As many Australians have come together over the past week to recognise the first Australians for NAIDOC week, I’ve been challenged to think more about how I walk with indigenous Australians day to day. This is a small beginning: a reflection of what it means in my own backyard.
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation…2 Corinthians 6:2
We did not choose you, would not repeat you.
Grief has built upon grief: ash and smoke first,
Then this, a time we can only call
"Unprecedented". And how it goes on,
How quickly "normal" becomes a word
Stripped of all meaning. How quickly "Stay safe"
Replaces "See you later." We saw none
Of this coming. Jetpacks and life on Mars
Were my childhood predictions, not this.
Yet future creeps up unannounced, and we,
Had we heard her coming, would
have moved to
Iceland, or bought shares in hand sanitizer.
Neither would we have chosen growth, or grace
Bulldozing our plans and saving us instead.
First you will learn about smiles,
how much you smile,
what's contained in a smile,
what's implied in the different degrees of smile:
in a curl of the lip at a funny thought,
in the mouth's outstretched corners
to greet the close acquaintance,
in the sardonic phrase,
the empathic moment.
All these things you will learn
when they cannot be seen.
And eyes. You will learn about eyes.
How readily you can recognise eyes
across a courtyard or carpark, how
much you can guess of a heart or a day
from the eyes poking out above the nose.
And breath. You will learn about breath.
You will taste it, smell it, absorb it all day.
You will choose your words and your silence to preserve
moments when you can simply breathe.
You will long to stand
in the garden
beside your office
and do nothing
in that afternoon air
but take off your mask and breathe.
And faces - you will catch, in their absence,
the beauty, the wonder of faces,
the heart-catching, God-splendoured glory of faces.
You will long for the faces
that you loved and despised,
will search the room for these faces,
will wish that these faces
could transfigure their otherness straight into yours.
You will cover your face
and stifle your breath
and halve your smile
in hope of the day,
to work for the day,
when all of our faces are back.
Yes, it takes our freedoms
because sometimes love does that:
for neighbour, for stranger,
for one who walks the same streets,
walks by your desk,
shops where you shop,
shares the same air.
Sometimes love lays down
rights - freedom of movement,
freedom of assembly,
freedom to smile and have others see -
because sometimes love judges
the more needful thing,
the truer way to be free.
Check temperature before you leave;
Second guess that winter sniffle.
Hand-sanitiser with your markers,
Enter the ever-shifting classroom space.
Greet the students in masks.
Watch attendance, but don't be afraid.
Be calm. Reassure. You may mention the war
But know how to read the faces before you.
Keep life normal
When nothing is normal.
(Nothing will go to plan.)
Admit when you are not okay
But face the battle nonetheless.
Adapt and keep
The children safe.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
What the day brings is anyone's guess:
Students in masks, temperature checks at the front gate,
But what else? Prognoses and rules change by the minute;
What yesterday was harmless today may destroy.
Brave new day that has such features in it.
And so, the day lying open
Like a box, like a question,
I rejoice to see vermilion horizon
That smiles on the locked-down and the risen alike.
I wrote this poem yesterday for the third installment in a series of videos about being a neighbour. As I wrote, I was contemplating the prospect of my Melbourne suburb being the next to go into lockdown. Little did I know that today the whole city would be put back into lockdown. So I’m posting the poem today, as my city prepares for six more weeks inside. I look forward to sharing the film with you when it’s finished. Stay safe.
Curtains are borders between me and the street.
Next door is an unseen checkpoint away;
Other postcodes have police blockades
And I count the days until my home is the same.
By the bay we watch
Numbers, statistics, localities named.
Quiet suburb whispers its fears.
No scapegoat to name, only
The innate mistrust of the island state
That says, "I choose who comes here."
How did this come here?
What conspiracy brings us cheek to cheek
With the airborne griefs that plague all humankind,
save us? This happens
Only on TVs, never in 3d
Where it reaches out with power to grab.
And does it console to know that,
Somewhere, over oceans, others suffer
Far worse than us? Hardly.
I must view you up close to take comfort in your distance.
When I open curtains, my neighbour crosses street,
Crosses seas, to land at my doorstep, breathing,
"It's coming; you're next. The only place left
Is our father's house, and we must share."
If words fail, being only breath,
Look to the one who was himself
The Word, though many said not.
Look to the one whose last
Breath, crushed by Satan's
Knee, was "Forgive."
Look to Him
At the shops and in the street,
We look at faces, look at feet,
Breathing quickly as we pass,
Lest the germs should get to us.
Seeking family on a screen,
Craving you and us and we.
What will each tomorrow bring?
(Can we handle one more thing?)
In this and each new instance,
Can we love, safe from a distance?
When others horde, share.
When others sneeze, do not be startled.
When the numbers rise, take heart.
For your life is more than your days on earth
and your planet is more than a virus.
When the shops are packed with people and
the shelves are emptied of products, do not
push and shove and hate the man
who found the tissues that you missed.
For your life is more than tissues.
When cupboards are jammed with tins and cans
and only wholemeal pasta’s left,
rejoice that you’re forced to eat healthier stuff,
and go plant some veggies so that when they yield
you can take some to your elderly neighbours.
Buy bulbs to plant in autumn soil
so that, when this is over, you can see spring arise.
Watch the news, but do not fret.
Pray more than you scroll through Twitter feeds.
Share your toilet paper.