an unreliable truth

As our country’s elections unfolded recently I witnessed vitriolic glee as one side attacked the other genuinely believing their position to be right and true. It got me wondering how such opposing ideologies can simultaneously exist?

The focus of each party's policies (in many cases) were framed by how they would benefit the individual and their nuclear family. This paradigm of individual gain over our wider society's welfare seems to go largely unquestioned (and as a friend laments, ‘is the neo-liberal agenda’). Where is the call to our higher selves; to think not of our own direct and immediate benefit but to make sacrifices for the betterment of future generations; for the health of our planet; for the care of our neighbour? Humanity has a great capacity for altruism but too often our governments are grooming their citizens’ basest motivations.

All faiths espouse generosity and compassion as a fundamental tenet but more often than not these fail to be reflected in the electoral outcomes that influence the provision of resources. JFK’s famous words, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” seem too corny for today's cynical world but would be an interesting reframe of the lolly scramble that is current politics. Individual security, fear of change and patriarchal bias has translated in the polling booth to a quick tick for our personal advantage and what is familiar. But these short-sighted gains ultimately cost us. Inequality degrades hope and creates outsiders who have no motivation to abide by the laws of a society that has excluded them through entrenched poverty, inadequate housing and under resourced education/health systems and which continue abuses resulting from the effects of marginalisation and a core sense of unworthiness. These costs are not only fiscal but I believe spiritual for when we withhold the resources to help those in need our hearts do not believe our minds reasoning.

The stumbling block to changing people’s minds are the filters of influence and experience that cloud what we consciously and unconsciously allow ourselves to see. I experienced this recently as I tried to locate an unknown fellow student I’d been assigned to work with - she was late, lost and hadn’t contributed to the work. As I waited I noticed my irritation rising. When we eventually met my irritation was replaced by humour and openness as I realised ‘Nan’ the young Asian woman I was expecting, was in fact ‘Nan’ a young Asian man. I’d been attributing thoughts of selfishness and disrespect to this woman’s lateness. When I saw ‘she’ was in fact a ‘he’ my judgements relaxed and become, ‘he’s a guy’, young guys are disorganised, it’s not personal’. Neither story was fair or accurate and it was disturbing and revealing to see the biases and expectations I impose on my view of gender, situations and reality. Likewise in our society and media we seem willing to give certain people a pass and hold others to unreasonably high standards. It calls into question the veracity of the beliefs we hold so fiercely and our ability to see anything clearly.

Is there are a way to check the reliability of my own truth? The writer Elizabeth Gilbert suggested in a podcast to “test everything against love". If my idea of truth is in any way defensive, attacking, unkind, self-serving, aggressive, grasping and so on, then likely I’m coming from my head and its disguising stories of fear and protection. If there is warmth, open-heartedness, generosity, maybe vulnerability, maybe discomfort even, then likely love is in the house and truth will follow (or at least compassion). Perhaps as was told to ‘The Little Prince’,  “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”.


one of those days

Some days I wake in the shadow of a dream
eyelids slow and weighted by ghosts
that crowd the corridors of my day
hanging in the eaves, hiding in doorways –
the dead bodies, sharks and prisons of sleep.

On these days
I'm better left alone -
people have a tendency to look like sharks.
Then I can’t accuse you of
yawning too loudly or
get annoyed
by the peppercorn still stuck between your teeth or
feel selfish for taking the bigger cup.

On these days
I eat chips and cheese and they incite
no defence and only a little retaliation
but then you go and love me anyway
and more often than I deserve –
It puts me on my knees.

Like the times we part
when the prospect of leaving
shaves off the lonely shelters
spinning appreciation to a fine point
filling my heart with the kindness of you.


come on, come on

Sometimes Mum will say, ‘you know you don’t have to call me every day’
but on the days I don’t she calls me.
She talks of baking, friends, church, weather, gardening, frustrations, family
and funerals

then asks about my day which quickly blurs
as I recount bland descriptions
like communion wafers that stick to the tongue before
being judged jokingly as too much, too little or ‘nice for some’.

How to say I am reworking the pattern of my life, 
tying new stitches and weaving different pathways; 
or that I’ve been reflecting on the shape of hearts;
doing the laundry and naming the day.

Mum puts out a towel and flannel when I stay.
On the bedside table are flowers from her garden
artfully arranged in a teardrop vase –
roses, maidenhair fern, daphne and violets;
the flannel is never used
but these are her rituals of love and welcome.

How might we know one another
were we not immeasurably bound.
In her friends reflected gaze is a cheerful, well-groomed woman -
much younger than her eighty plus years,
always on her way somewhere to do something.
‘come on, come on’ she says
and her friends seem glad to be swept along.

One day Mum said, ‘you know I love you don’t you – when I grew up
we didn’t say things like that’.
Her goodbye hugs, whether for weeks or hours, start from ten paces back
her arms flung wide for a hearty embrace.
Now when we hang up Mum says swiftly ‘I love you’
like a last incantation when all goodbyes
are redolent with the possibility of forever.


How to survive a gunfight

Someone looks at you funny, makes a joke at your expense, parks in your car space; victim or perpetrator we are one another’s surrogates reenacting our fears and fictions. And despite a ledger full of careful credit there will be days you feel uninvited; when the arrivals and departures of other people’s lives leave you in the waiting room unseen. And despite your careful curation you will still be typecast in someone else’s dream. So when the guns are blazing, move away and remember; defence is it’s own attack; everyone thinks they’re the good guy – and they are when you see it from their side; if you’re wounded, give it your full attention because the only way out is through the feeling (wine helps but crying is better); think bigger – everyone is doing their best. In the end it comes down to this; am I loved? More precisely – can I love myself? When that is true, the ledger is for-giving and survival becomes living.