Three long work days have passed. At the end of each day I’ve worked on my essay for a writing prize that’s due next Monday. It’s about my transition from working in ICU to Palliative Care and learning to talk about death.
I’m trying to fit writing into the days that aren’t officially writing days. It keeps my heart in the game. It keeps me tilted slightly into a tired place that has the capacity to move me. Sometimes being too careful around adequate hours of rest dull me a little.
This morning driving to work I listened to Aboriginal poet Ali Cobby Eckerman speaking from the heart. She read her poem ‘Bones’ – about the stillborn Aboriginal children of the Maralinga bombings who were taken by British scientists back to the UK for their bones to be ground down to test for levels of strontium.
I cried, hands gripping the steering wheel, wanting to pull over and sob and not talk to anyone for the rest of the day. How could we, Australia?
I cried too for the babies closer to home who never grew bones, who were more an idea than anything solid to hold or to bury. The sun rose out to my left and the winter trees woke a little more than the day before.
I coffeed on the rooftop, my breath white against a cloudless blue sky. Pink blossom tickled the air.
At morning tea we sat at the long table, red chairs filled with familiar faces I have grown so fond of. The onion tart disappeared, the cheese wedge narrowed. I sat opposite my friend who had just shared, for our weekly morning reflection, her experience of kindness from her fellow coworkers during her cancer treatment. This wall of compassion she had been bracing for never really arrived as we treated her like the normal human she was, as she moved through her physical changes and emotional scuffles, as she admitted to playing the cancer card, here and there, smiling as she fessed up. How grateful to work in a place where this vulnerability is given space, given a voice.
I told my friend about the poem and how I cried. Her eyes sparkled. Having your heart open to these moments, the shock when it happens, how the ordinary becomes transformed into something quite beautiful. The importance of being there for these moments in order to remain connected to ourselves. She said she’d nearly finished Thupten Jinpa’s A Fearless Heart on cultivating compassion as I was beginning Joan Halifax’s Standing at the Edge. We needed each chapter sewn into our clothes to better hold us as we moved amongst our kind.
I sit in an Aged Care facility in Glenroy. I think the tiredness is catching up with me as I lament to my colleague about something that troubles me. Always that tension between this work (and are we making a difference?) and the writing; and the brain space each occupies. She tosses ideas around that make me sit up. I ride her enthusiasm as we visit our last client and finish up for the day.
I drive over Mt Macedon on the way home. I stop to do notes at The Trading Post but my phone is flat so I can’t tether to the computer so I just sit there instead and sip on my cuppa. The light outside softens, a slight chill in the air. The tied-up black pug relaxes its head down between its front paws. The tall eucalypts either side of the road are my guard of honour as I head home. I feel safe in their embrace. My friend in the tearoom called her trees: ‘sister-trees.’ There to ground us, keep us safe, feel held, a kind of family connecting us all.
Today was such an ordinary day. Such a gift.