This is all I can say right now. Life is strange. It hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would when I was younger. Its much more unpredictable and mysterious. There are no formulas for understanding or achieving anything that will deliver a guaranteed outcome. I just read these words in a tiny book on joy…”Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you”…illustrated by the simplest flowers of all…daisies. And I’m wondering if this is true, if only it was as easy as this.
Ben, my eldest son, was a capable country boy. He had practical skills that were always needed by others, friends, family and employers. He was rarely bored. The only times I’ve ever seen him quiet and still was when he was near water, fishing mostly. His usual, fairly predictable self began to disappear last year and he became scattered and chaotic over many months. I attributed this change to prescription medication he was started on, and I still do. He had a month’s reprieve from all this when he came to stay with us in the Northern Territory and that prescription had run out. He was back to being the fishing and country boy we knew and loved. Calm and relaxed and enjoying being able to celebrate his 40th birthday on a camping trip with us.
That was September 2019. In November I volunteered to assist a Rohingya refugee being held in offshore detention for the past six years, to apply for Canadian immigration. A young man of 34, N, has a wife and 10 year old daughter still living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. He hasn’t seen them for 10 years. He has never seen his daughter, only in photos. We communicated on WhatsApp and shared stories and day to day happenings. I’ve loosely followed the news over the years about Australia’s offshore and onshore detention policies for refugees and felt they were unnecessarily harsh and wished our government was more humane and compassionate in it’s laws. But that’s as far as my thoughts about refugees went. Except, that I knew if I was ever in a position to help I would. N’s life in Bangladesh as a child refugee from Burma (now Myanmar) until being detained on the Pacific island of Nauru by the Australian government began to open my eyes to what countless refugees worldwide experience. I am only beginning to realise the despair, statelessness, trauma and displacement they experience. And I wonder what is hoped to be achieved by mandatory indefinite detention other than causing a form of torture.
On December 6th, N, asked me to be his mother. His parents had died soon after they fled from Burma when N was six years old. He barely remembered them. For him to have a mother again was something he’d barely hoped for. I happily agreed as I’d begun to care for him. I hoped to be able to visit him one day when he was free in Canada.
On December 8th 2019 Ben was killed, shot by Queensland police. I’d told N two days before that I had 2 two daughters and two sons but now I had three sons after agreeing to be his adopted mum. Life is strange. I gained a son and lost a son in two days. And I am still re-thinking what it means to be an Australian. To live in a country (and “believe” in it) that deems it lawful for a young man, father of four children, to be killed by law enforcement officers with no questions asked. And to detain others indefinitely when no crime has been committed.
In January 2020, N, was flown to Australia under the now defunct medivac legislation for medical treatment for which he is still waiting and detained in a motel in a coronavirus hotspot. I have been trying to get him approved for release into the community to live with my husband and I until his case for settlement is finalised. Australians returning from overseas and interstate have found being locked in a motel room for two weeks extremely challenging. Many young men in Melbourne, Brisbane and other places have been detained in motels known as alternative places of detention for month after long wearing, boring month. Many were flown here because of mental health problems.
Since N has arrived in Australia I’ve “met” other young men from all over the world. Tamil men from Sri Lanka, others from Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh and Pakistan. All with traumatic stories of survival, all in need of care and freedom. My life has broadened to include so many others as I’m learning to live with the loss of my firstborn son. Life is indeed strange.
I think of a pile of bricks, each brick being fragment of a larger whole, your third son is a brick, and you are the attempting mortar, trying to bring at least some of the bits together for at least awhile, and Ben is now that gaping hole in the wall that you were building, where the lorry just rammed through your life…