Tag Archives: choir

Year of activism #30

Saturday’s are days to reconnect to the world around me, and I usually go back to the village that was home for about 15 years. I miss the rhythms of the place and am still learning about the rhythms of where I am now making my home and relying on the tides to help me with the pace and seasons. One of the reasons that my old village still has a hold on me are the rituals of a farmers market, a high street of cafes and conversations, voices of fellow choristers on the wind and high chances of bumping into familar faces across the stalls and walking across the streets. There are nods and waves from people and old trees that carry the stories and a sacred gathering spring fed stream that has been a solid listener to family groups and meetings for thousands and thousands of years.

This Saturday all the ordinary activists were in abundance. First there was a woman who had spent some of her week with companions marking paths for pilgrims conserving habitat and health to create the Willunga Basin Walking Trail. In a few more steps there were the many growers whose techniques and commitment to organic produce were in abundance and respecting health and safety social distancing to get the highest quality of delicious fruits and vegetables into the hands and cupboards of happy consumers. It wasn’t long before a barista and his team were exchanging glances and connecting up with the week that was, taking note they hadn’t seen me for a while and treating my unexceptional purchase as a gift to keep the whole cycle of exchange in motion. The place I gathered with some family members for breakfast, makes a point of being a meat free zone and green is on every plate, reflecting its name. A few more nods, waves and hellos included one to an educator and maker who only works with materials like old enamel saucepan lids, an expression of a used future being repurposed for beauty. When I cross the road again, several trees proclaim the amount of carbon dioxide they express that keeps us breathing and amount of share equivalent to beach umbrellas that shields us in the heat.

My next stop in the village, later in the day, is the opening of an art exhibition. I have been kindly invited to do the honours, to declare the space a gallery, for this season of SALA (South Australian Living Artists). It is a modest affair given the restrictions and everyone gathered respects the rules, cementing our common desire for public health and care for one another inside and outside the venue, yet another reminder to me of living civilly, with purpose. This artist welcomes the viewer to paintings in pastels and oils with bold colours and images she wants to preserve for future generations. One of her first paintings was of a large cave at Maslins Beach  – that cave has now collapsed. She has a creation that shows the remains of the iconic Port  Willunga jetty and the signs above it now warn of the probably of collapsing cliffs, which currently bow to the sea and are so fragile it is almost inevitable they will continue to fragment and fall succumbing to erosion and changes in the climate. Not far from this location is an avenue of old pines where many creatures, winged and multiple legged, have as their home and food bowl; they will soon be blocked out by the mega school under construction, and Mother Willunga’s curves will find themselves, to the artists eye, in a corset. Her art was prescient last year with scenes of bushfires leaving beloved locations on Kangaroo Island bleached in black with sooty soil and foliage instead of beacons of flowers from rarely blossoming grasses. All the gathered respected and bowed to the artist’s eye and the reminder of the how we each have a responsibility to how we see, walk and leave our legacy to future generations.

The last stop in the day was not in the village, but in the comfort of my own home, mediated by software and technology, enabling 55 quiz teams to raise funds for childhood cancer. There were four generations in the room, gathered to support a friend of a friend. It was a simple occasion and done with enthusiasm, the usual negotiations to come to shared (or not shared) answer, with nibbles and sips of a range of substances from strawberry milk to gin and tonic. The young woman behind the scenes had been organising this event for months, transferred what was originally to be in a central city location to the lounge rooms of homes across the state and even a few interstate. The quiz master donned a moustache that could have been accompanied by a mullet, and the MC had all the energy and positivity of a morning ride-to-work radio announcer. The invisible hand gluing the event together, appeared briefly on the screen, being an introvert, and demonstrating how it is her super power. Nothing was out of place and all the people who want to be in front of the camera were. The team of volunteers she was leading raised enough money towards their target, which would ensure children and their families impacted by childhood cancer would be getting counselling support for the coming year. This kind of activism often goes unnoticed or under the guise of organising a social event. It takes time, commitment to detail, juggling egos and scheduling, and this year, multitasking across online tools and platforms previously used only for work now being deployed and transitioning their utility away from making money for shareholders and building careers, to the needs of the smallest ones suffering, surviving and struggling.

This was my Saturday, noticing activating all around me and once again, all I have had to do is turn up, making modest contributions to an overall mission for our planet, family, friends, embracing beauty in the simplest connections. Embracing our seeing, sensing into our actions, holding the precious moments that aggregate into what Paul Hawken calls “blessed unrest” brings its own kind of peace and justice. All the initiatives that made my Saturday – the Farmers Market, The Green Room, The Gospel Groove Choir, the SALA exhibition, the Telstra Enterprise Team’s Quiz night were beautifully executed by leadership often completely invisible, they are all contributing to building a future where more belong because of the connective tissue, relationships, that holds it all together. Each piece is adding to a goodness ecosystem and the quality of how each piece is managed is done with care and kindness. As Hawken says: Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. This is how the synapse of movement building gets transmitted, across the relationships managed well in ways that are so inviting that curiosity gets the better of people and they join in.

The Pinnacles by Lynn Chamberlain – her SALA exhibition details are here

Year of activism #6

There is loss and grief in the life of any activist.  The feelings that you haven’t done enough, the expectations that are met (mostly of yourself over others), the fraud you seem to be by not completely walking the talk … the litany goes on.

I was reminded this week of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that is more than enough.  It’s not too different to Mother (now St) Teresa of Calcutta’s mantra: Bloom where you are planted. When I was young mother I held onto these instructions and took up the mantel of trying to be a household that had at its centre the notions of justice and peace (and the truth that there can be no peace without justice). I had plenty to guide me, especially once the children were in kindy – the local kindergarten was a school for us all – we all learnt about community there. I also had my Catholic social teaching to draw on and the local library which is where I found the McGinnis book Parenting for Justice and Peace, it was the only parenting book I ever really had. It was the crucible of my activism and set many of the foundations for the decades ahead.

This weekend has been filled to the brim with responses to the bushfires. I was involved in a fundraiser at Mt Compass where the locals through their Supper Club and the generosity of singers and musicians raised funds and had an entertaining evening. The choir I belong to belted out tunes and enjoyed having the opportunity to make a contribution. With my pals at Collab4Good we hosted a Heal and Hustle day with activators who shared lessons and provided spaces for reflection and learning starting with an expose of where unexpressed loss and grief comes from and how its suppression through the centuries via colonisation has led to destruction of our Mother Earth.  It was quite a day.

I am truly tired to the bone. It is time to rest, to put down the lyre and sob on the banks of the river. To feel the loss. To be sad. To bleed. To grieve.   I am hearing despair in many voices, and anger and frustration is just below the surface in so many people I meet and they are falling away from hope. I hear them clinging on to despair, for fear if they let go of despair then the abyss will appear.

David Whyte writes: Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon.  I am developing an understanding of the necessity of despair as an activist. In the northern hemisphere it is seasonally connected to winter as Whyte figures, I think the season of despair in Australia, is summer. Our horizon has been lost in the smoke and in places where day felt like night and where the land and the sea and the sky all fused into one … and no horizon to be seen.  The externalities finding their way into our lungs at our most cellular level.  We are exhausted by the heat and horror. It turns us inwards just so we can catch our breath and dig deep to refuel – but we cross over into despair before we can find our way back. It is a way for us to have some respite. We become separated from hope when we are in despair, we have reached a rock bottom and so the only way left is up. In fact the word despair comes from the Latin to come down from hope.  Maybe it is the moment of a reality check, that calls you to humility about what you can and can’t do, or perhaps the moment that holds your hand gently and reassuringly that you are not alone.

My experience of despair is it can be very bleak, and it needs to befriended and understood as loss, then grief and it needs to be treated as a season, and like any season will evolve and take shape over time as something new. It is not resilience or recovery that despair calls for, it is renewal.

Just like the child who grows into an adult and the reminders I had in my parenting, there are many seasons and moments of despair in parenting. And there are days when it feels like four seasons in one day!  This revelation might be a takeaway for an activist too.

 

 

Rehearsing for Heaven

Dear Sor Juana,

Spent the weekend singing sessions entitled Rehearsing for Heaven with a horde of other aspirants in four-part harmony with rain providing percussion and the urn bubbling in the corner offering occasional counterpoint.

I had visited a friend in a hospice earlier in the day so thinking about what rehearsing for heaven might look and sound like was in real-time. When my father was dying I was keen to point out to others and myself that this was not a rehearsal and there was no point waiting for the curtains to open (or close) for the next act, but to get up onto that stage and say the words to be said, sing the songs to be sung.   Practising can be a luxury we don’t always have, yet we are constantly being apprenticed to our own disappearance (as David Whyte has so eloquently put it).

Singing in harmony so we hold each other’s voices in the mesh of notes that forms a safety net should one of our singular sounds stray. Maybe heaven is the place where we can all find our voice and where the inclusion of our note makes the song complete? Simple melodies set to the rhythms of heart beat, walking pace and sometimes with an ache, blend magically under the careful and precise instruction of a master craftsman. I am prompted to think about the harmonics I might offer in other parts of life. A surround sound cloud forms and has all the potential to find its way to the sky and when I close my eyes it is possible I have indeed been rehearsing for heaven.

Seems to me everything we do is preparation for the next steps we take – it’s just we don’t always know that at the time. If this weekend’s music is anything to go by, then I hope I am going to be surrounded by more angels, and look to an instructor who can give me a note to follow and help me keep me the tune offered to my part in the great chorus of humanity. The oos and the ahhs and oomphs syncopate and lighten the load giving me a skip and lift in familiar and surprising ways. More singing is definitely on the agenda while I rehearse for heaven.