Just doing their thing

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The contradictions are what make human behaviour so maddening and yet so fascinating, all at the same time.  Joan D. Vinge

We’re a curious bunch, humans, aren’t we? At times I lament our savagery, our meanness and our power to do harm yet just as often I find myself warmly cheering on our compassion, our warmth and our gorgeous quirky little ways. Sometimes I just smile. Smile because I love seeing people doing their thing and loving it. I find myself smiling and having happy thoughts because of the small way I’m touched by other people’s existence.

This random theme was prompted on my walk home a couple of days ago. I noticed a gentleman a little way ahead of me. He had stopped near a seat on the street and then moved to one right next to it. I noticed he placed something on the second one, a bright red apple. As I got closer I also noticed that he’d placed an orange on back of the previous seat. He had in his hand a bag full of fruit. This behaviour was puzzling. Here was a man, leaving fruit on public seats in a public; was he making some sort of statement, was he simply leaving fruit for the homeless or was there some other purpose behind his seemingly unusual behaviour?   He brightened my day, his act of kindness or madness was, for me,  an artistic one. I found myself marvelling at the scene,  two closely placed concrete seats with vibrantly coloured organic fruit placed strategically atop. The pure atheistic value of the juxtaposition, on an overcast and dreary day was akin to standing in front of a masterpiece in a gallery. I found myself smiling all the way to the car and pondering the quirkiness of this “random” act.

It got me thinking about how incredible the human animal is in their capacity to bring joy to others through the small acts they perform by just being themselves. I’m not talking overt or gratuitous acts planned to bring joy. I’m taking about the simple, quiet,sometimes habitual acts that form part of the course of life. For instance, I follow a photography blog. This guy posts great photos of birds with quirky titles and tidbits of interesting information. It’s not vital to life, it’s not something that wakes me in the night with an urgency to dissect the meaning behind it but it does make my day brighter, it raises a smile and adds value to my week.

A school friend posts a “happy Monday kids” post to Facebook each week. She follows up on Wednesday with encouraging words to let us know it’s hump day and then she wishes us all well on a Friday for a happy weekend. She’s not winning Nobel peace prizes nor being interviewed by Oprah for her humanitarianism but she brightens my week and from the long list of comments on each post, she’s brightening the week of dozens of others too. She’s just one person, doing her thing and making a difference.

I visited another floor in my building a few weeks back and was mesmerised by the desk of a colleague, everything, and I mean everything was purple. The whole space was a purple haze. Every folder, binder, pen and trinket was a shade of purple. I don’t have a favourite colour, nor a favourite food or a favourite anything really, I pretty much dabble across the palette but I love when I see someone so passionately into something that it colours their world. It makes me smile at the quirky nature of us humans.

Each of us has potential to bring joy to the world and brighten it in some way. Some share their hilarious and breathtaking  adventures, some write beautiful poetry, some walk the streets smiling at those they pass, some share poignant thoughts and ideas for others to ponder.  There are so many and varied ways that we impact the people around us. Do you recognise how you brighten the world by just doing your thing?

 

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Fizzling Fireboxes!

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Great is the human who has not lost his childlike heart. ~Mencius

Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train. ~ Barkley

Last weekend my beloved and I embarked on an expedition that many a small child would relish. In fact, we were among only a handful of childless couples among a sea of young families and we were just as excited as the little ones.

We climbed on for a Steam Train Sunday adventure, a once a month chance to ride on an historic steam train through our hometown of Brisbane. We passed through city stations and enjoyed river crossings aboard a vintage carriage pulled by a gorgeous steam locomotive. My son, when he was young, would have busted a boiler and been trembling in his tracks to ride along.

It was a cold and windy Sunday morning after a day of near torrential rain. The sky was clear and a brilliant crisp blue, perfect for a train ride. Arriving at the station the excitement was palatable. Families were lined up for photos in the locomotive. There were smiles on faces young and old.

We two walked the length of the platform inspecting the carriages to discover we were in the second to last carriage. Now we could have been disappointed to be at the back of the train but instead we were delighted. We scored seats in a 1924 Pullman Sleeper carriage. I have to say, it was one of the most elegant carriages on the train. We certainly felt like we’d stepped back in time.

We sat nestled two to a seat (were people smaller in the past? I would have felt very uncomfortable sitting so close to a stranger) with another seat facing us. The seats could fold over to create a bunk and above our heads, tucked away in what looked like airplane luggage compartments, were upper sleeping berths. According to historical sources George Pullman designed the sleeper carriages after an uncomfortable night sleeping in his seat on a train trip from Buffalo to Westfield, New York. While tiny, I would have to curl slightly to fit on a berth, the sleepers would definitely be much more comfortable than sitting upright on an overnight journey. More comfortable than cattle class (economy) airplane travel too I’d say. There were restrooms at each end of the carriage, a separate one for men and women. The ceilings were pressed metal and there were quaint little lights in each corner for reading, though these were no longer working.

At one stage the train stopped, waiting to link to another line, and we could hear a general hubbub of children’s chatter and laughter. It was a splendid way to spend a morning. Volunteer train enthusiasts were on hand to answer questions, provide guidance and ensure the safety of all aboard. We were encouraged to wander the carriages which was great fun as we got to walk across the open gangway watching the tracks speed by beneath us. Our journey lasted an hour and cost a mere $24 each, which is a small price to pay for so much fun and history, plus it’s a nice contribution to the upkeep of the train and carriages.

“Fizzling fireboxes” it was an outing that “rattled my rods” , “pumped my pistons” and “flamed my funnels”. Don’t they say we should feed our inner child every now and again? Are you allowing your inner child to run wild?

 

 

 

 

 

The great human endeavour

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You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.  Albert Camus

Have you noticed a preoccupation with discovering the meaning of life? Meaning making is a great human endeavour. We witness people go on soul journeys, sea changes or pilgrimages to discover themselves and their place in the world, to seek answers and meaning.  We hunger to be part of something. There exists a gnawing unrelenting need when we lack community, a sense of belonging and purpose. The sense that life is meaningless could be the most desolate of thoughts. Desolate is the one who finds themselves alone, unattached, adrift in life.

This phenomenon, I imagine, has always existed though there seems to me to be an intensification in recent times, a swell of seekers.  My limited view and observations lead me to believe this is a side effect borne mainly by those in western cultures. Could it be due to a lack of traditions, of ritual, of religion, of an intimacy and belief in story and myth? Professor of sociology, John Carroll suggests there is an emerging poverty in western cultures due to a move away from myth.

Myths have been central to all cultures. I recently listened to Saga Land, a radio podcast by Richard Fidler, about the Icelandic sagas. These stories have endured for centuries and link the people to their ancestors and heritage. My childhood was full of the stories of the Australian Dreamtime. The stories, songs and dance of the traditional owners of the country I call home still captivate and educate me.  I was educated in catholic schools and am familiar with many Christian myths.

Why are myths important? Why might a lack of myth in our life affect us so very much?

Myths are enduring, they are rich with metaphorical weight.  Myths give us a sense of ourselves in relation to others. Hugh Mackay, author and social researcher, deduces that myth and story help us identify where we place our faith and that faith unites us and equips us to live with doubt and uncertainty. Through his research he has found that humans yearn something beyond the material, something other than themselves to use as a reference point to draw strength from, something that inspires them.

Religion and attending church used to fill that yearning, satisfy the hunger, give us something to inspire us and provide a sense of community. The role of religion has been to provide potent narratives to guide us along our journey to discover meaning. Interestingly only 8% of Australians are regular church goers. Why have so many turned away from the church? Perhaps it’s because the myths and narratives are served up as doctrine and often expected to be swallowed whole. For me, my move away from the church was the incongruence between doctrine and the behaviours of those most strongly advocating it. Mackay has found that dogma definitely divides us. He advocates faith beyond dogma.

I can attest that faith can exist without a literal adherence to dogma.  I can also attest to the desire for community. While my faith is strong I do not worship in a church and I do at times crave to be part of a community.  For a time I found it in a group of like-minded souls. We learned together, we practiced ritual, we communed and we grew individually and as a group. It was quenching. It was so deeply satisfying I wanted for nothing more. We eventually drifted apart, each to go their own way to continue our individual journeys. I miss that gathering of minds and souls. I miss the kinship.

It’s fascinating this hardwired need in humans to have a story that keeps the darkness at bay and to satisfy our longing to belong.  It is, I believe, the impetus for the great human endeavour – to seek meaning and purpose in life.

The quest to discover each other’s humanity. Imagine!

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Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.   – Alexander Smith

There is a strategy I suggest teachers use when their students get two concepts confused; things like mitosis and meiosis, latitude and longitude, respiration and photosynthesis, similes and metaphors.  I tell them to teach the differences first because the human brain identifies difference and therefore by discussing how two items, terms or concepts are different, before we talk about their similarities, the distinction is clear.

Sadly, this amazing facet of the brain and how we learn, has considerable consequences for our relationships with others and, at times, our humanity.  If we unconsciously identify difference we see only how others are separate from us, are unlike us and therefore we can fail to connect.

If I see only your different coloured skin, your different language, your different rituals and customs, your different style of worship, your different sexuality; I fail to immediately see the points where we are the same.  Too often this quirk of the brain is abused by media trying to create divide. Groups are labelled, individuals and their human story are ignored to install fear, create derision, to divide us.  Sometimes these tactics are employed by governments to force us into line in support of what may be inhumane, immoral or unjust policy decisions (think the refusal to take in refugees).

You see, once I identify you as a person, with a history, with feelings, with hopes and dreams, I can’t ignore your plight. I am almost compelled to come to your aid, support you, vouch for you.  My fear is gone when I realise you and I are women, we have families, we have struggled, we have loved. Yes, our backgrounds and life experience may differ, we may worship differently, dress differently but whittle away the circumstances of our birth and we are both humans, raw and needy, intelligent and courageous, feisty and loving. This bonding would not serve government but it might just serve the longevity of the human race on this little planet of ours.

In the words of John Lennon, imagine what the world would be like if we sought our points of connection and bonded before acknowledging our differences? Imagine what the world would be like if we presumed positive intent rather than assumed others meant us harm. Imagine what the world would be like if we were positive by design rather than negative by default.  Imagine what the world would be like if we sought to discover each other’s humanity. Imagine what the world would be like.  Imagine!

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