Tuesday, October 18, 2016

No time

The wind blows
I have a second thought
but it's not a thought
It's a guidance
rising from the deepest place.

Gravity becomes magnetism
and it draws me into reality
In reality, questions seem rare
but living in the question
that is where I find myself

And that is where I find you
And that is where we find us,
where we just

(from Dreamtime Walkabout, Girraween)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reading the Nauru Files

Passing the Nauru Files to Cr
Jonathan Sri. 
Being an Australian living at this time, the issue of human rights abuses of asylum seekers and refugees becomes increasingly woven into the fabric of my life from day to day.

This day, I responded with my voice. I was one of scores of people in Brisbane who gathered outside the Federal Immigration Department to take turns reading directly from the Nauru Files in a rolling action that is lasting 10 hours. It follows the 10-hour reading vigil at Australia House in London last week, and is among vigils being enacted at a different city across Australia each day this week.

I arrived at the Immigration Department a little before my reading shift to get a sense of what was being revealed through these leaked papers. As a friend said, it’s nothing we haven't heard before, but the potency in the Nauru Files is that they reflect the relentless, day-to-day evidence of violence, disrespect, abuse and human damage.

It’s an interesting experience reading, live and direct to the public, such stories that you’ve never known before that moment. When one mother left the microphone at the end of her reading and returned to her baby, she shed tears in response to the stories she had just told.

It was sobering, and it was empowering to lend a voice to the voiceless.

But what fascinated me was the act of handing out flyers explaining the Nauru Files Live Reading. One man who had just emerged from the immigration building stood at a distance watching me for a while before approaching. He thanked me very sincerely, explaining that he was a refugee from Sri Lanka. He had been watching people walking past me – some accepting a flyer, some ignoring or rejecting it. He said, they don’t want to know because they’re OK – they don’t know what it’s like to have problems.

It hit home how solidarity with refugees is so deeply appreciated. And it hit home how averse some people are to refugees, how the vilification campaign has seeped so thoroughly into the fabric of Australian life, that a handful of people over the course of a couple of hours did not hesitate to display their disdain.

Another thread woven recently into this experience of current times was a conversation with a refugee case worker. It was a conversation that had a feeling of total desolation. The case worker felt that she was often seen by the refugees in her charge as their only hope. The weight of that role was more than the worker could realistically bear. She felt powerless, not being able to provide the asylum seekers with any solid answers, any real promise that they wouldn’t be sent back to the places they had left behind in order to be safe. And they had arrived at this impasse after years of waiting, years of arriving at impasses.

The detention centres are cruel. And the treatment of refugees on Temporary Protection Visas is a form of psychological torture. And the act of sending people back into danger breaches international law.

The disregard for the dignity and basic wellbeing of people seeking asylum in Australia is cultivated by Federal politicians, enacted by agents such as security firms, distributed via vitriolic news outlets, and harvested in the form of votes and power. It plays on that tried and tested strategy: plain, simple racism.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Preparations for Mother's Day: an open letter

Being an adult without a child to call "our own": in 2016, is this something we as a community need to discuss? If you have something to say about it, please do ...

Dear everybody,

Soon it will be May, and we’ll have Mother’s Day. For many, this can be a day of love and appreciation.

For others, it can be a festival of difficult emotions ... for those whose mothers have passed, for those who never knew their mother or child due to adoption, for those who feel they are failing as mothers due to whatever impossible situations face them and their children. It can be a day when women mourn for children lost.

For the past couple of years, as I’ve entered my late 30s, despite my best intentions to be supremely beyond the grasp of human emotion, Mother’s Day has evoked sharp feelings of discomfort. Last year, I was out with my mother and two of my sisters - who are busy mothers, teachers and artists - for a bright morning of coffee and high art. I couldn’t seem to escape the shadow of difficult emotions, and I beat myself up for it (double flagellation – yeah!). I posted something about my feelings on Facebook, and a few people piped up to air their experience of similar feelings.

This week, I met with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. The topic came up of where we're at – being women in our latter 30s, single, without children. We both work with children, we both love children, and we have none of our own. This was something she could barely speak about in public due to feelings of shame, as if she had “failed at being human”.

There are so many reasons why people don’t have children (which, I’ve realised, are often examined more closely than the reasons why people do have children). My reasons for not ending up with a tribe of offspring at this time in my life are very personal, and I don’t feel ready to air them publicly. Suffice to say, I walked away from the opportunity several times, in the interests of walking away from toxic relationships and/or potentially impossible situations. 

Someone said to me recently, "When you have children ..." and I thought, "Are you mad?" This is a huge departure from my thoughts a few years ago. I’ve been through some times of grieving as I’ve entered my late 30s. I’ve begun to question whether I can be OK with not having children. I’ve had to tease out the social expectations from the biological drive, from the least obvious factor – what do I really want at this point in my life? 

For the past couple of weeks, sharp feelings have been coming up. There were several triggers, and then I started support work with a new person in a new neighbourhood. Her family history is one of fostering, from a long lineage of mothers having babies beyond their capacity. The neighbourhood is a world of poverty, violence, people embedded in the welfare system for generations. With the triggers in place, my thoughts started to turn dark. Experiencing this world made me think I could have made a go of those impossible situations that confronted me – I was at least lucky to have capacity, to know what care feels like, to know what health feels like.

And then my thoughts turned again, and I realised that I would personally know more than 100 women who don’t have children. And yet, from conversations I’ve had over the past few years, women believe that if they don’t have children, there is something wrong with them, that they have failed, they are not complete. We struggle to untangle ourselves from these stories, and it seems we’re sometimes struggling individually, alone. Maybe there is a need for this, but maybe there is a need for something else as well.

I’m wondering if this is something we need to look at. I’m wondering how it’s an issue for people of other genders. I’m wondering if it’s a huge phenomenon, happening in these pockets of isolation, throughout our society. I'm wondering if many of us are scared off from having children by the individualism of our social structures. 

I'm wondering whether we need to come together to tell new stories.

I’m mindful that I don’t want this conversation to be exclusive. It’s possibly not just about women. It’s possibly not just about people who haven’t had children. It’s possibly a broader conversation about dismantling ideas about traditional family structures, and community structures. 

It's possibly an opportunity for a new story about our entire society, where the child is not "your child" or "my child", but "our child".

If you want to say something about this (and because I'm interested to gauge the mood), you can post comments, or email me at justine.reilly@gmail.com