at the top of the hole. You need the strength to look up. Because the world is full of deep, dark holes, everyone should carry a spare ladder (love, joy and hope are its rungs) just in case. I look forward to the day when as much research is put into curing mental illness, including depression, as it is into cancer. I’ve got a vested interest in both those illnesses. Meanwhile, goodbye Mr Robin Williams. Thank you for the wonderful, hilarious, poignant, delightful memories....

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Be of good cheer

I’m sitting here staring at the computer screen, trying to think of something “light” to write about…or something “inspirational”…or “encouraging”… Oh, you know what I mean. I tell myself that as an author I should be writing something “literary”: a review, perhaps, or the latest news about my book (talking with a publisher about getting into print) or, at the least, something artistic. However, my mind keeps going to dark places. I keep thinking of ISIS beheading people, including children (children!), simply because they’d rather not convert to Islam, thanks all the same. I think of the small group of Yazidi hiding out on top of a mountain dying of starvation and dehydration rather than abandon their faith. If they go back down the mountain they will be beheaded. If they stay on the mountain they’ll die a slow, painful death. I think of the Christians in Mosul told to convert, leave or die. Then I go on facebook and see some of the ridiculous, thoughtless, rednecky stuff that some Bible-basher (with a Bible in one hand and a semi-automatic in the other) in the deep south of America thinks is “inspirational”, when it’s often just another form of hate-mongering, and I think, “Gee, I bet those Iraqi Christians would love to see this. I’m sure it’d help them make it through another night.” Here in the safety of a western democracy founded on Christian principles, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion, the worst I can suffer for being a follower of Jesus is the ridicule and scorn of my atheist friends. Being compared to a mentally-challenged goat-herder is certainly interesting, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. I’m slightly encouraged that some moderate Muslims are condemning the actions of ISIS but I can see why my non-believing friends think that religion is the source of all evil in the world. Jesus called the religious people of his day “whitened sepulchres” = fancied-up tombs that look pretty on the outside but contain nothing but death and decay on the inside. (I bet he hates it that some – ok, many – have turned following Jesus into a religion, too.) But, I have to admit, his teaching that we should love our enemies and bless those who persecute us, and to turn the other cheek rather than take revenge, is an extremely difficult thing to do. Particularly when they’re wielding a sword, or a machete, or a semi-automatic rifle. Darn. I knew I should have persevered and found something “light” to write about. Did I tell you I’m in the process of getting my e-book into a print version?...

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Dwarves are real

I remember, quite clearly, the day I knew that magic, fairy tales and fairy creatures were real. I was 5 years old and my mother took me to see a stage production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It must have been a birthday present (my birthday is at the end of November) as there was a distinct “Christmassy” feel to the production. It was colourful, fun and exciting, but quite “normal” as far as I could tell, until that moment. First, we heard them singing off-stage: Hi ho! Hi ho!… And then, onto the stage marched a line of dwarves: real, in-the-flesh-not-men-on-their-knees, dwarves! DWARVES! It was a life-changing moment. I figured that if dwarves were real – they actually existed – then so must giants (they do), and fairies (not seen one yet but still looking) and pixies (there are definitely “little people” in this world) and dragons and everything! It’s logical, isn’t it? As I got older I learned that a lot of myths and legends are based on facts. For example: Heinrich Schliemann discovered the site of Troy, using the stories of Homer as both inspiration and guide. Of course, the memory of that great city had been embroidered, stretched and dramatised by Homer (an ancient writer, heavily into verse novels) but the foundation of his tales was true. Schliemann achieved great things because he read those stories and thought, I wonder if…? And that thought is the beginning of any scientific research. Science and mathematics are important but they only achieve great heights when combined with a mind that allows itself to wonder. So, if people give you a hard time because you like reading fantasy literature (and watching fantastic movies) just smile enigmatically and say: What a shame you’ve lost the ability to wonder. It’s rather unscientific of you. Don’t forget: dwarves are real....

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