I started this blog several years ago with the idea that, while I was writing a remote area nurse memoir, I’d have a website with photos and articles to accompany it. That worked for a few years until life’s ups and downs took up a lot of time and energy (which it does so well!) and my posts became sporadic and into a few different topics.
I’ve been thinking about my lack of posts recently and about the topic of curiosity and where it leads and decided to pick up where I left off with a wider focus about curiosity. I completed the memoir a couple of years ago and the manuscript is sitting in the cupboard. I’m also curious as to why I begin things and dont finish them. My elderly mother said to me recently “you have so many abilities but you never finish anything”…hmm…I need to think about this.
The Australian Oxford dictionary defines curiosity as:-
An eager desire to know
A strange, rare or interesting object
Roget’s Thesaurus lists a range of explanations from searching and seeking to snooping and spying.
I like to think of curiosity as a quest, a thirst for life, opening up to what life presents. The opposite of being fearful and closed off and hesitant. I’m not too keen on the thought of flippant snooping or superficial spying. That has the feel of purposeless gossip that harms without informing, learning nothing.
So I’m going to try once again to post weekly about saying yes to life and following where it leads…
Its been over a year since my last post. Life was chaotic and grief-filled last year. A young man close to our family shot and killed himself in March. Around the same time my eldest son was slipping into a mental health downward spiral. Months went by and nothing and no-one seemed to help him. I felt like I was watching powerlessly at the edges of his life until he was tragically shot and killed by Queensland police in December.
Since then I’ve read a lot of books about grief, trying to make sense of what had happened, and trying to understand how I felt and find a way to live a normal life again. Nothing feels normal after the death of your child, no matter how old that child is. Ben turned 40 last September. He has four children, siblings, parents and many friends who still dont feel normal. We are stunned, numb and moving mindlessly through each day from sunrise to sunset doing things needed to maintain our lives.
I’ve been reading a book this week called “The Gift of the Red Bird” by Paula D’arcy. Its about the spiritual journey of a woman who lost her husband and young daughter in a car accident when she was three months pregnant. A few years after the accident in her quest to find meaning in her life once more she spent three days and nights fasting on her own in a canyon wilderness. She writes that “During this time, when I experienced hunger, thirst, fear and beauty, a red bird became my constant companion. I know today that this bird was a Cardinal; at the time I was only able to identify him by his brilliant colour. It was startling to feel so much comfort and resonance with a tiny winged creature. On my second night in the wilderness there was a powerful thunder and lightning storm with strong winds from two tornadoes. As I huddled in an empty bunkhouse where I’d run to for slim shelter that night, I felt the full force of life and death and our human fragility. In the morning, having survived, I was anxious to hike back to the where I’d sat during the first two days to see if the bird had survived as well As I pushed open the door of the bunkhouse, there on the doorstep was the red bird, waiting for me. It was inconceivable to me that he knew where to find me, or that this very doorstep was mine. Since that moment, red birds have appeared continuously in my life. They seem to find me. I eventually wrote about the experience of those days spent alone in nature in my book ‘Gift of the Red Bird’. However, I am well aware that no words I can ever write will convey the power of that encounter…red birds are a sign to me of the miracle of life’s deepest connections as well as a sign of the mysterious elegance of being here”.
Its a thoughtful book about loss and human frailty and connections and mystery which doesn’t end with neat or trite answers. Towards the end of the book Paula writes “I am learning to listen (pay attention) to everything. Truth surprises me. It does not always come in the way I anticipate it will. I have found it in traditions different to my own and in people with the least bearing or stature. The hardest to admit is that I have often found truth in places (people/traditions) about whom I’ve had a lot of judgement. God is in everything. That knowledge alone, if grasped, is enough”.
Two mornings ago I was having a conversation on Messenger with a young man, a refugee from Afghanistan now detained in Indonesia for many years. He is a self-taught artist producing drawings and paintings you would expect from a Fine Arts graduate. Shavali Mahfar, lives in a small, shared room with basic equipment but creates images full of life, colour and hope. I’d sent him a photo of a Northern Territory blue wren for a morning greeting and he sent me back a perfectly drawn blue wren on a limb. I asked him if it was for sale but he said it had been sold. I asked him to let me know if he ever drew another bird. He said he had another….
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a perfect drawing of the red bird, the cardinal in the book I was reading! How amazing and “co-incidental”, I suddenly felt connected to life and the profound mystery that it is. Like Paula I dont think words can adequately convey such experiences but it reminded me that comfort, connection and meaning haven’t disappeared from my life and this week God came to me in the form of a writer called Paula, an artist called Shavali and a bright red bird.
I’ve just finished reading this book by Bill Eddy, president of the High Conflict Institute. He is a family law specialist and a clinical social worker. He’s seen his fair share of difficult people. But you don’t have to be a specialist to have encountered people at work, socially or in our private lives who disrupt things and cause us problems.
Before I took up my first position as a nurse in a remote area clinic I attended a workshop in Brisbane called, “Dealing with Difficult people in the Workplace.” I met the manager of the clinic I was soon to fly to there. In what I later understood , she said in her straightforward and abbreviated style, “I’m here because I’ve got a difficult person in the clinic. She’ll be in charge when you arrive, just avoid her!” There’s a vast number of books advising how to leave, avoid or manage high-conflict people in our lives. If it were as simple as “just avoiding them” we’d all have peaceful lives.
Bill Eddy notes that, “…you can’t identify an HCP (high conflict personality) by their profession or by how much other people trust them. In fact, highly admired leaders and members of the helping professions (teachers, physicians, therapists, nurses etc), may be slightly more likely to have personality disorders than people in other lines of work, because of an attraction to the intimate relationships and authority positions in these professions.” Interesting thought. I’ve certainly come across disruptive people working in hospitals and clinics among vulnerable patients and kind-hearted staff.
I recommend this book for at least becoming more aware of, spotting warning signs and managing relationships and stressful interactions with difficult people, wherever we might find them. And for recognising when we ourselves might be that person.
Do you enjoy fragments? I do. A glimpse of a strangers face, a remembered line of an old song, a whispered conversation on a bus, a delicious aroma teasing from someone else’s house, the middle of a movie you haven’t got time to watch till the end, a dream that vanishes on waking, a phrase you just have to copy down…
They arouse my curiosity and imagination more than any completed experience.
Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley, wrote fragments on scraps of paper for years before she was first published in her fifties. She was too busy raising a family and working at an assortment of jobs to have enough time to write at length and at leisure. I was one of her many correspondents whom she encouraged to write short notes about the weather, landscape, overheard conversations, because I too had a full life with little time. She was quoted in 1986 as saying: “If anybody had asked to see a work in progress it would have been lots of bits of paper with scribbles on.”
A fragment is defined as “an isolated or incomplete part”. But, although incomplete, it is at the same time complete in itself because it contains the potential of what it may become…a story, poem, song, healing memory, nourishing meal, something understood, a puzzle solved.
Fragments allow mystery into our lives and curiosity leads us on….
Losses and griefs of all kinds fade a sense of beauty out of our lives. We forget what we once appreciated and held dear, even what we love and who we are. During the past two weeks remote area nurses in Australia have grieved the murder of one of our colleagues. After the first few days of shocked incomprehension someone on our Facebook site encouraged us to post photos of things that captured our reasons for doing the hard work that we do. The beauty in those shared photos was varied, individual and ultimately uplifting…some were of landscapes and adventures, others were of new-born babies and healthy mothers.Many of us will always see beauty in the shape of a Royal Flying Doctor plane coming in to land after a long night of waiting. Beauty is as unique as a snowflake, it’s to be cherished and nurtured in our lives wherever we find it and however we define it.
I’ve had my share of losses and difficulties since I began this blog site. I had a desire to share my experiences and insights from my remote area life, but beauty quietly disappeared for a while and all I could see and sense around me was a dull, drab landscape. The gentle energy of beauty hid in the shadows from me…until the past few weeks, for all kinds of reasons, and none in particular…colours are appearing again and curiosity beckons me forward. Life is interesting and I’ve picked up my camera and wandered outside.
Today is a sad day in the Torres, Cairns and beyond. Soon the funeral will begin for eight children killed by their mother last month in Cairns. There are no adequate words for such an unimaginable event. There is no easy way to make meaning of what happened. Sometimes the work of making meaning has to be suspended and grief must be expressed in all it’s many forms. Today is such a day, to grieve for the children, for their fathers, their families and their mother. To remember and stand by all the people in the helping professions that have been involved with this happening over the past weeks and into the future. May we be generous and kind in our grief to all these people. Our minds and lives can be much more fragile than we realize in our busyness, none of us are really super heroes, we don’t know how we would react given the “right” amount of pressure and we don’t really know what’s going on in the minds and thoughts of those around us, even those closest to us. This is part of what it is to be human, to not know. Let us grieve today and be sad in our own way for what happened in Cairns and may it lead us to be kinder and gentler on ourselves and the people around us.
How many of us can remember being told by a school teacher or a parent to pay attention? When you’re a child full of energy and curiosity barely able to sit still, waiting for the moment the bell rings to be allowed to run outside and play with friends, paying attention in the way well meaning adults intended for us was a foreign concept. We did pay attention to things important to us, whether our best friend was at school that day, whereabouts in the yard the class bully was lurking and how much money we had to buy tuckshop. Paying attention is a subjective and often fleeting experience for children and adults alike.
I read, this morning, in a book called “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor the following words: “If we could learn to be attentive every moment of our lives we would discover the world anew. We would discover that the world is completely different from what we had believed it to be.” That in a nutshell has been my experience of working with people of different cultures as a remote area nurse. Listening and watching what was going on around me lessened my fears of being among strangers in places I didn’t belong. I learned quickly that Indigenous Australia was very different from what I’d believed or imagined it to be.
Beginning to work among Torres Strait islanders on Badu island, at first, and later working on another seven over the following two years. I listened to the sounds of another language I never knew existed, I ate fresh seafood that melted sweetly in my mouth, I attended family gatherings decorated with colourful flowers and plaited palm fronds, I read the history of the pearl industry and listened to the elders recounting their fight for justice for land and sea rights. I watched the movement of the tides across the fish traps on Darnley and pondered who made them so many years ago. I imagined what it was like to be a parent who has to take their kids all the way to Thursday island to visit a dentist, the cost and inconvenience of it.
Paying attention enables us to live more in the moment and less in our thoughts, more in our bodies and less in our minds. It brings riches into our lives we could barely begin to imagine. But, we are normally so busy running around searching for security and planning for the future, that we forget that childhood lesson. We need an adult to remind us to stop and pay attention.
Oddly, where I finished my last blog in my remote area nurse story, there was a natural pause, or break in events. I went from being permanently employed by Queensland Health to choosing uncertainty as an agency nurse. My first contract was on Badu island in the Torres Straits. I’d experienced life on a tropical island in Samoa and in many ways I found a similar culture on Badu.
I haven’t written anything here for five weeks. I’ve just returned home after spending time in Tasmania, another island, and at the opposite end of Australia to the Torres islands. Another island culture, but with few similarities to the tropical north. They share being surrounded by the sea and having a relaxed feel, but then landscape, weather and history diverge.
Breaks are essential to the narrative of our lives and their meanings many. We take a rest from everyday busyness, we end one thing and begin another, we voluntarily plan them or they’re forced on us. They’re usually a waiting time, a marking time until life resumes where we left off or we begin an entirely new thing. Either way, we’re never quite the same person. I went to Tasmania to witness a friends wedding, for her it was a wonderful beginning to something new, for me it was the experience of a place of beauty I’ve never seen before and to which I want to return. And which has given me another view of island life, new possibilities. I will return to my remote nursing story this week and write about life on tropical islands but my thoughts for now are very much still on the break I just took on a more southerly, cooler and greener island.
I’ve just read an article entitled “Beauty Myths” by Dr Mary Grogan in a magazine called “Mindfood. She writes about how people are attracted to others with symmetrical facial features and how often beautiful looking people have a smoother path in life. But to balance that she mentions a book called “The How of Happiness” (Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky, Penguin 2007) which states that attractive people are no happier than plain-featured folk. Her ideas were interesting but what stopped and made me think was the following: “Interestingly, appreciation of beauty is one of two character strengths that have been shown to be associated with life satisfaction following recovery from a psychological disorder (the other is love of learning).
She continues “In a web-based study of 2087 adults published in The Journal of Positive Psychology 2007 Christopher Peterson and colleagues found that people who had a high appreciation of beauty were more likely to recover from depression and anxiety disorders with greater levels of life satisfaction. Thus, interventions that include how to develop appreciation of beauty may be useful not just as a general life skill, but in enhancing life when experiencing psychological distress and afterwards. So how do we find beauty in our world and appreciate it?”
When I worked in Aurukun, a remote Indigenous community in far north Queensland, for two years my sanity saver was to walk down to what was locally known as the landing on the Archer river after work and watch birds, sunset, sparkling water or misty mangroves depending on the weather and to photograph what was memorable. I’ve found in the years since I left and worked in various remote locations, finding beauty spots in nature and just sitting and watching and maybe photographing (which makes me notice more) has calmed my mind repeatedly. I can’t recommend appreciation of beauty, highly enough as a therapy for stress and a life enhancer. Remote area nurses are lucky to have access to some of the most amazing places in Australia if we take the time to find and notice them.
This photo was taken recently in the Northern Territory across the Gulf of Carpentaria from Aurukun.
I can’t drag myself away from the topic of creativity it seems to me to hold much that is hopeful and playful and worthwhile. I’ll share another quote from Eric Maisel’s “The Creativity Book” in which he invites the reader to think about creativity in a broader life sense than merely a narrow “artistic” view.
“Creativity is linked in our minds with poets, artists, inventors, and people of that sort. We think of the Edisons, Einsteins, Picassos and Beethovens of the world as creative. But any job can be done more creatively and life can be lived more creatively. What’s required are certain changes: that you begin to think of yourself as creative, that you use your imagination and your mind more, that you become freer but also more disciplined, that you approach the world with greater passion and curiosity.”
Even the dullest job, the most tedious task and the most unpromising day can hold possibilities if we approach them with curiosity and imagination. I found nursing like that…curiosity as to what was coming next, what my patients would be like, what could they teach me, what stories could I hear? and so on. Curiosity keeps us alive and growing.
Pictured here is an Indigenous weaver from the central Desert visiting Aurukun Art Centre to share her techniques with her Queensland sisters.