Religion and tradition—opiate and analgesic?

ADDICTIVE TRADITION 
If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. 

If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.
—Zadie Smith

I have given up worshipping in a church. I have a faith and I have a spiritual practice but my church has no walls, it is wherever I am and it’s most solid in the natural spaces around me. I chose my alternate path because I don’t like dogma and I don’t like being ‘preached’ to by other mere mortals who profess to be superior because of their faith and because they worship in a church.

Everyone sins, some of my ‘sins’ have been more obvious than other people’s. I grew up in the catholic faith and had a child out of wedlock at 18. Didn’t that cause a stir for years to come. Funny too, I was judged for it years and years later, by a family whose religious convictions were very strong until their daughter, the youngest, fell pregnant while still at school. Not a word was breathed about the sin in that.

Tradition is interesting. What tradition are we talking here? The tradition of wearing blue or maroon during the State of Origin series? Having roast turkey on Thanksgiving? Or the traditions associated with initiations, such as the sculling six cans of beer at a party through a hole in the bottom of the can, a naked beach run?

I actually don’t think it’s so much the tradition but the adherence and expectation of adherence to tradition that is the problem. I remember when I said I was no longer buying Christmas gifts for my family. There were some high emotions. I was looked at like I was obscene. I might have dropped a turd in the middle of the living room floor for all the looks of disgust I received.  I was no longer interested in a token effort at playing happy families. My family rarely spoke to me or included me in gatherings (admitteldy I made it very hard for them to love me at the time). I thought it was time to get real. Why give a gift to someone when you really can’t stand them, why uphold a societal norm when you think and feel otherwise? I guess in some ways my action was forcing others to act in congruence with their feelings and it was uncomfortable, exposing.

I see a grim side of tradition where people are trapped in a situation or, worse still, where bad behaviours occur but no one is willing to stand up and say no or put an end to the behaviour.

An interesting thought to ponder. There is so much more, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Thank you Zadie Smith, your words are glinting, grabbibg my attention and causing my mind to turn somersaults. I like it.

 

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What’s your story?

Dada and Rodney

That’s my Dad on the left, as a young man, with his brother.

 

“Since storytelling is a dialogue, shared stories create more understanding; bring people closer together as a community;  and serve as a string that binds one heart to another.  (And I believe that the universe is made up of string.)”
Peninnah Schram

“Stories are at the very heart of being human; they talk about where we’re from, where we are, and where we’re going.  They’re like bread; you need to hear and tell them everyday.”
Bill Harley

We all have a story. Sometimes we live a false story and are victims of a self belief but that’s not the story I’m talking about. I’m talking about our own individual history kind of story. The really interesting stuff, the stuff that make us, well, us I guess.

I recently had dinner with my parents and I was moved by what I learned about my father. I was moved and intrigued by his stories; stories I didn’t know; stories of him I’d never imagined. Okay, he didn’t go hunting tigers or elephants  in the savannah or trek the arctic on a quest of find a long-lost artefacts. But he did do some pretty unique things.

My dad is an artist, a lover of art, race horses and fine wine. He is also a handy man and can fix just about anything. He has been married for near on 46 years, has three daughters, worked in retail as a manager and then went into insurance. He played squash and entered walks for charity when I was young. He loves the oceans and still, to this day, at the ripe old age of 73, goes for a body surf to relax and unwind. He is clever and kind and, well, you know, a dad.

A drawing my my father did as a child.

A drawing my my father did as a child.

Growing up I’d learnt a little of my father’s early life, life before me and my sisters, life even before my mum was in his picture. I gleaned these little snippets from my grandmother and some from passing comments he’d make at times, in relation to other things, never as a topic of conversation in and of themselves. So I knew my dad had attended boarding school, that he was a pretty good student, I’ve seen report cards. I knew too, that as a young man he had learnt and practiced Judo. I’d also seen photos of him in a rugby uniform while at school but I hadn’t realised he continued to play as a working adult. He also played hockey. For some reason I imagined he’d played ice hockey, why in Australia would I assume this?  I’m not sure. Too many movies I guess. Anyway, dad told me about the very rough grass court they’d play on, not a smooth manicured green as one might see today but a rough and tumble, bumpy lumpy piece of paddock. He loved it. He and a mate, from an outlying property near Gladstone, would play of a weekend. They’d also turn their hand to lawn bowls on occasion, to test their mettle in other ways.

Graeme felsch second row frist on left

Second row, first on the left.

The story that really blew my mind and had me gawping in amazement and horror was a tale involving a boat. I knew Dad had sailed in a Brisbane to Gladstone yacht race. If you are unaware, this yacht race is an icon of Queensland, the state in which I live. It’s a pretty high-profile race held every year over the Easter long weekend. It begins from Shorncliffe in Moreton Bay and follows a 308 nautical mile journey up to Gladstone.

Over dinner I discovered my father had sailed in, not one but, five Brisbane to Gladstone yacht races.  I learned how it came about that he was recruited as crew with no ocean-going experience,  just river sailing under his belt. The skipper, a very  colourful character, and his two sons, both teenagers, were making their maiden voyage and needed an extra hand. They took dad out for a day on the seas and he got the tick of approval.  Dad, in his twenties, loved the experience and became close friends with the family.  My parents are still friends, some 40 odd years later, with this family.  One year, after race was run and things were winding down, news that a cyclone was brewing set things back in motion.  Dad had to be back in Brisbane for work. Time was of the essence. To make it back in time and safely they had to leave immediately when normally they would rest and celebrate. Trouble was, one crew member, the older son, had left to make a rendezvous elsewhere and the skipper had retired to the bar, where he felt most at home. With a sense of urgency Dad and the youngest of the crew collected the skipper, poured him into his bunk and set sail for home.  As fate would have it the cyclone hit early and Dad singlehandedly, with some assistance from a young teenager, manned the boat through rough seas negotiating twenty to thirty metre waves.  They rode out the night, a very tense night I imagine, and sailed into calmer waters by dawn, safe and sound, surrounded by thick fog.

The skipper was rudely awakened from his slumber to navigate their whereabouts. Funnily enough, my Father had managed the boat through tremendous odds but had no navigational skills in the white out. I think that’s gorgeous. I was aware my jaw and eyes were wide open (not an elegant look in an upmarket restaurant) in amazement as I listened to this story and marvelled at the courage, skill and foolhardiness of my Father.  What an incredible experience.

How is it I never knew these things before?

I asked him why he’d never told me and he simply said he didn’t think they were worth telling, they were just things he’d done. From my wide-eyed stare and enthusiastic responses he said he guessed he should write some things done.  You bet you should DaddyO.

If we don’t tell our stories we are like ghosts on this planet. We appear to be but husks without our narrative to give essence and depth. Our stories are bridges; they deepen relationships, they inspire, and, through hearing them, they give us a greater connection to ourselves and our own sense of place in the world. That may sound a little odd but I walked away from that meal with my parents with a greater sense of who my father was but I also felt differently positioned in my own narrative as a result.

Whatever your story, share it. Nothing is too grand or too insignificant.  Sometimes it’s the most mundane scraps of information that feed the soul and mind of the listener.

What’s your story?

Graeme October 1959

Did I forget to mention he liked to swing a golf club as well as a hockey stick?