Archive for June, 2014

Out of the ashes

June 30th, 2014 | no comments

sunflowerI saw a beautiful aerial image on Facebook of the National Arboretum in Canberra. This place of research, education and recreation has become one of the most gorgeous vantage points in the city, and is popular now for weddings and other happy events, and for families and running groups and tourists.

In January 2003 a firestorm ripped right through the same place, causing mass devastation of the forests and the loss nearby of nearly 500 homes and four lives. Out of the ashes grew something remarkable.

Yesterday, I dropped four excited teenagers into the city wearing onesies and tutus and covered in sunflowers. They were oblivious to the 4-degree chill and the snow on the Brindabellas and the stares of Sunday morning shoppers because they were single-mindedly there to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation in the Sunflower Dash.

One of the four is about two months in to fighting the disease, and her resilience and optimism reminded me of the arboretum image … because out of the grimness, or the ashes—and despite the ferocity of the chemo—I see a fifteen-year-old who is flourishing. A girl who said on her Instagram account: “I know the work the Foundation are doing definitely does bring even the littlest bit of sunshine and ease to not just my life but my family’s as well. They truly are a wonderful foundation that I and many others are very grateful for!”

What struck me during the journey into town, when I glanced in the rear-view mirror, was that the others were nose-down into their phones. She was the only one looking out the window, even though it was a bleak day, and she’s been there a thousand times before. Because out of the ashes of her disease you can see a new-found appreciation for, well, everything. You can see the illness shaping the woman she will become, almost in front of your eyes.

A friend lost her job this week. She was devastated, because the policy work that she does is in a vital area for families. It’s hard for her to see now that there is any kind of silver lining, but the regrowth will come. It almost always does.

Other friends learnt on the weekend that their dad had suffered a serious accident and has broken his neck. Metaphorically, he’s now where the forest was when the fire hit. He’s where our friend was when she received her cancer diagnosis. He’s where my friend was when she lost her job, though worse.

He’s in the middle of the fire, and once that fire recedes and the ashes cease to glow hot red, the greenery will sprout again. It will sprout again no matter what the outcome is, even if the outcome means a very different kind of life.

We are designed to withstand some “burning” in our lives. See the front cover of this month’s Women’s Weekly if you need convincing. The flames may not always be physical, but they hurt us nonetheless. They scar us.

Afterwards we re-build. We look out the window. We do what we can to help other people. We end up somewhere different from where we imagined. And there, if we look for them, we will find sunflowers.


In with the cool kids

June 15th, 2014 | no comments

1131820On Saturday night, I posted a link to this article on my personal Facebook page. It referenced a small study on what happens to the ‘popular kids’ after high school. As a mum, it made me not want my kids to find themselves in that group. One finding was that, by the age of 22, the former cool kids are perceived as being less competent at managing their relationships or getting along with friends.

That’s not cool, people! That stuff is central to surviving life.

The conversation that followed the posting of this article was enlightening. Forty-year-old women related such gems as having been picked on and unkindly impersonated by the ‘cool kids’. AT THE SCHOOL REUNION. One claimed not to have been ‘successful’ in life in the same breath as saying she now has great compassion for the girls who once teased or ignored her.

Um… if that isn’t success—if that isn’t the epitome of ‘cool’—I don’t know what is. As comment after comment tumbled underneath the article, I sat back and realised just how immensely cool my friends really are. And what ‘cool’ really is.

Our 20-year reunion a few years ago was populated almost exclusively by grown-ups who had done some really fab things, had been way off the mark on others, tripped, stumbled, staggered up and were still trying to figure life out with grace, vulnerability and openness.

And then there was a handful of people who behaved exclusively on the night—ignoring everyone else in the room the way they always had. They’d experienced exactly the same mixed bag in life—the same private struggles—but hid this behind a facade of cool as washed out as their vintage 80s denim jeans. I know this, because I dragged up a chair at the self-appointed ‘cool table’ and communed with them for a few minutes.

You know those scenes in movies where someone is attempting to sneak around a hotel foyer undetected, so they grab a pot plant and move around behind it, fooling no-one? That’s what it was like at that table. Underneath all the pretence of superiority lurked real people with messy lives, too scared to expose themselves.

I wondered, ‘were you the one who stole my friend’s wallet and flushed it in the toilet leaving her stranded with no bus card or money for a phone call home? Were you the one who bullied and ignored the girl who spent every lunchtime in the library?’

Because if so—that’s pretty sad. Author Dan Pearce says, “people who love themselves don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” Ignoring or teasing people at the school reunion screams ‘look at moi! I’m stuck in high school’. To be clinging to a two-decade-old feeling of power and superiority in middle age is pretty much the last thing you’d want to have written about you as a prediction in the Year 12 yearbook, yet there were people who seemed to be desperately grasping onto it.

I had a warm, wonderful, supportive, communicative family. I have a friendship support network as rock solid as the earth on which we stand. As a teenager, I felt loved and valued (and embarrassed, every so often by that close family). I felt like the people who mattered most were interested in me. I felt ‘enough’, no matter what happened.

I never felt like I had to impress. I still don’t. I could do nothing for the rest of my life and I would feel secure in the love around me. I’d feel whole.

External validation is nice, but it’s not essential, provided you’re grounded in ‘enough’. In writing this article, I’ve realised just how fortunate I am that I didn’t have to worry about all that other stuff then, or for the twenty years since then. I’ve found some of that compassion that my friend models so beautifully for the ‘Mean Girls’.

One of my daughters is, as you know, supporting her best friend with leukaemia. The other just came to me, at thirteen, with her Instagram account open at three posts from friends about the unexpected loss of another friend… asking me what I thought.

What I think is this: Life is short. Life is meant to be meaningful. It can’t be meaningful without being 100% yourself, no matter what that looks like, or who’s watching.

It’s about being cool. Really cool. The kind of cool that doesn’t care what people think and lasts beyond twenty-two …