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Archive for the ‘Health and Well Being’ Category

I haven’t always been Kerry Osborne.  Once upon a time I was Kerry Sims.  I’ve also been known by some of my slightly-less-than-charming acquaintances as Dim Sims and Waddles. Those names have a cute and whimsical ring to them these days, when I view them from the comfort of middle age, but back in my school days they felt anything but cute.  They stung, they hurt and left me burning with shame.

“Dim Sims” was flung around in my primary school days – an ‘amusing’ adjustment to my surname which left me feeling like I was stupid.  Ironically, the boys calling me this were regularly failing their tests and getting the cane for their bad behaviour, while I was the “good girl” getting straight A’s.  But the irony was lost on me in those days.

“Waddles” emerged in high school and had a more vicious undertone, as it was a reference to my awkward gait and slight limp due to a then-undiagnosed hip problem.  I remember one day being circled by a group of boys, imitating my walk, thinking it was quite hilarious.  I don’t even remember who they were, but I do remember the burning shame I felt, the tears in my eyes and the heavy feeling of worthlessness.

I was almost forty when I was ready to face my hip problem.  Chronic pain and a concerned partner finally forced me into a corner.  When the orthopaedic surgeon told me that I had severe hip dysplasia from birth and my hip sockets hadn’t formed properly I was shocked.  It was also a gigantic “Aha!” moment when the truth finally hit me. Apparently I had done an amazing job getting around all of those years but now it was time for surgery.  The shame I’d locked inside all of those years, trapped like a big block of ice, began to melt away.  In the café at St Vincent’s Hospital the tears flowed hot and fast, the ice melting at last, as the shame that had shut down parts of my emotions finally washed away. As St Vincent’s Café sees many tears, I was able to cry without interruption.

Thankfully over the years a culture has emerged where bullying is no longer the norm and mentioning it isn’t treated with scorn.  I work these days in a school vigilant in finding ways to empower students and protect them from bullying.

But sadly in our society bullies continue to persist, despite our enlightenment. Bullying may begin in the school-yard but it continues in the workplace and sometimes, sadly, in our homes.  The bullying child may have endearing qualities with his cheeky smile and grubby knees, but the vicious boss who verbally strips staff of their self-worth, or the violent husband who humiliates and damages his wife with his fists and his controlling ways are just plain ugly.

When I was in my twenties I met one of the old school bullies at a party.  My life was full and fabulous and I was about to head off overseas to work and travel the world.  My old classmate was unemployed and just out of hospital for treatment of his mental health and drug dependency issues.  One of the first things he said to me was how sorry he was for the way he had treated me at school. He seemed to be struggling under the heaviness of guilt.  I smiled at his heartfelt apology and told him not to worry.  One look into his eyes told me he had already paid for the way he had lived his life thus far.

Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld  puts it well in his advice to those surviving a break-up:  “The best revenge is living well”.  Now I’m not an advocate for revenge, but there is certainly wisdom in those words.  For a time we may feel belittled by the bullies in our lives, but the scales will turn one day.  The key is to hang in there, and wait and watch.

So if you are being bullied or have been bullied, please take heart.  Don’t believe what you are hearing about yourself. It isn’t true.  Just as I’m not dim, and my disability wasn’t my fault, the same is true of you. If you don’t believe those damning words and hang in there, one day the tide will turn. Walk away, smile to yourself, and believe that you are valuable, gifted and full of potential.

So to my old bullies I say this:  I forgive you all – you were young, silly and thoughtless, and perhaps someone was bullying you too.  But I do believe you reap what you sow and Someone has my back who is far more powerful than all of us.  I pray that you will confess, apologise and take an honest look at yourself, and learn to live a life that brings joy to others rather than despair.

There is no room in this vast and beautiful world for bullies, and there is no room in my heart to listen to them anymore.  Kindness and love are far more interesting.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”   Romans 12:17-19 (MSG)

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Imagine what life would be like without worry.   I remember that heady freedom I felt as a child  riding in the car with the windows down, long before child restraints became mandatory, my nose stuck out the window smelling the freshly cut grass, the wind rushing through my hair and a big smile on my face, ready for anything.

I thought that by this stage in life I would have worry all figured out.  I recall jumping onto a plane as a young woman full of nothing but excitement, anticipation and wondering whether I’d order a red or white wine once we took off.  I loved listening to Midnight Oil and Angels songs throbbing on my big old Walkman as the plane soured into the air. Taking off was my favourite part of the trip – so thrilling to feel the plane’s  power, energy and oomph as we climbed into the big blue sky.

These days flying is a very different matter.  The loud rock songs and delicious beverage decisions have vanished from my mind, and in their place are whispers of:  that guy in front of us looks a bit shifty – he could be a terrorist;  what was that grinding noise in the plane’s engine;  what if my son vomits all over the smart-looking woman next to him; my ankles are feeling puffy – I hope it’s not deep vein thrombosis;  did I switch off the iron before leaving the house?  And on and on it goes, relentless and immobilising.  Tapping my toes to Peter and Doc has become an exquisite and bittersweet memory.

Worry can act as a giant eraser, rubbing all the colour and beauty out of life.  I noticed this at the end of the school holidays when I visited a local café with my sons for breakfast.  After a long summer holiday I was feeling unusually relaxed and virtually worry-free.   We sat at the same table as last time – the very first day of the holidays – and I was amazed at the striking coloured graffiti on the wall in front of me.  I commented to my sons and one responded with: “It’s been there all along Mum”.  I disagreed as I’d never seen it before…  So when the waitress came along laden with cappuccino and milkshakes I told her how much I loved the new artwork.  “Oh, that was done before we opened the Café, it’s been there for quite a  while…”  Last time I was in the café I was so tired, stressed and full of anxiety that I didn’t even see all of this colour, movement and artistic expression, right in front of me!  It was an eerie moment of self awareness.  My worry was robbing me of all the best bits in life – the beautiful, special and the meaningful bits.

Yet when I reflect on the times I’ve had to face something really challenging, such as a medical diagnosis that could be fatal, I realise that hiding beneath the heavy layers of shock and despair was a tiny glimmer of hope.  Whether it was a line in a song on the radio,  a conversation overheard in the hospital lift, or simply the uplifting presence of a friend by my side – I caught a little glimpse of light that ignited something in my spirit. I knew I would get through this dark valley – there was a way through and a wellspring to sustain me.  Surely, this little glimmer can be ignited now too, when worry springs up uninvited like a weed threatening to strangle all the joy and colour out of life.

Big problems aren’t always solved with big solutions.  Do you know that a mustard seed is only 1-2 mm in diameter?  A wise man once said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. It sounds like a crazy concept, I know, but there’s something in it.

So when those worrying whispers start up in my mind I look for the mustard seed of faith, wrapped in whispers of:   all will be well, you will get through this, things will get better – nothing stays the same, God loves you and nothing can separate you from his love, nothing is impossible, you have a purpose, don’t give up, never give up, just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going…

Seeds have an uncanny knack of taking root and growing.  If you dare to have that first little bit of faith and take a look a few years later, you realise that the seed has taken root and it’s growing taller, green shoots becoming stems and branches.  I’ve heard that in ideal conditions a mustard tree can grow to 3-5 metres tall.  Pretty impressive for a 1-2 mm seed.

So never underestimate small beginnings.  The wise man who told this story knew exactly what he was talking about.  He faced insurmountable challenges of his own with remarkable courage and grace.  Moving mountains seems easy compared with what this wise man actually did.  He transformed sickness into health, despair into hope, pain into comfort, oppression into freedom, prejudice and hate into compassion and love, and ultimately, life victorious over death.

I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be truly carefree again – window down and the wind in my face – strands of hair getting stuck in my teeth.  Maybe I’ll even take to the skies with the Oils or the Angels throbbing in my ears – wondering whether to order the white or the red – worry gone at last and freedom firmly in its place.

 

mountain

 

 

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echidna-visitorHave you ever had a day of good intentions and set plans that goes horribly wrong? Last Tuesday was ‘one of those days’ for me.  I was the mad woman, disheveled hair, bulging eyes, trying to juggle all the pieces of her life.  Flying in the air were all my roles: mother, wife, sister, nurse maid, house cleaner, PA, friend spinning dangerously out of control.  About to collide in the muddle were the to-do lists, my daily work calendar brimming with tasks and my sick son who needed me to take him to the doctor straight away.   I shut my eyes breathlessly hoping that somehow it would all miraculously fall into place  – but instead it all came tumbling down with what felt like an almighty crash.  It felt so quiet and still after all the juggling stopped.

So I sent some emails and made some calls to excuse myself from life. I convinced the doctor’s receptionist that it was urgent and after the dash to the surgery I quietened the noise in my head and cared for my son. As I checked emails throughout the day I was surprised to see the world functioning quite happily without me.

But amidst the peace and quiet was  a gnawing feeling that I had failed somehow, and that all my heroic efforts in juggling my life had resulted in nothing more than a mess. I hadn’t even managed to get to work. That little voice inside was telling me what a hopeless failure I was.

Late in the afternoon  I heard my husband arrive home and call out to me. ‘What now?’ I thought…  But as I trudged out the door I saw that he wasn’t alone.  We had a visitor – very small, very spiky and quite amazing.  An Echidna had waddled up our driveway from the bushland across the road, right up to our front door, as if to drop by for some afternoon tea. He tolerated our cooing and rude staring as we introduced ourselves and  carefully carried him across the road back to his bush home, gloves protecting fingers from spikes poised ready for a stabbing.  His pointy nose and beady eyes gazed at us as he curled his impressive spiky self, long claws waving in the air.

dropping-by

Despite his threatening spikes, I was awestruck. Something about a random visit from this exquisite creature – so unique and striking – filled me with that crazy joy that bubbles up and is far more common in young children than the middle aged.  Along with the sense of joy came a sense of freedom.  So what if I couldn’t  control my day.  Perhaps my little friend hadn’t controlled his day too well either, misjudging his afternoon stroll in the bush on the hunt for some ants.  The need to control, to stress, to rush, to worry, to get everything done, no longer mattered.  Something about the wonder of our visitor allowed the chains of being human to slip away.

So if you’re having a bad day too, can I recommend spending some time with a four legged friend? Tell your dog or cat all about it and they’ll understand. Or take a walk in the bush and tell the gum trees and the lorikeets about your dreams and disappointments. Escape your electronic devices and reality shows and get outside to where nature is.  God’s fingerprints are all over the natural world.  It has a beauty that speaks joy to us and shows us a compassion so lacking in concrete and steel.  Nature teaches us the art of freedom – without the need for any words.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  –  Job 12: 7-10

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Have you noticed that some seasons of life are filled with action, adventure, parties and people? Others are not. Over the past month I’ve been living the life of a hermit.  Winter has felt cold and grey, and I’ve caught the never-ending flu virus, which has led to quiet weekends and plenty of solitude.

Over this time my main companion has been Bobbie, my son’s blue budgie. Even when my voice is only a croak and my hair is beyond a mess, he is always delighted to see me, chirping along merrily with his ‘Hello Bobbie’, ‘Who’s a Pretty Boy?’ and ‘I Love You’s.  He’s always ready with his surprisingly gentle peck on the nose when I lean in for a kiss.

Bobbie’s companionship has sustained me through many lonely and bleak days, but despite his reliable nature, now and again he does disappoint me. Just as we are conversing happily, he catches a glimpse of his little blue face in his hanging mirror, and becomes transfixed by his reflection.   He is mesmerised by the gorgeous bird before him, and instead of offering his enthusiastic words and loving pecks to me, they are suddenly all directed at the bird in the mirror.  On it goes – ‘Pretty Boy’ and ‘I Love You’ along with his selfie-kisses, beak tapping madly on the mirror. Our conversation is suddenly over and I’m left talking to myself too.

Bobbie amuses me because his mirror-gazing fixation isn’t a trait limited only to budgies. People do it too.  Have you noticed?  Humans have their our own form of ‘mirror-gazing’.  It may range from a Facebook page populated heavily with selfie-shots, to an obsession with special projects and personal agendas, where little interest is shown in anything other than these particular projects and agendas.  A tell-tale sign I’ve noticed is a particular “glazed-eye look” which comes over a person which seems to prevent them from any shift in their focus. I’m sure most of us can relate to the Non Stop Talker in meetings, who ploughs on and on relentlessly, talking right over anyone brave enough to try to interrupt them. They are so focused on the reflection in the mirror that they can’t see or hear the people sitting right in front of them. Social media promotes this mindset, with all the: ‘Look at ME and all the fun I had today!’ mentality. There’s a temptation to turn away from the people right in front of us and gaze into our own little mirrors.   I fear that one day the human race may become so stuck in selfie-mode that we have with no connection at all to one another and the world around us.

Recently I met with two friends for morning tea. We had cups of tea in elegant yellow and black cups and saucers, rice paper rolls and delicious cake cut into little pieces.  Months had passed since the three of us sat together, and there was so much to discuss.  Each of us spoke in turn, sharing deeply about our struggles – laughing, crying and nodding in agreement.  The only thing that exceeded all of the talking was the quiet listening.  I felt listened to and heard each time I spoke, and spent a long time intently listening.  We each had our turn.  After three solid hours of free-flowing, authentic communication we held hands and prayed for each other.  Nothing banishes a mirror of self-interest like praying for someone else. It’s like emotional health food – building up our spiritual core strength and restoring the inner balance of joy and peace better than any Pilates class or detox shake.

Now I’m not too sure how Bobbie feels after a long session of mirror-gazing, but I know it leaves me feeling anxious and heavy-hearted.  The reflection in the mirror looks okay to begin with. Let’s face it, we’re all fascinated with ourselves to a degree.  At the start I’m like Harry the Mosquito in ‘A Bugs Life’, flying toward the bug zapper:  “I-can’t-help-it. It’s-so-beautiful”.  But once I spend some time gazing at myself all I can see are my failures, imperfections, problems and frustrations. Sometimes a coffee with a friend, listening, laughing and lightening up, or reading a chapter of a good book is enough to lift the heaviness. Other times I walk outside to look up at the wide expanse of sky and breathe in the cool fresh air.

Reflected in the mirror is a distorted egocentric world, but just outside our door are the wide open spaces, the big picture that exists beyond our selves –  painted by our Creator with humble love – a masterpiece of beauty, authenticity and promise.

 

 

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Today I want to lift the lid on a phase in a woman’s life which is often considered ‘secret women’s business’. As a consequence many are left to suffer in silence. My hope is that by sharing my experience, someone else may relate and feel a little less alone.

As women we constantly evolve, grow, change and move on to the next chapter. Just as we become comfortable with the current version of our selves, along comes another phase.  Our bodies are both beautiful and miraculous in their capacity to bring about new life. We are strong and powerful.  With a flash of cleavage we can leave men speechless.  On a good night when we are in our prime, we can stride into a party and know that all eyes are on us. We are clever too – just as capable of getting the top job as any of our male counterparts.  We can do it all.  I am woman, hear me roar.  We are confident, productive and ready for anything.  But then along comes middle age…

As 50 approaches it’s as if a thick fog mysteriously rolls in and settles around us, rendering us colourless and, at times, completely invisible. As our ovaries sink into their gradual decline, the tide of hormones recedes and the woman we once were seems to vanish.

It’s around this time that we enter a phase of life which rarely features in glossy women’s magazines or reality programs.  I remember Mum whispering behind her hand that some unfortunate woman was acting strangely as she was ‘going through The Change’.  I recall the mysterious fanning of flushed faces and moodiness, but saw little other evidence of what this perplexing time in a woman’s life was all about.

So today I will lift the veil of mystery and talk a little about what it is like to be a ‘Menopausal Mama’. At 51, I’m right in the thick of it. If you (or your partner) are there too, you’ll know only too well what I’m talking about.

I’ll start with the ‘hot flushes’ which commonly accompany menopause. Firstly, they are not just hot, they are like being ignited from the inside out, particularly when they frizzle you awake at 3am.  It’s like encountering the Towering Inferno in your intestines.  The word ‘flush’ is way too pleasant a word and doesn’t come close to capturing the intensity.  For me it’s like being on fire, and then add feeling dizzy, disoriented and having difficulty remembering your own name.  The word ‘hot flash’ is sometimes used also, giving the impression that there is something akin to super hero status about this symptom. Believe me,  there is nothing akin to Wonder Woman happening here! On top of this there is the irrepressible desire to burst into tears about anything from the latest terrorist attack to the lid being left off the toothpaste and oozing all over the basin just cleaned that morning. If a ‘hot flush’ takes hold during a business meeting or even at the supermarket checkout, there is no hope of saying anything that makes any sense or of retaining any of your composure.

Then there is the issue of ‘moodiness’…. For most of my life I’ve prided myself on being a ‘nice’ person. I live in fear of upsetting anyone, do all I can to please others and mostly accept others as they are. However, during this Menopausal Mama stage, the niceness has left the building. People are becoming so intolerably annoying.

Cruel, thoughtless, narcissistic type-people have always disappointed me, but now I have to hold back from giving them a good slap and consciously avoid any close contact. Plus now the Smarty Pants I Know Everything types infuriate me too.  Particularly the ones who have had little life experience in a certain area but have done a course and proceed to dish out advice about issues they know little about at a heart level.  I’ve developed an animal instinct for sniffing out dishonesty, a superior attitude and falseness. Along with this, is an insatiable longing for authentic souls, who are brave enough to say what they really think, who genuinely care about other people and who are humble and kind.  The habits and expectations I’ve tolerated in others for years no longer seem to fit and sit around awkwardly like my discarded size 10 red jeans at the back of the wardrobe.

There is also the Complete Mental Blank moment which hits without warning. One moment you’re conversing intelligently and informatively on a subject, and then, whammo, all thoughts are inexplicably wiped from my mind and there is nothing there but blank space. Menopause doesn’t just kidnap your attractiveness, it abducts your mind as well, leaving you with intermittent dementia and dwindling confidence.

Living as an invisible, perspiring and angry woman is challenging, to say the least. If only Happy, Cool and Serene Me could re-appear and live in harmony with the world again.  If only well-meaning people could once again pass me by without attracting such violent reactions.   But is there anything to learn from this difficult yet inevitable phase of the female life?

It’s early days yet for me, but one thing I’m learning is that being a Menopausal Mama forces you to face the truth about your life and your relationships. It’s a time for taking off the rose-tinted glasses and taking a good hard look at your life in the glaring sunlight of truth.  Cracks and hidden doubts are fully visible, in all their confronting ugliness.  I know that the friendships I retain during this period will be true friendships, built to last the test of time, and all of those relationships fractured with dishonesty, deceit or lack of respect will simply fall away.

I’m also learning that being ‘nice’ isn’t always the best path to walk. It may be the easiest and the one which causes less conflict, but ‘nice’ can at times be another word for fear, avoidance, denial and dishonesty. Menopausal Mamas are no longer pretty young girls who bat their eyelids and wait for the world to pay them attention.  They are fearsome ladies who already know their value, whether or not anyone else agrees, and who inhabit their life and make their own fun, regardless of who sings their praise or strokes their egos.

And on the days when looking at life without the flattering filters becomes downright depressing, I tell myself that ‘this too will pass’. It’s a passing phase just as puberty and pregnancy were, and one day the fog will lift.  In the meantime, I hold tightly to the people I love the most and to God who created we women with all our uniqueness and wonder.  I hope that those I love will keep on loving me through this storm and that God will extend an extra measure of grace and understanding to all of us who are living life as Menopausal Mamas.

 


As Long As Your Eyes Are Blue by Banjo Paterson (first published in 1891)

Wilt thou love me, sweet, when my hair is grey

And my cheeks shall have lost their hue?

When the charms of youth shall have passed away,

Will your love as of old prove true?

For the looks may change, and the heart may range,

And the love be no longer fond;

Wilt thou love with truth in the years of youth

And away to the years beyond?

Oh, I love you, sweet, for your locks of brown

And the blush on your cheek that lies

But I love you most for the kindly heart

That I see in your sweet blue eyes.

For the eyes are signs of the soul within,

Of the heart that is leal and true,

And mine own sweetheart, I shall love you still,

Just as long as your eyes are blue.

For the locks may bleach, and the cheeks of peach

May be reft of their golden hue;

But mine own sweetheart, I shall love you still,

Just as long as your eyes are blue.

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Every now and then I experience something quite mysterious. Sometimes it’s a strong sense of knowing what is about to happen, a sense of impending doom or nervous anticipation depending on what is ahead.  Sometimes it’s a still small voice, fresh, surprising and way outside the boundaries of my usual  flow of thoughts.  At other times it’s a dream holding a startling truth I haven’t been brave enough to face, or just a vivid picture in my mind in my waking hours.

Quite often I ignore these mysterious happenings altogether, wondering if I’m going mad.   But then in hindsight I kick myself, realising the crazy little voice was actually a glimpse of something quite extraordinary and I missed the mark when I ignored the prompting.  I suspect you may read this and relate. Possessing a ‘sixth sense’ or strong intuition is far more common than we may think.

We are currently in the latter stages of a large renovation to our home.  Now we are about three-quarters of the way through, I’m getting impatient with the waiting.  The first couple of months were exciting with the house growing by the hour and our dreams unfolding before our eyes, but over the past month things have slowed down.  The scaffolding which at first looked to me like a symbol of promise and growth has become stifling, like prison bars encircling us.

At Christmas we had a much-needed pause from the noise and dust, but after a brief re-appearance in January, our builder vanished again.  He is hard-working, professional and reliable, and when I was told he had gone away on holiday without mentioning it, I was a little taken aback.  On hearing the news that crazy little voice whispered to me “He’s had a death in the family – he didn’t plan on this”.   I enquired further with the building team and was told again that no, everything was okay, he had just decided to take a holiday.

My impatience has risen over the last week as my list of questions and building ideas has lengthened and still no returned emails or telephone calls.  This morning he was nowhere to be seen and I again asked the question of his team of builders.  However, this time the answer was different.  A family member had passed away and he had been forced to rush off overseas unexpectedly.  Aha! Once again, the crazy little voice had been correct.  Thankfully my nagging suspicion that the voice may hold some truth had prevented me from venting my anger, leaving the ranting and raving voicemail message which was on the tip of my tongue at one point.

This story may seem trivial, but so many of the misunderstandings, conflicts and fall-outs in our relationships stem from trivial things – an unkind word, a thoughtless gesture or being so focused on our own issues that we can’t see the other person’s point of view.

I often wonder if God gives me extra assistance in this way because he knows what a mess I can make of things when I overreact to situations and fail to see the problems of other people and the whole ‘big picture’ view.  We all wear blinkers to a degree and see only our unique little corridor of the world.

My note to self today is to keep listening to that intuitive inner voice and to remember that there is often more to peoples’ actions than meets the eye.  The pain and struggles of others so often aren’t immediately visible.  It takes an extra measure of grace,  kindness and crazy little voices to notice them.  God walks ahead of us just as he walks beside us.  His wise promptings can help us avoid unnecessary problems, pain and hassle.  It’s always worth pausing, taking a breath and being brave enough to listen to that crazy little voice.

 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.   Deuteronomy 31:8

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Early days in our caravan

Early days in our caravan

There is nothing quite like holidaying in a caravan.  It is an adventure, an escape, an excuse to be lazy and an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature.  When I arrive at our van, I feel like I’ve collapsed on a soft bed of feathers.  Finally, I can relax, breathe and laugh out loud.  It is so close to the beach, you can taste the salt water on the breeze and hear the waves crashing in the distance, the gritty sand between your toes as you kick off your sandals and slip on the rubber thongs.  What it lacks in luxury it makes up for with friendly neighbours, a lack of pretense and the daily promise of wine, nibblies and a good chat.  The relaxed atmosphere is palpable, like the scent of Aerogard at dusk.

This past fortnight at our caravan park I realised there is just one thing missing from the idyllic caravanning holiday. It isn’t something I usually even notice, but the lack of it left me slightly frazzled. I found it most days in the bathroom, but rarely anywhere else. With togetherness everywhere, the one thing missing was my privacy – the quiet moments, the space to think, and the luxury of being alone. There are family, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers, their extended families and all their kids, pet dogs and extensive scooter collections everywhere during the busy holiday season. This communal living brings its own special challenges, particularly for the slightly introverted like me.

I’m not new to caravan life. I grew up holidaying at such prestigious parks as the “Banana Bowl” in Coffs Harbour, at a little seaside town called Dalmeny on the South Coast of NSW and even beside the Tumut River in the picturesque Snowy Mountains where Dad believed it was possible to drop in a line and catch a trout from a deck chair in our canvas annex.

Mum even managed to organise Christmas in the caravan one year, complete with a bottle of Cold Duck bubbly, delicious roast dinner and plenty of tinsel.

Christimas in the Van

During the 1970s we wore terry towelling hats with matching terry towelling shorts. These were the ‘good old days’ of sunbaking on the beach all day with no sunscreen, only a little baby oil to help fry the skin to a crisp brown. I loved my tanned body and after the inevitable skin peel following the first day in the sun, I just grew browner and browner by the day.

One of our favourite pastimes while not lying flat-out in the sun was people watching. There were so many interesting people to watch. There was the strange man who had a silent companion who never emerged from the van but travelled everywhere with him in the passenger seat of his car. There was the “woman who loves herself” who paraded by our van in her daring bikinis and mini skirts. We rolled our eyes in united jealousy: “oh, doesn’t she love herself!”.  After many weeks of watching the silent passenger, we realised that she wasn’t a person at all but a life-sized dummy. I remember being told that he had the dummy with him so strangers would not think he was travelling alone. Perhaps there was more to it than that but whatever the reason, it certainly added to the caravan park intrigue!

I don’t really remember feeling frazzled by all the togetherness when I was a child. The need for isolation and my own space has grown stronger over the years. So many in the world do not enjoy the luxury of ‘their own space’, so why is it so important to me? For many, living in a small home with extended family members is part of everyday life. I envy those who can live in harmony in this way without the emotional anguish I sometimes feel.

Although a need for privacy is quite natural, and a certain amount of alone time is good for you, I do think the caravan park community has something to teach many of us. For those travelling with extended family, this may be the most precious time when grandkids spend time with grandparents and three generations co-exist under the one roof. There are the inevitable tensions, resentments and clashes in most families, but when you have lost your parents as I have, the wisdom of getting over the obstacles, gritting your teeth and looking for the good in your family members seems a wise way to go. They won’t be with you forever.

Spending time with your caravan friends is interesting too. Often the only place you meet is at the park and a unique relationship develops. There are the hours spent on the beach, watching the kids, talking on a range of topics, the long evenings sipping wine and slapping away the mosquitoes, solving the problems of the world, or strumming guitar strings, singing badly and conjuring dreams and schemes.  With caravan friends there are few schedules or appointments, just a flow of spontaneous togetherness.

There are the special moments too when the caravanning community spirit shines brightly such as one afternoon when a 3-year-old girl went missing. As the Mum and Grandma began their wild-eyed panicky dash around the park calling her name, everyone aged from 5 to 85 got the message, dropped what they were doing and joined in the search for the little girl wearing the red top. Beach Mission members rushed over to help and before long every row of vans had been searched thoroughly and several people clambered down the storm water drain. You could hear the collective sigh of relief when the girl was eventually found hiding under a bed in her caravan. But the vision of everyone rushing to help is a warm reminder of the good side of humanity. There is a tendency to distrust our neighbours, when they may really be our greatest allies.

I still like to “people watch” at our caravan park. There is always the stunning woman who ‘loves herself’ and I still roll my eyes and feel jealous, but thankfully I’ve never seen another life-sized dummy displayed in public. The people I watch, and the people I’ve befriended, have their happy days, but also their challenging days. Relationships which at first appear shiny and perfect tend to reveal a few weak spots and cracks on extended observation. In fact, the very issues I’ve been troubled by are frequently played out before me in someone else’s life. I know I’m not really alone in anything I go through.

So while I long for privacy and order, immersion in the life of others reminds me of how deeply we are all connected. Avoiding the noise and mess of a life shared with others risks missing some very important lessons, special friendships and precious memories.

So tonight I say thank you to my humble heritage of caravanning life – for the freedom and fun, the quirkiness and the challenges. I’m thankful for the holiday away from my ordered life and pedantic privacy. I’m so grateful to the community of colourful and kind-hearted characters from all walks of life I meet there who teach me about living in the moment, going with the flow, staying honest and never hiding away from living life to the full.

 God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. – Desmond Tutu

 

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