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How Kindness Heals

Over the past eight months I’ve learnt a lot. Being unable to walk unaided, and experiencing levels of pain I thought were reserved for child birth and torture, many of the frills and frivolities have been ripped from my life. But it hasn’t all been bad. I’ve found joy in the simplest activities, sipping cold water when I’m parched and thirsty, feeling the sunshine warm my skin on a cool morning, and listening to my son’s electric guitar weave tunes and cry out with longing in the shadows of the evenings.

My friends must wonder where the old Kerry has gone. No longer am I able to meet for an impromptu lunch or coffee, spend a day exploring the city or walk along the beach. Leaving the house involves crutches and a wheelchair and the hassle of the journey often outweighs the enjoyment of the trip. An evening out recently saw me gazing at everyone’s belly buttons from the vantage point of my wheeler, feeling literally on a different level to everyone there, and dizzy later in the evening as my more tipsy friends spun me in circles. It was a surreal experience. My husband has become an expert grocery shopper and my sons’ chores sit heavy on their shoulders. Mum is unable to pick up the slack as she always has. In fact, Mum isn’t able to do much at all.

Yet there have also been some unexpected surprises. I’ve always been well aware of the gift of family, friends and those special strangers we are sometimes blessed to cross paths with. Authentic people with caring hearts bring warmth and light to our worst days.

Over the past months, several brave souls have continued to visit me, telephone and text, drop in meals and books and flowers. Some pick me up and cart me out, with all my paraphernalia, for a coffee or a meal. I’m so thankful to you all! My mood hasn’t always been sunny and your authentic love and care have meant the world to me. You have also taught me something profound.

When a friend visits, I can literally feel the oxygen, energy and brightness of the world outside enter into my pale little insular world of recuperation. As my friend smiles and offers their news, my mind attaches to something other than my own pain and, for a little while at least, I’m flying free.

The next day, without fail, I detect an extra measure of strength and resilience in my own bones and a renewed mindset, ready to fight. That gift of loving kindness from my friend has done something miraculous. It has infused me with a courage I couldn’t conjure myself.

A sense of community is important to our mental health, but I’ve discovered it’s also important for my physical health. I can’t explain why, but a kind and thoughtful person, no matter how random or brief our connection may be, can actually bring about a sense of physical healing. I don’t know how, but I’ve experienced this again and again over the past months and I know that my progress has been made possible by people who believe in me and continue to hope that I will get well.

There are, of course, many days spent alone, as life is busy and my tough times have gone on for way too long… On these days, I seek solace in my oldest and wisest friend. He speaks to me from ancient psalms and gospels and whispers encouragements into my heart. Time spent reading and praying, crying and grieving, daring to hope and dream again, is never wasted. I believe I’m heard and understood and that a life force beyond myself is sustaining me, propelling me forward.

How extraordinary it is to discover that it’s not all up to me. I need other people and I don’t have all the answers. When life breaks you, there’s no shame in looking for a remedy beyond yourself. We are stronger together, sustained by one another, and ultimately empowered by the Author of Life.

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4


I’ve been wasting a lot of time lately playing Solitaire. I start on a writing project, pay some bills, catch up on my emails and, before I know it, I’m engrossed in Solitaire again. It’s so satisfying to win and see the cards do their little happy dance at the end. My days are currently a messy mix of recuperation, rest, frustration and pain. The cards at least allow me to achieve something.

Recently I discovered a tab which assures me of a ‘winnable only’ hand. I tend to use this all the time now although sadly I don’t always win.

I’ve also discovered a tab that allows me to ‘restart same game’. It’s a revelation to see how choosing one different card in a game can give you a completely different outcome. When I have two red queens available to go with a black king, one move leads to ruin and the other leads to victory.

The ‘undo’ tab is very handy too. Mistakes are easily reversed and the game can take a winning turn with one little click.

When all else fails, the ‘new game’ tab is always there, sweeping away the debris of my failed attempts to start afresh with new cards.

If only life were like Solitaire. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could press ‘winnable only’ at the beginning of our life and know that success was there waiting for us, without question? If plans don’t work out, all we would need to do is press ‘restart same game’ and make a slightly different decision along the way to reach our goals.

This ‘restart same game’ tab frightens me though. It’s a reminder of how one wrong move in a relationship or with our health, for example, can have devastating consequences. One harsh word, one lie or one reckless act can have a far-reaching impact.

Wouldn’t it be great to have access to the ‘undo’ tab in real life too? Ate big slice of chocolate cake – ‘undo’. Spoke without thinking first – ‘undo’. I’d be clicking it all the time: ‘Undo’, ‘undo’, ‘undo’…

When we sit with our regrets, pressing the ‘new game’ tab would be so refreshing, allowing us to leave all of our problems behind.

But life isn’t Solitaire, is it? We live in the real world rather than a computer-generated game and the real world can be a tough place.

I do, however, believe there are a few of the Solitaire options available to us in real-life, particularly when we’ve made a mess of things.

Perhaps asking a friend for help can reveal a move we hadn’t even thought of. An opportunity may have been there all along, but we just couldn’t see it.

Or we can redefine our ideas of success as we travel along. Perhaps a ‘winnable only’ hand isn’t achieving wealth, beauty, power and fame, but it’s more about being honest, kind, humble and doing the best with what we have.

Sometimes it is possible to ‘un-do’ our mistakes, to turn our thinking around and discover a whole new mindset. We can keep pressing ‘un-do’ until we are back to the crossroads where it all went wrong and decide to take the other road.

The ‘restart same game’ tab may be ignited when we accept our mistakes and allow forgiveness to enter a situation. Sometimes the fractures in a relationship or a recurring problem don’t disappear but forgiving ourselves and others brings freedom and release. Forgiveness, grace and letting go of control can be game-changers.

My personal favourite, the ‘new game’ tab, is the one I hit most often in Solitaire. I’ve hit it a few times in real-life too. When I’ve reached the end of my human strength and sanity, I’ve prayed for a fresh start and another chance. Starting a ‘new game’ really does work, particularly when you’ve exhausted the ‘restart same game’ and ‘undo’ tabs. The ‘new game’ with its unfamiliar paths can be challenging, as familiar paths are so much easier to walk on. It invites us to discover joy in unknown places and to be content in all circumstances, even the painful and uncomfortable ones.

I wish you well in this game of life! May you know when to un-do, when to re-start and when to start afresh – and may you reach that place where you do your happy dance when all the striving is finally over.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” 

(Isaiah 43:18-19)

The Angel in Purple

When my physiotherapist suggested I ask the local pool if they have a hoist to get me into the water, I was horrified. For someone who likes to avoid any attention when slipping in for a swim, the idea of sitting in a hoist and being slowly lowered into the water in view of everyone made me shudder. However, I realised the benefits of exercising with a broken leg far outweighed my irrational fear, so I gave it a try. Gradually, I’ve grown used to the experience of strapping into my plastic wheelchair and hooking up to the blue hoist and being slowly lowered into the water with the guidance of the helpful pool staff and my husband.

The benefits of being in water are immeasurable. For me right now, the weightlessness is a gift and I can move around without harming my painful leg. I feel my body awaken after days of being immobile, and I can feel the healing benefits immediately.

Water sooths, calms and embraces. The droplets are playful against the skin and sliding through the liquid enlivens cells and muscles and helps the blood flow. No longer is my body the heavy, awkward and painful animal it is on land. I can dance in here, drift with the flow and feel young and free again. After an hour of therapy I’m tired, relaxed and renewed.

The past few weeks have been particularly discouraging. Sharp pain and spasms have been plaguing me and there’s no chance at all of weight bearing on my leg. Will the bone ever knit together and hold me up again?

These scary thoughts were haunting me as I walked along in the pool, clutching my red noodle shaped floatation device. I was snapped out of my daze of negativity by the beaming smile of a woman dressed in a purple swimming costume, speaking to me from the side of the pool.

I’ve been watching you each week, and you are getting so much better. You’re making great progress!”

I was stunned by her words as they spilt out like a melody, brimming with hope, kindness and positivity. Was it true? Could I actually be improving? I hadn’t noticed it.

She was gone as quickly as she had arrived, but I was left smiling as I continued along in my lane, stepping along in the water. I noticed a heaviness had lifted from me and my heart felt lighter and more hopeful than it had for a long time. The whole encounter had taken a few seconds, but they were golden seconds.

How interesting that the woman had been wearing purple too, my favourite colour, the colour of joy. Her thoughtfulness in reaching out to me touched me deeply, and her willingness to offer her words of encouragement reminded me of the power we have to lift each other up. One simple sentence from a stranger and the sun came out. Perhaps we are surrounded by angels after all, and sometimes they speak to us, particularly on our darkest days.

Angels have no philosophy but love.” – Terri Guillemets

Alone by the Christmas Tree

I never realised how much energy and effort I usually put into Christmas. It starts with frantic list writing, continues with a flurry of shopping trips with blistered feet and aching shoulders, and progresses to fastidious house-cleaning, scrubbing until every surface shines. I then drag out the old cook books for special cooking sessions, creating chaos in my kitchen, with a long night sipping brandy, waiting for the pudding to boil. By Christmas Day I’m usually in a state of manic exhaustion, with a twist of smug satisfaction at having made it to the finish line once again. This year I couldn’t do any of it. Instead, I sat still and useless in my wheelchair, watching everyone craft their own versions of Christmas around me.

When the doctor announced that I had a fracture in my femur and I had to stay off my leg completely for three months I know my mouth was gaping. I couldn’t say a word. How could this be possible, two weeks before Christmas? All the way home in the car from St Vincent’s Hospital I sat in stunned silence.

When the ice block of muted silence finally melted, the tears flowed. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster of good days and bad days. The good days are focused on getting well, with careful exercise sessions, pool visits, writing and catching up on lots of reading. I’ve been awash with gratitude for my family for helping me and have enjoyed some enriching conversations with friends who have dropped by for a visit, blessing me with their presence and a cappuccino, creating a virtual café experience in my lounge room. I’ve been devouring old episodes of Packed to the Rafters, feeling justified in my bingeing due to my sorry state. The bad days, in stark contrast, have been grey and colourless, spent tearfully cancelling holidays and celebrations, including a long anticipated family wedding. The bad days are like trying to walk through thick mud, and even Julie Rafter can’t help me.

Late in the evenings, when my boys are working or out or upstairs chilling, I sit for a while in silence in the shadowy darkness, and gaze at the Christmas tree. It is lit up with coloured lights, tinsel and an assortment of baubles and ornaments, many handmade by the boys when they were little. The angel on top is from my own childhood and a few little elves are from my husband’s childhood tree.

My son and his girlfriend put the tree up for me as I couldn’t manage it. I’m so grateful to them, as it’s a thing of magic and beauty. As I gaze at it, I feel a shift inside me. Despite the physical pain, the sadness and the frustration, I sense something much deeper, beyond my self and my struggles. It’s as if I can feel ghostly eyes peering through the darkness, faint voices speaking nourishing truths and comforting love, carried along on the evening breeze, and I can feel a warm embrace around me, sensing heat from bodies standing strong behind me, holding me firm, cheering me on and believing that I can overcome this hurdle in life, as they did, and as I have before.

On these evenings, sitting silent beside the Christmas tree, it’s as if the veil between this life and the next is very thin, and I’m alone but not alone, once again in the presence of the ones who once filled my Christmas Days with love and laughter. Above all else, there is a sense of joy, peace and hopefulness, like a warm light glowing inside me, completely at odds with my circumstances. The Spirit of Christmas glows still, regardless of my own helplessness and inability to perform. What a surprise it has been to meet this loving Spirit, as I sit alone and still in my wheelchair, and allow it to warm my hurting heart and soothe my tired soul. This Christmas I’ve experienced what it is to be one of the broken ones, searching for hope and healing, sitting in the dark, waiting expectantly for my Savior.

“Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,

but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

The Gumtree in the Park

In the park near my home is an old gumtree which has seen better days. Twenty years ago, the tree was thriving, branches heavy with eucalypt leaves reaching out in all directions creating an impressive canopy. The years haven’t been kind to this tree. Gradually it’s lost branches to high winds and enthusiastic council workers anxiously chopping and pruning to comply with public safety requirements. The tree is now contorted and lopsided with a couple of stumps marking where its heavy limbs once reached to the sky. A seat has been carved into one stump, a creative attempt to disguise one of the amputations.

The tree is still beautiful in its unique way. Each time I walk by I gaze at its contorted shape and marvel that it continues to survive with the odds stacked against it. Families sometime picnic underneath it, resting their bags, food and plastic cups on its stumps or sitting on the carved seat, whilst children climb adventurously along the long branches which stretch out just above the grass. Their excited laughter and screams radiate over the valley.

The old gumtree is hanging in there, deformed in many ways and nowhere near as perfect as the army of gumtrees which fill the valley. Yet this old tree is an integral part of the park and its unusual shape enables it to provide shelter, beauty and a natural climbing opportunity to suburban kids. It serves its purpose perfectly.

When I’m experiencing intense physical pain and each step around the park hurts, the tree stands stoically, silently reminding me that even those of us with wounds in our bodies and souls are still of value and have a unique place in our homes and community. Physical perfection and emotional wholeness aren’t prerequisites to being a worthwhile human. Even with illness, suffering, vulnerability and broken hearts, we can still provide the shelter of friendship and hope to those around us. We have a purpose and a place. So often it is those who have suffered the most who know exactly what is needed in a time of loss or crisis.

The challenge for all of us is to embrace fully our true selves and accept our bodies, our minds and our emotions, regardless of whether we measure up to the stereotypes thrown at us. Sometimes it’s the physical and emotional struggles that transform us from caterpillar to butterfly. Richard Rohr puts this so well when he describes “the path of descent”:

The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.— Richard Rohr

Most of us don’t welcome failure and pain. We would prefer a “path of ascent” into good health, success and big Lotto wins. No wonder the gospel of prosperity and success which has infected so many churches has been so popular rather than the gospel of Jesus with its suffering and surrender. When the hard times come, as they invariably do, it can help to remember that they have a purpose. If you feel like the old tree in my park, a shadow of your former self and about to crash, remember these things that you dread are often the very things that will save you, transform you and allow you to rediscover the real you. While you’re still alive you have the opportunity to heal, grow, learn, give and love. Be like the tree. Don’t ever give up.

Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am. David Brenner.

The Man in the Doorway

When I worked in London, a homeless man lived in the doorway of my office on High Street Kensington. He wasn’t an old man and his suit looked expensive and well-cut, despite the encrusted dirt, rips and frayed edges. I dreaded finding him sprawled unconscious across the doorway in the mornings. He was an angry man and his outbursts frightened me. He knew expletives I’d never even heard before and he wasn’t afraid to hurl an empty beer bottle at anyone who was annoying him. I remember one morning I found him asleep in the doorway and as I went to step over him in my high heels he awoke and screamed an obscenity at me. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest and all I could do was scream as well and make a run for it.

In early December, winter was tightening its icy grip on the old city. It was dark by 4pm, with magical Christmas lights twinkling in quaint shop windows, and one day I looked out the office window to discover snow flakes fluttering to the street. As an Australian girl, I was so excited at the sight of snow in December and I ran out onto the street, dancing around like a child and holding my hands in the air. In my euphoria, I ignored the man who was huddled in the back corner of the doorway and he didn’t say a word. I expect he wasn’t quite as excited about the snow as I was.

Just before Christmas, I had drinks with my workmates one Friday night in the pub near the tube station. As I sipped my favourite cider, I met a few new people, and somehow the conversation led to the man who lived in the doorway.

“Yes, I know that guy… He worked at my wife’s accountancy firm. He was doing well, had a nice house and a sportscar.”

“Really? So why is he living on the street?” I asked, shocked.

“He came home from work one day and found his best friend in bed with his wife. He walked out that day with the suit on his back and never went back. He started drinking and didn’t stop, never went back to his job. This all happened only about six months ago. Last I heard, he’s still wearing the same suit.”

I stood gaping, unable to find the words to reply. For some reason the fact that he was wearing the same suit – his successful-accountant, happily-married, middle-classed well cut business suit hit me in the face like a bowling ball. The poor man. He had been betrayed by the two people he loved most and it had broken him.

My thoughts drifted back to my distaste at the sight of him each morning – my inability to cope with his smelly presence and his toxic anger. In the past few months I had stepped over him like he was rubbish and had never once thought to offer him a drink or some food. I felt so deeply ashamed.

I made my excuses, left the pub and headed toward the tube station, deep in thought. Around me, people were celebrating Friday night, laughing and huddling together in the brisk air. I didn’t feel like socializing. All I could think about was the man in the doorway and the injustice he had suffered.

The next Monday morning I planned to buy him a coffee and a sandwich, and strode up Kensington High Street, full of enthusiasm and good intentions. But when I arrived at the office, the doorway was empty. He had vanished with his few shabby belongings and I never saw him again.

This week I’ve taken part in the Wayside Chapel’s Long Walk Home, walking 28 kilometres in the shoes of someone sleeping rough. I finished it today and want to dedicate my donations to that man in the doorway. My greatest wish is that you found your way out of your nightmare, and somebody was able to help you regain hope in life. I’m so sorry I judged you and didn’t help you – I was so young, selfish and thoughtless. Hopefully with the wisdom of years I will never again disregard and ignore suffering like I did 30 years ago.

We never really know what events have led a person to live on the streets, and it could happen to any one of us. The lifeline to freedom happens when we adopt and embrace Wayside Chapel’s motto – ‘Love Over Hate’ – and create communities where there is no ‘us and them’ – and put these mottos into action.

God bless you, Wayside Chapel!

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

[ My fundraising page: https://www.longwalkhome.com.au/fundraisers/kerryosborne ]

My Lockdown Diary

In my former life in an office, I lived by Outlook Calendars, dividing each day into neat half hour allocations, flagging follow-up items and racing to beat strict deadlines set in my to-do list.

These days I have a very different approach to calendar control. I love a pretty diary with plenty of room to write scribbly reminders to myself, along with plans for coffee catchups with friends, solo adventures for a swim or a walk, work projects, special birthdays and trips away. Looking ahead in my diary is a source of anticipation and motivation, and helps me to get through a bad day.

My 2020 and 2021 diaries, however, have been anything but a source of excitement.  There are a few hopeful entries here and there, with details of holidays, weddings and birthday celebrations in swirling ballpoint, which have, one by one, been crossed out. My diaries look like homework books marked by a nasty teacher, as one event after another has been mercilessly struck out.

I hate crossing things out so much that I’m now leaving weeks completely blank. The stark white pages are blinding! As lockdown chugs on and on and on and on in Sydney, my diary sits alone on the kitchen bench, dreaming of better days.

We’ve all lost so much to COVID-19. The worst losses have, of course, been suffered by those who have lost loved ones, businesses and livelihoods. Others are struggling with their physical and mental health.

There has been so much loss.

As the weeks slide by, I’m grieving the loss of connection with family and friends, the warm hugs and the face-to-face chats, the cafes which buzz with the sounds of conversation and smells of coffee brewing and bacon frying. I miss the live music, the spontaneous drives in the country and the freedom to call in and visit a friend, without a second thought. I ache for the innocent days when crowds felt safe and we could smile at each other and speak spontaneously without masks coming between us. My heart breaks for the special birthdays which won’t come again and the teenagers who are missing out on their wild and free years, while they sit at home and wait.

The loss is obvious but I’m wondering if we have gained anything during this pandemic. Have we discovered a sense of courage and ingenuity to stay sane in difficult circumstances? Are we stronger than we were? Have we shown kindness and generosity to people around us, even when we felt the depth of our own uncertainty and anxiety? Perhaps some of us secretly enjoyed having our family together, our neighbourhoods returned to their former glory, with children playing in their yards and riding pushbikes, parents at home and dogs dragged along on so many walks that their little legs are aching. Maybe we’ve discovered that the idea of slowing down and appreciating simple moments has its merit and have made a ‘note to self’ to take some of this with us into “post-covid” life.

As I reflect on this whole catastrophe, I’m reminded of the story of Job, the guy in the Bible who lost absolutely everything in a series of unthinkable tragedies. I won’t go into the theology here, but suffice to say, Job would be someone well qualified to empathize with the losses we are facing. I love these words in the final chapter of the book of Job:

“The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters…  After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years, he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.”

Job was well acquainted with loss and suffering, yet his loss and suffering weren’t the end of the story. He learnt invaluable lessons, deepened his faith and stood firm. After all the trauma, he was blessed with truckloads of livestock, ten more children and a long and prosperous life.  I love that final line, which reads like his eulogy:

And so he died, an old man and full of years.

My hope for everyone reading this is that you too will be blessed with good things once this pandemic finally loses its grip on us. A thousand donkeys or camels may not be your thing, but whatever you’ve lost to covid and long for now, I pray that all of those things – and many, many more – will be restored to you.

One day when my diary is full of scribble again, jam-packed with plans for coffee catchups, pub dinners, holidays and dancing the night away, I hope I never forget these challenging days. May the memories of our lockdown diaries inspire us all to embrace every single moment of our lives, and never take for granted our freedom and the precious moments of connection ( face to face and not via Zoom ) with family and friends.

Before lockdown hit Sydney, I sat in a café, sipping a steaming cappuccino, listening to an old friend talk about their ex-partner. They spoke fondly and with a tenderness that had my jaw dropping to the table.  The breakup and divorce hadn’t been pretty.  Anger and resentment had ruled the day and the situation had seemed hopeless.  The kindness in the words I was hearing ignited the air around us like little miracle bombs, extinguishing the despair that had once won the day. I was grateful for my dark sunglasses, hiding the tears welling in my eyes.

Of all the battles we face, broken relationships hurt us the most.  Bitterness can sap the life from our bones and resentment can suck all of the joy out of living.  Injustice and hurt can leave us tormented, longing for revenge.  When we don’t find that ‘happily ever after’ we dreamt of, when our trust is broken and our heart is in pieces, what can we do?

I must confess, I’ve always been a fan of movies that end well, where misunderstandings are ironed out, families reconcile, friends reunite and lovers ride off into the golden sunset together, to live happily together into their old age. Movies which end with questions unanswered, loose-ends flapping in the breeze or, worse still, tragedy and loss, leave me agitated and upset. When movies emulate real life, they unsettle me.

Yet listening to my friend reminded me that even the worst messes in this life can be resurrected. It gave me hope about the people and situations I have accepted as completely hopeless. The key for my friend was their decision to let go of their anger and to get on with their life. A simple concept but not a simple door to unlock and walk through, and one which took years to achieve. It took hard work and courage, and ended up being the open door to freedom.  Sometimes we can hold our pain, anger and bitterness so close that they cut into our flesh like broken glass.  Rarely do these emotions impact the person who has hurt us the way they impact us.

My coffee tasted sweet that morning. Sure, this couple weren’t about to reconcile and live ‘happily ever after’.  They were much happier apart, with firm boundaries in place. But it was a miracle all the same – a miracle in healing, forgiveness and letting go. I could see peace ruling over chaos, truth ruling over lies, hope ruling over despair, healing ruling over pain and love ruling over hate.  Where there is forgiveness, letting go and healing, we walk on holy ground.

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.C.S. Lewis

I don’t think it is ever too late to seek forgiveness and rewrite your future.
Carla Reighard

Losing Billie

Billie

Last week we said a sad farewell to our smallest family member. Billie, my son’s monk (aka quaker) parrot, was small in stature, but big in personality. Her feathers were the hues of a tropical ocean – a masterpiece of aqua, turquoise and powder blue, contrasting with a soft grey. Her sweet appearance and serene colouring could lure you into a false sense of security, until you discovered she was in fact a mini dynamo, feisty and furious at times, with an ear-piercing scream that could wake the dead.

Billie was fiercely protective of my son and saved every drop of kindness she had to lavish on him. A usual sight around our home was Daniel sitting on the lounge with Billie perched protectively on his shoulder, snuggling against his cheek, grooming his eyebrows and hair, whilst gazing at him like a besotted schoolgirl.

I fed her regularly and chatted to her encouragingly, but from day one she hated me with a passion. When any of the males in our household fed her, she gave her special ‘thank you’ whistle, but I was met with stony silence whenever I stuck a tasty morsel through the bars of her cage. When she was out and about in our house she would watch me suspiciously, and if I ventured too close to my son she would dive-bomb me, landing on my shoulder whilst sinking her razor sharp beak into my neck.

Billie had a repertoire of words she would run through, often when the house was quiet and she was in her cage. Her favourites were hello, how are you, pretty girl, meow and hahahahaha (her spectacular recital of spontaneous laughter). I loved to listen to her private concert when I sat silently in another room.

In the evenings. Billie would often join us as we watched television in the lounge room. When I would leave my seat to make a cup of tea, I would often return to find her sitting in my seat, sassy and full of flounce, staring at me defiantly with her beady little eyes, daring me to try to move her.

Despite being a force of nature, she was terrified of anything long or noisy. She hated our vacuum cleaner and mop and would dissolve into a quivering mess, with wings raised and shuddering, screaming continually, whenever these scary items would appear. I often wondered how such a feisty and confident bird could also be so neurotic and full of fear.

In light of all of this, I was surprised by the tears streaming down my cheeks when I held her one last time to say goodbye. It was the first time she snuggled against me rather than dug her beak into my flesh. We called it a truce on her last day – the game was finally over.

The grief didn’t end there and it felt heavy and suffocating, as grief does. Our house felt cold, silent and lacking in colour without Billie. Daniel was very sad, understandably, as he’d lost one of his best mates, but why was I, the much-hated mother, so distraught?

Losing Billie reminded me that we don’t only love animals (or people) because they are predictable, well-behaved and perfect. Sometimes the rascals and the difficult ones win our hearts as well and losing them has its own level of pain and complexity. Virtue isn’t a prerequisite for love and the most outlandish characters can be the ones we love the most.

Billie reminded me too that those of us who don’t fit into acceptable social norms or political correctness still have unique value. Our flaws and foibles, mistakes and regrets, eccentricities and brokenness, do not disqualify us from having a vital role to play in this life. Nor do they make us unworthy of love.

Sometimes it’s that very feistiness, unexpected honesty or quirkiness, that lights up the room around us as we express our unique selves, and leaves a room so very empty when we leave it.

We will miss you, Billie, and we won’t forget you. Thank you for being Daniel’s friend at a time when he needed you, and for keeping the rest of us on our toes.

Remembering how to dance

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”   C.S. Lewis

The magic of live theatre couldn’t be dimmed, despite the face masks and social distancing, as I sat transfixed at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney watching a matinee performance of My Brilliant Career.

Beyond the compelling themes and narrative, a picture became etched in my mind of the gifted actress who played two roles: Sybylla’s grandmother and a young girl in the family where Sybylla was sent to nanny.  Both roles were played so convincingly. The actress became the grandmother and then she became the young, playful girl.  Sitting in the front row, I watched with growing fascination, the poised body language and measured tones of the grandmother, the self-assured air, the stiffness of her spine and subtle tilt of the head, and then the incredible transformation when she became the little girl, unselfconscious and playful, blurting out words, head bobbing and body nimble and fidgety, moving around freely, with a heart full of mischief.  How could this actress inhabit these two characters with such authenticity? 

I was reminded of an unforgettable moment I witnessed early last year, whilst visiting a chapel at an aged care facility. Sitting in the back row, I watched two elderly women arriving, shuffling into the chapel clutching their walking frames to steady themselves, steps slow and methodical, until they lowered themselves carefully onto the pew near the front.

Whoever chose the songs that morning went for some lively, old fashioned gospel tunes, with toe-tapping beats and uplifting lyrics.  I held my breath when the two elderly ladies rose to their feet, walking frames abandoned, and began dancing together. They swayed their hips like teenagers, linked arms and swung one another around in circles, smiles radiant and faces alight with joy. It was as if the years had slipped away in that moment and they were young women once again, bursting with energy and without a care in the world.

When the song ended and they returned to their seats, and their frailties, I wondered if I had imagined it all.  It felt as if the earth had tilted on its axis and for a few sacred moments these women were able to shrug off the shackles of age, and embrace their youth and freedom once again.

Can you remember the last time you danced?  I always loved to dance and have fond memories of nights spent at local nightclubs and parties with the girls, shaking our hips to the beat whilst encircling our pile of handbags. Even now, I love nothing more than seeing a good band and hitting the dance floor. The pandemic has weighed heavily on many of us. Dancing has been one of victims, along with life-affirming rituals we have taken for granted such as hugging the people we love.  Some days it has felt impossible to move under the weight of the pandemic’s doom and gloom. The air we breathe has been thick with stress and worries, making us choke.  The uncertainty, the last-minute-cancelled-plans, the separation from loved ones, the long lists of restrictions and rules, sucked all the joy out of life, and left us feeling old and tired. No wonder we have forgotten how to dance and play.

When I visited the theatre, a little light switched on for me. I was reminded of the hopeful child that lives within us all. Once upon a time we all had baby eyes filled with delight. We were fearless and radiated love, looking around us with innocence and wonder, still aglow with the purity of heaven before the grubbiness of the world rubbed off on us and stole our joy.

Perhaps it’s time to let these neglected ‘children’ out to play.  With their help we can learn to dance again. We can find things to laugh about and to realise that we don’t need to know it all and have all the answers.  They can teach us that being grown up isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

We can choose to turn our attention to the beauty of nature, music, art and literature, simply getting outside to walk barefoot on soft grass, breathing in fresh air and lying on our backs gazing at the big blue sky. We can give ourselves permission to feed and nurture our souls with creativity and freedom.  The child within helps us remember our dreams long forgotten, and invites us to ignite our hopefulness in a future full of possibilities.

I dare you to spend some time being the childish version of yourself, unpretentious and playful, letting go for a little while at least of all of those disappointments, problems and heaviness, embracing pleasures long forgotten and remembering how good it feels to dance.