A burning state

smoky sunset
The sunset from our house the other night. No filter at all. Just a pink, smoky sky.

I have things to say. I have a blog post that’s been percolating in my brain for the whole weekend. But it all feels a bit ridiculous to pontificate about my delicate emotional state when I know that there are bushfires burning all over the state, houses and properties at risk, and people evacuating left, right, and centre.

It has been a dry summer here. The days have been gorgeous. For the most part we have had weather that is just right – not too hot, not too cold. And I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve gone for swims (yes, multiple swims) even though the water is still reasonably cool. I’ve worn shorts and T-shirts and sandals and sat out on the balcony with cool drinks and really done the summer thing.

It’s been beautiful.

But the weeks have gone on and we’ve had no rain to speak of, and the fire that started in the wilderness has not stopped burning despite the best efforts of our fire fighters.

And then we had that thunderstorm. The amazing lightning that just kept going and going. Again, no rain, just lightning and thunder. It was incredible to watch. I hadn’t seen anything like it here in Tasmania before. It was like our own fireworks show. The beauty of nature.

But the beauty came at a cost. Dry lightning plus dry bushland equals fire. And we have a lot of it now.

The fire front is now over 1000 km. The fire fighters are fighting 72 fires. The smoke swirls around our house, then the wind changes and the skies clear up, but the fires are still there.

The fire fighters are doing an incredible job. There has been no loss of life so far, and only one property has been burned, to the best of my knowledge. Our house is very unlikely to be affected, though others have been evacuated at different times.

I usually tell visitors to this state that summer doesn’t really start here until February, when the kids go back to school. So there’s a long way to go before we’ll get milder weather to help get the fires under control.

I am praying for the fire fighters, praying for unseasonal rain to come on our land, praying for those evacuating and those with properties at risk. It’s so real, it’s so close.

One of the things about the internet is that we are always aware of these real tragedies happening. I mean, there are fires here, yes, but there’s also that dam that burst in Brazil, and the fuel line that exploded in Mexico, and on, and on. There are tragedies everywhere, all over the world.

Does this mean that we don’t explore the more nebulous things? That we stop thinking about reaching our dreams and just live in a constant state of grief over the state of the world?

I think this is another one of those things where there has to be balance. Or rather, not balance, but rhythm. Some days it is good to concentrate on our families, our dreams, our work, the things that bring us joy. Some days we need to spend in grief, in prayer, and in sacrifice to help out those who are suffering. It’s another seesaw. Up and down. We need both.

And for me today, the seesaw is coming down on the side of concern and prayer for those who are involved in this bushfire. Next week you might get the post about the perils of success that is wandering around the back of my brain right now.

Stay safe everyone, wherever you are, and especially if you are anywhere near the fires.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Advertisements

Unintended Seasons

Universe says no

You might be saying, ‘Ok Ruth, that’s all well and good, but I had plans, good plans, and I’ve put aside time to follow them, and I’m going fine down the road and I’ve just hit a massive road block. What now?’

What happens when life says no to you? When you’ve done all the right things, followed all the steps for success, held on until the season seemed right, gone for it, and then…BAM. When the amount of flexibility you need to deal with what life throws at you is about the same as a roller-skater going under the limbo pole that’s 10 cm off the ground?

I haven’t really gone through this myself, but you might be able to take some tips from what my mother has gone through.

My mother is a concert pianist. As kids we took it for granted. Didn’t everyone go and watch their mother perform? Hadn’t everyone’s mother been recorded and played on ABC radio? No, of course not, we knew that, but it takes a while for kids to appreciate how special their own mother’s talent is, I think. I found out recently that at 15 years of age my mum won a concerto contest and played a movement of Beethoven’s first piano concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me, and there were many more triumphs to follow.

Mum’s playing sometimes took a front seat, like when she and Dad moved to the USA for ten years to work with the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship, and sometimes it took more of a back seat, like when she was raising us kids. It was always a joint decision between Mum and Dad as to which direction they took their lives.

But some years ago now, when Mum and Dad were in the USA, they noticed an increased stiffness and weakness in Mum’s right arm and hand. It didn’t go away so they came back to Australia to start looking into medical options. Mum was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

It was really frustrating for her. She could still play beautifully and better than most people, but she couldn’t play to the standard that she wanted to. The concerts and recordings were taken away from her and it definitely wasn’t her choice.

Sometimes seasons change for us and we don’t want them to at all. But we still have a choice as to how we deal with that situation.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to grieve when you have something like that ripped away from you. It’s not fair, and it’s definitely not fun.

But, well, I’ll show you what Mum did.

She changed her focus. She still played piano but she chose to use this moment to focus on another part of music that was very close to her heart – choral work.

At the moment Mum leads two choral groups and is part of a third. One choir leads the singing at the church where she is music minister, one choir performs in old people’s homes and regional festivals and all sorts of places, one choir does more semi-professional oratorio works. Mum is still surrounded by music and still giving so much to the people around her.

Sometimes life says no to you. The trick seems to be finding the new thing in the new season that can give you life and fulfilment. Being grateful for what you still have (no matter how small) and being able to reach out to others through that.

I have another friend Mandy who has been crippled with chronic fatigue. She is unable to work, unable to do anything most days but sit in the garden and occasionally walk to the end of her driveway. But somehow she still manages to post little tidbits and photos on Facebook that enrich the lives of those of us who read them.

Nobody wants these seasons. They are no fun. They are not what we planned and not what we’d do if we were in charge. If you are going through something like this I am so sorry.

I hope that you can find a spark to help you through it, maybe a change of plan, maybe a little joy that you can give to others, or maybe there’s another way of coping that I don’t know about – feel free to post in the comments if you have wisdom to share. I hope that I can remember some of this (or that someone will gently remind me) if I become the one stuck in the roadblock.

We have a special treat today – Mandy has given me two of her poems about this roadblock stage in her life to share with you.

So This – Lot’s Wife.
By Mandy Langlois

Like Lot’s wife I stand
Petrified
For an eternity
Looking back at the destruction
Wondering at the enormity of the loss
Caught between what was what is and what might have been…

So this is what it feels like to be
Turned to a pillar of salt.

The sharp sting of it.

The cruel toxic cut
searing the soul’s tongue with acid intent.

Crammed in, rammed in
Enshrined
Entombed
Buried alive

Captured, caught
Mortified, fossilised, immortalised…
A moment becomes a day,
Becomes a year
Becomes eternity.

Night Vision
by Mandy Langlois

Give me night vision,
let me sing in the dark.
When my eyes are closed,
let me sense light beyond my own limitations.

Let hope lead me and be my guide,
even when fear is my companion.
Let me know there is a path leading to a place of peace.
Let me find my way to believe again.        

The night bird is singing alone in the dark,
her song is a melody of life,
of strength
and of beauty.

If you want to read more of Mandy’s work, her Facebook page is called Mandy’s Book Nook. As always, I encourage you to sign up on WordPress to get this blog delivered to your email inbox, or to drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com to get my regular writerly email. And again, the wonderful artwork for these posts is from @deteor42 on instagram. 

Death at the high school

Oh it sounds like I’m introducing you to my first novel! I’m not. That one’s still a little ways off yet.

Instead I want to tell you of a tragedy that occurred recently at my son’s high school. Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit ‘tongue in cheek’ – just a little over dramatic. Alright, seeing as you’re pushing me, the story is about a goldfish.

Here’s how it went down:

In the tech class two of the students were making interesting goldfish bowls. They decided that it would be fun to buy a class goldfish and keep it in the common room. They used the goldfish bowl made from a gum ball machine and hence the fish was named ‘Gummy’.

The year 12 class became quite attached to little Gummy. They decided that if he survived to the end of the year he would some how be part of the Thanksgiving Service – the graduation ceremony for the grade 12s.

Then one day, things went wrong!

DH (a teacher at that self same school) was on playground duty when a student raced up to him, ‘I need the key to the store room! We need the other fish tank!’

The gum ball fish tank had struck a leak and poor Gummy’s life was in danger!

Fortunately, DH had the key to the store room and the crisis was averted. The new fish tank was installed and Gummy was installed in the new fish tank, with no loss of health (as far as we know).

Life went on as usual, homework was completed, games of werewolf were noisily played around Gummy’s new home. Students sat and poured out their troubles to his open ears. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating there.

But last Monday, when the students arrived back at school after the weekend, the tragedy had occurred. Gummy was no more.

What were they to do? How to commemorate their little friend?

Now this part I’m not making up. These were actually the suggestions made by students for Gummy’s funeral:

  • Cremate him in the microwave.
  • Cook him in the toasted sandwich maker.
  • And, (get this), make fish soup and pass around the cup so that everyone can have a sip! Yuck!!

But sense prevailed.

One of the students made a tiny black coffin in his free lessons and Gummy was buried in the flower garden with full honours. Two students gave eulogies (I wish I was there to hear what they said) and then each person attending the funeral put a tiny pinch of dirt onto the tiny teensy coffin in the teeny weeny grave. Gummy was gone, but he wouldn’t be forgotten.

Unfortunately, as far as we know, no-one had taken any photos of the little fish, so there’s no way that a memorial can be published in the school magazine.

I tell you something though – these students heal fast! Yesterday DS told me that there were now two new goldfish swimming in the little tank. They’ve been named Jaws, and Bear Gills, and we shall see whether they will make it to the end of the year, to graduation, and maybe even into the school magazine.