I got our my pencils for the first time in years and have packed them into my bag, in anticipation of using them. They might stay there the whole weekend, they might not. I might sharpen them, I might arrange them as a spectrum, I might remember what it felt like to hold them last time we were together. These inanimate objects beckoning me are now packed away and I can hear them buffing up against books in my back pack and they will be vying for attention when I reopen my bag in a Kath and Kim kind of way saying “look at me”!
We put things down and take up them again, seasonal crop rotation.
There are poems and stories to be written, books, incubating on note pads, backs of tickets and shopping dockets, scraps here and there patiently waiting for the moment they will be birthed. The wait is longer than any elephant’s pregnancy. And now pencils are going into my backpack. Perhaps this is a prelude, perhaps it is displacement, perhaps it is avoidance …. perhaps it is the persistence of pencils to be reunited on a page.
Harvest comes from seed sown in the dark.
First the soil must rest before the tilling can start and so the pencils will clear away some of the rocks and rubble, make space for the tears to fall on the page and water the ground. There will be deep breaths and sighs, a union of sorts between the elements and the body and then there will be space for the tilling and picking over the landscape. The pencils will be satisfied and eventually there will be tea for the tiller man in the kitchen. Cat Stevens will be wafting in the background while we remember who we were in another season and who we will become in the next. The page, white and virginal will be consecrated once the flirting and sidling up are over.
Advent is just around the corner, incubation after annunciation, labour pains before birth.
No doubt you would have read the daily scriptures as part of your practice to set your path and provide inspiration for reflection and a line from one such piece has been rattling around in my head:
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Luke 9:58
The idea of nests and holes has struck me as being the same. The comfort of being held in the sanctuary of a place prepared and nurtured by loving partners for life to commence and then for a fledgling to grow before being evicted to take to the wing; and the place in the dark, the den of the underground home of the sleek and sneaky predator coming out in the night to steal and thieve. Two great cosmic archetypes: light and dark, sky and earth, juxtaposed with the Divine choosing neither to find rest. Instead only the present is being offered: the here, the now.
This line is preceded by an instruction to a potential follower, to leave the dead to bury the dead, something I have often thought of as a little harsh. Compassion for self might indeed be the instruction here: to be present to the invitation to come follow and bring yourself to the moment on offer rather than looking back to what might take you down a hole.
Attaching to thoughts that are dead and yet not being able to let them go completely, just wanting a few more minutes with them to wallow or maybe return to the nest or even find a hole that is magnetically calling you to come down. Saying no to both nests and holes and being the pilgrim to being present to the now can be one hell of a challenge!
What is this place Nowhere? Is it instead the here and now – NowHere?
As the day dawned and the traditional drizzle came to attention, I wandered down the road to the memorial as I do most years for the dawn service. I’ve been going for more than 10 years. As a peace activist I was a slow in coming to an appreciation of ANZAC Day. Each time I go there are more and more people there and our little village swells with friends and family who gather around to hear the songs, words, bugle, and tributes. They come to lay down their wreaths and pass onto the next generation their own stories of peace, justice, war and horror. I continue to be struck by the intergenerational event it has become.
I shy away from the nationalism that camouflages the deeper spirit of a shared humanity that binds us altogether. I miss the annual Palm Sunday Peace marches so taking my own steps down this morning is a small reminder of my activist days. This quiet act, is my own honouring of those who went to war, those that stayed behind, the conscience objectors, the families the wounded and worn returned to and all those who died.
I am sad that in my name, there are Australian troops overseas occupying a land, not their own. There is no good war. It is all bad. So what am I doing here at dawn in front of the RSL reciting the Lord’s Prayer and listening to the Last Post with my neighbours? It is a sense of community and common good that draws me – just as the sense of community and common good of years past probably drove other women, mothers, partners and friends to stand in solidarity and watch their men, fathers, sons and brothers go off to war. The litany of names on the memorial is a testimony to families emptied of men as a result of war. I feel drawn to the generations past, and I hope fewer, yet to come, who will gather to say not in my name.
My first memory of war was seeing a moratorium march in Adelaide on the TV. I was in Year 7 so it must have been 1970. On the TV I saw mounted police, protestors, flags and more people than I had ever seen in Adelaide before. I was shocked to see the streets of the city I only knew of as being peaceful and cultured hosting this rabble. As the years went on, I went to school in the big smoke and become more aware of what it was all about and became active in my own little way in the peace movement, mainly learning songs to sing and taking a pledge that if I was ever a mother I would do all I can to make sure no child of mine would be conscripted to go to war.
Over the years my activism included me helping organising the Palm Sunday Peace marches, fostering a spirit of cooperation and understanding where I could, more recently learning about nonviolent communication, supporting activists like John Dear . I don’t think of myself as much of an activist these days. I am pleased though that none of my offspring have gone to war and that they all hold a healthy attitude to peace and understand the relationship between peace and justice.
One of my favourite maxims is from Meister Eckart, a fellow Rhine dweller to you dear Hildegard. He says ‘in compassion, justice and peace kiss’. This is what leads me to be up at dawn on Anzac Day – a call to myself to be more compassionate and to understand those who say yes to war.
Bruce Dawe, the great anti-war Australian poet says is well in so many of his poems and this one called Homecoming seems right to share on Anzac Day.
All day, day after day, they’re bringing them home, they’re picking them up, those they can find, and bringing them home, they’re bringing them in, piled on the hulls of Grants, in trucks, in convoys, they’re zipping them up in green plastic bags, they’re tagging them now in Saigon, in the mortuary coolnessthey’re giving them names, they’re rolling them out of the deep-freeze lockers — on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut the noble jets are whining like hounds, they are bringing them home – curly heads, kinky-hairs, crew-cuts, balding non-coms – they’re high, now, high and higher, over the land, the steaming chow mein, their shadows are tracing the blue curve of the Pacific with sorrowful quick fingers, heading south, heading east, home, home, home — and the coasts swing upward, the old ridiculous curvatures of earth, the knuckled hills, the mangrove-swamps, the desert emptiness… in their sterile housing they tilt towards these like skiers – taxiing in, on the long runways, the howl of their homecoming risessurrounding them like their last moments (the mash, the splendour)
then fading at length as they move
on to small towns where dogs in the frozen sunset
raise muzzles in mute salute, and on to cities in whose wide web of suburbs telegrams tremble like
leaves from a wintering tree and the spider grief swings in his bitter geometry – they’re bringing them home, now, too late, too early. (c) Donald Bruce Dawe
When I was in my bedroom in the 70s, I sung along with Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam. So it seems appropriate to end this blog with that piece of history, linking the Rhineland, poetry, music, wars past and current with Peace Train. These days I am more likely to be motivated by Pink singing with the Indigo Girls, Dear Mr President or Elvis Costello’s classic, What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding.