Monthly Archives: October 2021

Meeting the Moment 2021 #42

This week I was invited to talk about ageism and share with a global audience. It was a moment worth meeting. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my internalised ageism, how it started and how I am finding a way to keep it in check.

For decades I was often the youngest person in the room, sometimes the only woman … and then one day I noticed, as if by osmosis, I had somehow morphed into being the oldest. Like many women my working life was interrupted by children and child rearing and then a few weeks before turning fifty I began what I thought was going to be a sprint caring for a dying husband, however became a marathon and at almost a decade it ended and I deemed it an ultra marathon. I stepped away from formal leadership, or as one colleague, in what I considered ungracious, announced to the world – oh yes, you faded away from view. While this set of circumstances were not particularly age related, by the time I felt I was back in some meaningful way to the workforce, I was eligible for a Seniors Card.

What had happened? Many people may not recognise what I felt had happened – I had made myself invisible. I didn’t want any attention drawn to myself, I was becoming smaller, I was reducing the space I was taking up in the world, almost apologising for being here, feeling like I was a nuisance asking for help and not quite knowing if I did ask for help whether it would be seen as an act of someone feeble or helpless. I felt like I was disappearing and a disappearance linked to changes associated with growing older, no children at home, being widowed.

Conspiracy theories, lies and fake news about ageing had seeped in. My social feeds had incontinence pad messages, retirement home real estate ads and sudoku puzzles to stave off memory loss. I was enabling my own evaporation. It was not good! While these feelings may not have been visible on the outside, I was certainly feeling it on the inside. I had already been subject to significant gas lighting over a long period of time, and perhaps those foundations provided fertile soil for internalised ageism to take root?

As I headed into my 60th birthday, I started to look around me and see how others were approaching this time of life. I fell in love with 2 ideas – one was Jane Fonda calling the period beyond 60 as Act 3 and the second was from Brazilian researcher, Alexandre Kalache – who talks about the gift of all these extra years for our generation and what we might do to cherish them and use them to transform the future. I had been fortunate enough to have had a day hanging out with Prof Kalache while he was in Adelaide on a Thinkers-in-Residence program and he was providing content to develop a series of short videos as part of a community statewide consultation on ageing I was involved in. Amnesia had set in, I hadn’t thought about his work and its own meaning in my life until I took those moments to reflect on arriving at a new decade.

I checked myself on what biases I was holding and where they were being reinforced around me.  I took stock. I stopped myself in my tracks and got back to the core of myself, which I think is ageless.

I am now actively moving into these years mindfully embracing eldership – as someone who brings a harvest of wisdom, someone who knows what it means to walk into fires and cyclically rise from flames like a phoenix, and someone who embraces her Celtic heritage of the crone – the third woman of the trinity, matching maiden and mother, now as crone venerated for her experience; where wit is another word for wisdom and hag is for holy. I want to recover these words and reclaim them for our times and for this time in my life. I want to meet these moments with wit, wisdom and holiness and deep gratitude for being able to keep contributing to the future, through my actions each day.

We are all midwifing the future and I am glad to have stepped back from the kerb of palliative care in the present. Those wonderful students and their friends and allies marching for climate justice on Friday inspire and encourage me. This is no time to be fading away.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Meeting the moment 2021 #41

I’m in mountain country this weekend, far from familiar surroundings, a national park, World Heritage site where the golden wings of the bower bird are in the air and also woven into the carpets underfoot.  

Being a long way from home, I get a perspective from the tree tops and the rolling mist, reminding me of the good fortune of being able to travel safely to another part of the country.  The birdlife is generous and the rainforest holds the story of Gondwanaland long before dinosaurs and the Yuggera Ugarapul, Danggan Balun and Githabul people called it home.  The place known as Woonoongoora doesn’t need an interpretative sign to tell us it is precious, sacred. I feel very privileged to be able to spend time in the forest on my 63rd birthday – a microdot of time in this 180 million years of landscape. I found myself reciting Mary Oliver’s When I am among the trees, to myself as I wandered along a trail towards a tree top walkway.  

I gazed meditatively at glow worms lighting up a river bank, and green tree parrots flying with crimson rosellas, heard the squawk of a baby tawny owl, saw ancient lichen seemingly floating in mid air and orchids 10 metres high embedded in fern encrusted black booyong trees, bandicoot hotels in the folds of trunks and then there are the brush box who have been carbon dated at 1,500 years old. It is a lesson in complexity, co-existance and ecosystems.  If you are ever trying to teach about ecosystems – such a misused term in many a start up community – I encourage a walk in a park – the more ancient the better!

The metaphor of taking a path to a waterfall, is not lost on me, an occasional stumble and I was paying very careful attention to where I was placing my foot, should I find myself on a slippery surface.  I got to the spectacular view of a waterfall, at this slowest and driest time of the year and it is still falling, making rainbows in the sunlight, and finding its way to the floor of the forest.  

This year has been easier than the last four or five, and there have been less stumbles, still moments to catch my breath and look at the view to see how far I have come, not despite, but because of, weeping making landfall. It seems to be a practice of detachment and pleasing myself more. I am a beginner.  Being in the forest reminds me that this kind of growth is slow and takes serious time. I am particularly taking instruction from the way the fig tree clings to the booyong and uses it as a prop without taking anything from the booyong along the way to the clouds. It has really got me thinking about what props I have around me to help me grow towards the light and which ones I might need to cling to with more confidence and certainty.

I am meeting this moment bowing in gratitude to all those people and landscapes who have propped me up along the way these past 63 years, and taking a blessing from the trees mediated by Oliver: … and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.

When I am Among the Trees

Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Near Moran’s Falls, Woonoongoora, Lamington National Park, Qld. World Heritage Site Gondwana Rainforest.

Meeting the Moment 2021 #40

When the veil drops what was always there is now visible for everyone to see. The moment presents often as inconvenient truth telling.  Sometimes it is a moment of waking up and realising the baton has been passed and it has been delivered into your hands. What do you do with it? A hot potato you want to quickly throw to another? Perhaps it is so precious and beautiful you want to hold it longingly and lovingly.  Maybe it is a painful trauma digging deeply into your heart, and holding it is an act of self-harm.  When the veil drops, it stops you in your tracks.

The history of the veil stems back to ancient Rome where apparently the veil was used as a disguise. Behind the veil, evil spirits wouldn’t recognise the bride and therefore would be unable to upset her happiness. In the Christian tradition the veil in the temple is torn in two from top to bottom at the time of Jesus’ death, with the cosmic force of an earthquake, making the end of one era and entry into another.  There is nothing left to the imagination when the veil falls, and all the fantasies, pretences, illusions are over. You can’t look away.

I have been struck on how re-writing of history and re-wiring of messaging in gaslighting ways are used as everyday veil coverings by contemporary brides trying to ward off bad spirits like transparency, scrutiny and half-truths.  There have been some good, bad and ugly versions this week. A Premier resigning as a veil dropped to enable investigation, the underbelly of this being another veil dropping about a lover who was happy to throw her under a metaphorical bus.  I don’t share any of her politics, but I am deeply annoyed by the set of standards she is being held to account to which she should be, but men not being subjected to the same examination. Establishing a national Anti Corruption Commission would enable some more veil dropping moments.

The veil dropping by climate activist Greta Thunberg in Milan this week with her blah, blah, blah speech left me speechless. No going back after hearing her speak.

I have had my fair share of veils being torn in two, once you have heard you can’t unhear, once you have seen, you can’t unsee. I explained to someone inviting me to speak at an event this week, that to do so, would be toxic to me, it would be trauma inducing. I am no longer willing to wear a veil that others want to put on me.  I don’t need to do their work for them, or legitimise their worldview by turning up, however authentic or earnest it might be. I don’t share their vision. My image was used in a government document I discovered this week, no attribution to me, no request for its use as I didn’t own the image. I don’t disagree with the essence of the content, but I have not been asked to endorse it, and by default, use of my image, gives the impression I am endorsing it. The content lacks the depth of analysis and meaning and has no financial commitment attached to it – surely a sign of veil wearing.

If you are a metaphoric bride heading to the altar, take off the veil before you get to the sacred table and have a good hard, clear look at what you are signing up for. If you are looking at a bride, use your extra senses to see through the veil, or better still help her to take it off, or ask her to pull it back to reveal the beauty of her truth.

The veil’s removal, often needs holy, youthful innocence to point it out. Greta certainly did that this week! As the lyric in John Legends’  If You’re Out There goes – the future started yesterday and we are already late. I was encouraged this with and stopped in my tracks with Eastern Kuku Yalanji people being recognised as the traditional owners and custodians of the world’s oldest living rainforest. The veil dropping required to get to this result was epic. The Daintree Rainforest is estimated to be 180 million years old and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. How wonderful for this veil of colonisation to have been dropped – hope there are many more to come.

Photo by Federico Garcia on Unsplash