Mingary, The Quiet Place, May Save Your Sanity

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Like many others, I’m waiting (and dreading) the outcome of the American Presidential Campaign.
Like many others, I fear a Trump triumph.
Like many others, I have reservations about Hillary Clinton.
Like many others, I struggle to find a politician here or abroad to admire, or who gives hope for the future of a peaceful world.
Like many others, I despair at the suffering of wars and natural disasters, the world refugee crisis, global warming… so much to overwhelm, destabilise, destroy any sense of wellbeing or being in control.

So to chill out, I remember a wonderful find, a haven to be accessed physically, or if unable to transport to Melbourne, accessed virtually via the web.

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I stumbled on Mingary, the quiet place when I Googled ‘serenity’ for another blog post. Up popped a link to Mingary, ‘a quiet place’, a haven on the west side of St Michael’s Church, corner of Collins and Russell Street, Melbourne.

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I’ve received a lot of strength from my upbringing but classify myself as an agnostic and bookmarked Mingary as a place to visit. The idea of a calm oasis in the busyness of the city appealed to me. Somewhere to go, rest, recoup energy, reflect on life.

The website has photographs and explanations but if you visit physically (a must!) pick up the booklet prepared by Dr Francis Macnab, which includes his poetry.

In addition to his duties as a minister, Dr Macnab founded and is Executive Director of the Cairnmillar Institute which has been at the forefront of counselling, psychotherapy and trauma therapy for more than 50 years.

His commitment to psychological health is rich as he also runs The Big Tent Project which provides therapy for kindergarten children as well as his S.A.G.E project aimed at people 55 – 105 years of age.

Dr Macnab frequently puts pen to paper and has published more than 25 books and is an internationally renowned public speaker, having spoken at several international conferences.

He is the former president of the International Council of Psychologists and a one-time research fellow at Aberdeen University.

**Mingary is of the Gaelic language, which is regarded as the second oldest language in Europe. With origins in the Middle East, the Celts brought it along the Northern Mediterranean, through Western Europe to Ireland and finally to Scotland.

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This place is FREE in every sense of the word, non-denominational, spiritual, not religious, no sales traps or conversion techniques. You take what you want from the visit and can go into the foyer of the church, where there are explanatory brochures and booklets, notices of lunchtime concerts and lectures.

Mingary, The Quiet Place
Dr Francis Macnab

The gates are open.
You stand in the doorway, your foot on the Welcome Stone.
The walls reach out and enfold you with the softening lights.
The large table rock is held in position by two upright rocks – the need for more than one support.
The table rock itself has a deep crevice depicting life’s deep traumas.
Water flows down the rock and falls into the bowl of peace and quietness.

In the bowl are two small rocks –
The red rock is the gift of descendants of the Aboriginal tribe, the Wurundjeri, who once knew this place as theirs;
The green marble rock is from the Isle of Iona, off the coast of Scotland.

Arising from the table rock is the wind of the dove, the ancient symbol of new life and hope. It is turning towards the east wall where a glow of light signifies the beginning of a new day – the hope of all who are going through times of stress or sadness.

As you leave, notice the granite rock at the doorway.
Water run gently over it as a symbol of the flow of life by which we are constantly renewed.

Let there be silence in this place.
In the silence there is strength. And there is healing.

Come in silence – leave in silence.

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**Iona means dove. It is the place of the dove. For many years thousands of people have travelled to Iona for reflection, learning and inspiration.


While I was growing up in a Christian household, I often heard the name Dr Francis Macnab. My Father was an elder in the Church of Scotland, and later when we came to Australia became an elder in the Presbyterian, later Uniting Church, at Croydon.

Mum and Dad were involved in the church in many capacities: Mum in the Ladies Fellowship, later the Women’s Guild (the name change could be the other way around!), and she also bottled honey and raised funds for the Ecumenical Migration Centre for more than two decades.

Mum’s faith was unquestioning but Dad struggled and sometimes lapsed in attendance, hence his interest in the work of Dr Francis Macnab who was unafraid to explore and challenge the traditional church regarding teachings, rules of behaviour, social justice issues, peace, dying with dignity, gender roles and the position of women.

Not surprisingly, Macnab a trained psychologist specialises in helping people cope with the pressures and stress of life, but also seeking to guide us towards a more equitable and peaceful society.

My father was often deeply troubled and struggled with inner demons and I wish Mingary had been available for him to visit, perhaps it would have helped him to sit in silence and reflect, absorb the serenity, contemplate.

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The Mingary Prayer
Dr Francis Macnab

Restore in us
A peaceful mind.
A strengthened spirit.

Restore to us
A new pathway –
a new hope, and a new purpose.

Restore for us
The courage to let go of what is past.
The readiness and strength to walk,
towards the future.

Restore in us
A union with the energy
of this sacred place
and a union with the
soul of the universe.

As we touch the Rock
help us draw strength from the stone.

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Needless to say, ‘the road to heaven is paved with good intentions’ and months passed, rushed trips in and out of the city.  Mingary forgotten – until the anniversary of John’s death in September.

I had to attend a seminar at the Hyatt Hotel, which happens to be opposite St Michael’s Church, host to Mingary. September 21 always emotionally challenging and despite fourteen years having passed, a switch inside clicked and nerve ends tingled: I felt on edge, teary, couldn’t concentrate…  sadness and grief weighed on my heart, a flat, cold stone.

I floated out of the Hyatt adrift on a sea of sadness, looked across the road and remembered Mingary.

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In the foyer of St Michael’s I heard wonderful orchestral music and joyous voices accompanied by the strains of a magnificent organ. A crowd of happy, engaged faces filed from the lunchtime concert expressing their good fortune at hearing one of Melbourne’s finest musicians.

An elderly man busied himself, and I interrupted his tidying and checking pews.

“How do I get to Mingary?”

Kindly eyes smiled. ‘Normally, you can go through that door,’ he pointed to a door blocked off ‘For Renovations’. Apologetic, he asked me to follow and pointed outside, ‘You go down the stairs, turn right at the bottom, walk a short distance and up the stairs round the corner.’

‘Thank you, ‘ I said and fled, suddenly embarrassed. I’d picked up a brochure about Mingary including details of counselling services. Was everyone seeking solace depressed? Would he think me mad? What did he see when he looked at me? Were my indecision, worry, and fragile emotional state obvious?

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Within moments I sat in the serene space of Mingary. I was not alone.

A young man sat in the corner shopping bags on the floor beside his chair. His eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer.

I too closed my eyes.

I concentrated on the trickling water as sounds of the city: footsteps, voices, trams, cars – all faded. Conscious of movement, I opened my eyes.

The young man stood up, stretched, walked back and forth with deliberate steps, moved his arms into practised shapes –  Yoga, Tai Chi poses? He then sat down and returned to prayer.

I examined the sculpture in the centre of the room, watched light dance with shadows, thought of the stone connecting the place with the First People and the stone from my birth country.

St Ninian came from Iona and the church we attended in Scotland bore his name. Memories of childhood and adulthood. Of being John’s friend, lover, wife, of the birth of my children, the death of my parents, and John, my ill-health, cancer, fears for the present and future – nano thoughts, nano seconds…

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He Restoreth My Soul

 

Breathe
Dr Francis Macnab

Breathe out the airs of grief and sorrow.
Breathe in the airs of healing and consolation.

Breathe out the airs of guilt and unforgiveness.
Breathe in the airs of freedom and release.

Breathe out the airs of uncertainty and anxiety.
Breathe in the airs of hope and courage.

Breathe out the airs of solitude and loneliness.
Breathe in the airs of self-soothing and restoring strength.

Breathe out the airs of being here.
Breathe in the airs that bring solace
and strength to the way you will live.

The young man left. I walked around the sculpture, touched the sacred stone, marvelled at the artist’s vision and talent.

I sat and contemplated some more.  I listened to the quietness and took the time to refocus.

Contemplation of birth, life, and death.
Counting blessings not depressings
Calmness about the future
Courage to accept the past
Celebration of the moment
A joy and gladness and thankfulness
for the vision of people like Dr Francis Macnab
Gratitude for my Father’s questioning, seeking and
acceptance of my freedom of thought
my Mother’s unconditional Love and acceptance
Love for John, his gift to me of Anne and Mary Jane.

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Restored. Renewed. Reasonable. Replenished. Refreshed. Refurbished. Revitalised. Relaxed.

Time can heal. 

I remembered an old writing task:

5 things that make me happy:

**Yes writing is on my happy list because I love words with a passion.

  1. Nature: Birdsong and watching birds cavort in the garden – especially the wattlebirds feeding on the grevillea and the magpies searching the ground for worms or carolling to each other from the electric wires.Birds with attitude.
  2. Clean sheets:- I love getting into bed between clean sheets, the smooth feel and fresh smell.
  3. Family: I’m happy when my daughters are – Mary Jane’s witticisms her infectious laugh; Anne’s smile lighting up her deep blue eyes and when she shares stories of her travels.
  4. Writing: I’m happy when the words come and I can finish a writing project.
  5. Friendship: I’m happy when I get a phone call from friends to chat, catch up over a coffee, drop-in for a visit, or walk along the foreshore.

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In these tumultuous times, it takes increasing effort to remain positive, even more, effort to remain serene.  In Life Stories & Legacies we did a writing exercise and discussed comfort and comfort zones. How much wellbeing is linked to what makes you happy:

What or who brings you comfort?  Why? In what way? How often?

  • A hug, (from whom? or who do you give a hug to?)
  • the low vibration of a purring cat,
  • the warmth of a dog
  • the chirping of birds
  • the smell of fresh flowers
  • fuzzy slippers and a favourite housecoat/dressing gown,
  • special socks
  • a favourite cardigan/jumper
  • a special rug/pillow
  • ice cream,
  • money in the bank,
  • Johnny Walker or perhaps a Vodka and Orange?
  • A cup of tea
  • A latte/expresso/flat white/long black
  • Horlicks/Ovaltine/Milo
  • Chocolate
  • a special song on the radio/record player/CD player
  • a special prayer
  • quiet time in a special place – a church, a temple
  • writing
  • reading
  • walking
  • a special friend
  • children
  • grandchildren
  • parents
  • grandparents
  • siblings

Why do certain things make you feel comforted?

  • Have you any advice for people who are stressed or may need comfort from sadness, grief, loneliness, or separation?
  • Can you recite a prayer, a poem, an extract from a book, a proverb – some useful mantra?
  • Have you always been able to find some comfort or was there a time when serenity was too difficult?
  • What colour represents comfort to you? What sound? What taste? What place or thing?

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An Anniversary, a Book and a Celebration

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A wonderful launch! Thank you for a beautiful afternoon filled with love, laughter, tears and great local writing.

Cr Tamsin Bearsley, Mayor of City of Kingston

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Mayor Tamsin Bearsley, Mairi Neil, Bill Nixon AO

The Allan McLean Hall echoed with old friends catching up, and the forging of new friendships as over 100 people gathered to help Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrate 20 years and the launch of our ninth anthology: Kingston My City. Several past and present councillors attended, including our new mayor who wrote the above message in our Guest Book.

This slide show is a great record of the day:

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A resounding success with healthy book sales and hopefully a rejuvenated interest in local authors, the afternoon may encourage attendance at our workshop nights at the Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, or enrolment in the classes on offer at Mordialloc, Longbeach Place and Godfrey Street.

In a brief history of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I mentioned the importance of belonging to a group or attending workshops. What I said resonated with several people who approached me afterwards.

In the digital age with blogging and e-books many people ‘just write,’ which is a pity because the quality of their writing, in most cases, would improve if they joined a local writing group or attended a class at a neighbourhood house. The feedback, sharing of ideas and support available invaluable, as is the role storytelling plays in creating a connection within our community, our work, our culture, and ourselves.

Mordialloc Writers’ Group had simple beginnings. In the playground of Mordialloc Primary School, (now Mordialloc Beach Primary), I chatted with some other parents with dreams of writing. I contacted Noelle Franklyn after I saw an advert appealing for stories for the Write Now radio program on local community radio 88.3FM. Our conversation revealed a desire from locals to have a writers’ venue nearby rather than travel to other suburbs and the city.

I approached the manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, and we rented a room for $5. Five participants at the first meeting put in a $1 each. We decided to meet fortnightly, and the rest is history. Even with inflation and fluctuating numbers we’ve survived and thrived at doing what wordsmiths do – we write – and have published eight other anthologies.

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Fifteen of our members, including myself, have branched out to publish their books or be picked up by traditional publishers and sadly some of our members have died. To honour the writing legacy of the writers no longer with us,  Dr Glenice Whitting and Steve Davies read a selection of work from previous anthologies. Glenice read extracts by Mary Walsh, Margaret Vanstone and Tonie Corcoran:

Chill, by Mary Walsh in Writers by The Bay, published 1997

Australia 1995, by Maggie V in Writers by The Bay, published 1997

Boots, by Tonie Corcoran in Up The Creek… with a pen, published 2003

Steve read extracts from John West and Stan Fensom:

Old Diggers Die Modestly, by John West in Casting A Line, published 2000

The Second Engineer’s Fasle Teeth, by Stan Fensom in Casting A Line, published 2000

Anthologies are always a combined effort and Kingston My City couldn’t have happened without the editing skills of Glenice and the proofreading expertise of Belinda Gordon, who both contributed essays. My daughter, Mary Jane designed the cover. My contribution recognised too, and it was flowers all round!

The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises.

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The writers’ group gift of gorgeous orchids added to flowers from my daughters and sister ensuring the love and warmth felt at the launch will continue for weeks to come.

Before Bill Nixon, AO, launched the book, the other special guests, Making Waves, a spoken word choir performed three poems: Unity by Kevin Gilbert, an extract from Train Set by Dorothy Plummer and Beannacht (The Blessing) by John O’Donohue.

These three pieces were chosen carefully to suit the day. Under the expert direction of Gaytana Adorna, the poems we read delighted the audience, many of whom had never experienced a spoken word choir. Many people said the performance added to their appreciation of poetry – I hope some may be inspired to join us because we could do with more voices.

Unity by Kevin Gilbert

I am the land
I am the trees
I am the rivers
that flow to the seas
joining and moving

encompassing all
blending all parts of me
stars in my thrall
binding and weaving
with you who belong

sometime discordant
but part of my song
birds are a whisper
the four breezes croon

raindrops in melody
all form the tune
of being belonging
aglow with the surge
to life and its passions
to create its urge
in living expression
its total of one
and the I and the tree
and the you and the me
and the rivers and birds
and the rocks that we’ve heard

sing the songs we are one
I’m the tree you are me
with the land and the sea
we are one life not three
in the essence of life
we are one.

Extract from Train Set by Dorothy Plummer

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CLACK
WE LOVE TO PLAY WITH OUR RAILWAY TRACK

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CLACK
WATCH ALL THE TRAINS GO OUT AND COME BACK

When it rains and it pours
We play trains –– dry indoors
While the water on windows is streaming

We will circle the track ––
Fast forward, then back
To the tunnels, where signals are gleaming.

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CLACK
WE LOVE THE SOUNDS OF THE RAILWAY TRACK

CLICKETY, CLICKETY, CLICKETY CRUNCH
DO WE HAVE TO PACK UP IN TIME FOR LUNCH?

Beannacht (The Blessing) by John O’Donohue

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

I invited Bill to launch Kingston My City with the following words:

 I know it’s a cliche, but really the words ‘our next guest needs no introduction’ is true! Bill Nixon has been a councillor and mayor. He is a creator, giver and most importantly a believer in ‘getting things done’. Helping many groups to start, he’s on several committees and boards. I’m not sure when he gets the time to eat and sleep!

Most locals in this room have met Bill at some time in their lives and several of the apologies reminded me to give Bill their regards. I can think of no one I’d rather launch our book considering the topic. He’s a legend, and may be one of the few people who have bought all our anthologies and read them because at a meeting a few months ago he confided he’d only just finished them all although they’d been on his bookshelf for years!

And so the book was launched with everyone invited to partake of refreshments from tables groaning under the weight of homemade delicacies. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a bakery. The hall buzzed with conversations, the flashing of cameras and the clatter of dishes as a team of writers turned into kitchen hands for the afternoon, ferrying food to tables and washing empty plates. Mordialloc Writers excellent hosts!

Currently, I’m negotiating with the Council regarding their website hosting our E-book too, but one step at a time. Over the next few days, I hope to make the converted book widely available.

Exciting times ahead for our small group because once we are digital we can rightly claim to be ‘international’ writers with our words able to be read by anyone, anywhere in the world. Power indeed as this infographic says and power we will use wisely.

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ABC of October – Anniversary, Breast Cancer, Check-Up

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I can’t believe another year is nearly over, but my annual mammogram reminds me, as does the city drowning in pink. To have a mastectomy in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month can put you off pink for life!

However, I am extremely grateful to be alive and to celebrate five years survival – hooray!

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A big thank you to my two daughters for their unswerving, unconditional support and the beautiful flowers they bought me to add to their message of love and gratitude for yet another year.

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The memory of being picked up from Cabrini etched like a tattoo. The foyer of the hospital, fences of the local sports ground and numerous businesses festooned in pink,  courtesy of the McGrath Foundation or the plethora of organisations belonging to an extensive breast cancer network. So many women and men working hard and doing an excellent job keeping the disease in the public eye.

Pink balloons, ribbons, posters abounded – even pink buns from the bakery –  as I left the hospital with a drainage tube and plastic bottle where my left boob used to be.

I suppose psychologists will have a name for my word/image association and all the emotions triggered, but I’ll stick to a good old Scots word – scunnered. And I try and avoid all the hype and pinkness I can.

And so, yesterday, like other years, I went for my mammogram and ultrasound at the local radiology centre, which, as usual was decorated like a pink Christmas. However, no joy or excited anticipation for me – the only present I wanted was to hear ‘all clear for another year.’ Thank you, God, I whispered you’re a longer-lasting, caring entity than Father Christmas!

All the happy smiling faces and bunting in the world couldn’t suppress the fear lurching from my stomach and squeezing my heart and throat while I waited for the test results to determine whether the cancer is active.

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I’m aware I’m in the lucky 90% who survive five years, but the constant reminder that in Australia,  seven women a day die of breast cancer always dulls the joy. This year I lost my dear friend Margaret and another friend, Jillian had the shock of her cancer returning after 13 years. Vigilance and that little gnawing fear ever-present along with the mantras – count your blessings and one day at a time!

I often feel uncomfortable with the pinkness of breast cancer advertising and the endless walks, runs and other events seeking donations. When I saw the film Pink Ribbons Inc in 2013, I knew I wasn’t alone feeling disquiet about the corporatization of breast cancer.

I regularly donate for breast cancer research because I’m truly grateful for the excellent treatment I received, but target my donations. I want to help but shy away from the morning teas, lunches, dinners and the seemingly endless pink products.

As a writer, I can donate my skills. I was thrilled to have part of my story published along with others in a book to raise funds for research and practical assistance to those diagnosed with breast cancer. The book can be purchased from Busybird Publishing and is usually for sale at conferences or events organised by the Breast Cancer Network Australia.

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There are so many physical and mental ailments that people struggle with daily.  My wish is for people to give generously to whatever cause and not expect kudos or a toy/ribbon/trophy in return – and that big pool of medical research will keep expanding and being successful where and when it can! People live with a disability, illness and pain from birth – what courage that must take and many don’t have the collective power of a group!

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My diagnosis was in August 2010 – my birthday mammogram – and although there have been discussions about the benefits of regular testing I can only speak about my journey. I’m blessed to live in a country with access to affordable medical expertise and choice of treatment.

Long live Medicare, bulk billing, public hospitals and government funded research – and access to information so I can think for myself.

Yesterday, one of the women employed at the radiology centre greeted me like an old friend. She has given me mammograms and ultrasounds over the years and even attended a series of writing workshops I did to write up stories of her childhood in Ireland. Her welcoming smile always appreciated, and it beamed even brighter yesterday, ‘It’s been five years? No! How wonderful!!’

When I read some of my journaling from the early days of diagnosis it is indeed a wonder:

September 7th. 2010
I am feeling very poorly– ‘1’ in the rating toolbar of the journal gifted by the Breast Cancer Network Association should have a few minuses. Following diagnosis by BreastScreen, the book arrived by Express Post, accompanied by four other tomes. I only registered online that day!  Efficiency plus but 4 volumes of information: too much, too soon, and too confronting! Talk about information overload…

However, the journal is fabulous with sections for appointments, keeping track of expenses, contacts and personal observation. A practical companion for consultations, hospital visits, and to use as a bedside confidante.

It is the morning after the night before – the drama of my second operation yesterday looms large. Icepacks renewed all day on what remains of my left breast. More breast than I thought I’d have – hooray! I am obsessed with checking my wounds and fear another haematoma but Surgeon Peter assured me, ‘Mairi, I have a patient develop a haematoma once in ten years. You’re the second in as many weeks – the quota is complete until I retire!’

Vigilant and with extra diligence, the nurses check my breast and vital signs. I try to relax, repeating the mantra, ‘I’m in the best place. I’ll be okay.’

The girls’ visit full of last night’s emergency. They both look so young and vulnerable. I hate putting them through this. They explain how my breast and neck merged to burst from my pyjamas; a bright blue balloon because of the dye from the sentinel node biopsy.

‘You were turning into a female version of the Incredible Hulk, Mum,’ said Mary Jane.

‘Except you were blue not green,’ interrupted Anne, ‘and your face was whiter than that cover.’ She pats the cotton bedspread.

‘Actually,’ said Mary Jane, ‘your face was a horrible ashen. I never want to see you look that way again – especially the look in your eyes.’ She shudders, her hazel eyes glisten tears. An anxious flutter of fear ripples across my chest.

‘I knew something was wrong,’ I say quickly, ‘but didn’t know what. I’m glad you ran for a nurse. I don’t think I pressed the buzzer.’

‘You did Mum because I bumped into Hue coming in to ask what was wrong.’

‘My goodness, didn’t he get in a flap? Literally!’

We giggle at the memory. Nurse Hue is male but when he came through the doorway and took one look at me, he threw his hands in the air, flapped and squawked like a frightened bird and ran out of the room, his Vietnamese voice pitched higher than normal  yelling for assistance. Images of the distressed maiden in Victorian novels having ‘a fit of the vapours’ spring to mind and I smile at the memory despite discomfort…

A gaggle of nurses crowd my bedside, checking the swelling, hard and the size of a football. The last nurse to take my blood pressure and temperature assures the Sister-in-Charge everything was fine when she examined me. ‘That’s right, ‘I agree sensing reprimands and guilt trips, ‘I only started to feel unwell after dinner.’

Surgeon Peter materialises by the bed, the nurses part like The Red Sea. Thank goodness he was still doing the rounds of his patients. He holds my hand, his soft voice comforting. ‘You have a haematoma and the operating room is being prepared. Staff cleaning up after the last operation of the day have offered to stay on.’

I murmur appreciation, apologise for the fuss.

Barely nine hours since the last general anaesthetic, my full stomach and collapsed veins a concern. Peter assures an excellent anaesthetist has had his dinner interrupted and is on his way. The subliminal message, ‘you are in good hands,’ designed to allay fears.

I smile thanks, wrack my brains for knowledge about haematomas. Judging by the reaction of the nurses, Peter’s sombre demeanour, and the horror in the girls’ eyes, it’s serious. The phrase ‘deep shit’ springs to mind. I see the popular poster of a cat clinging to a tree branch by one paw my sister has in her toilet. I want to be a cat and have nine lives!  I recall the various crises my brother George survived as he battled leukaemia and relaxed into the pillow. What will be will be…

I watch Peter’s face as he explains the emergency to the girls. Anne pales, tears bubble in ice blue eyes, she looks about to faint. Peter directs his calm voice at Mary Jane realising that although the youngest she is handling the situation better. He leaves to prepare himself for theatre just as a nurse manoeuvres my bed towards the door, requesting help from the girls to push it to the lifts.

We gather speed; I sense the pushers are trotting, hear heavy footsteps along with squeaky wheels. The faces of the nurses and patients we pass beam uncertainty… pity from the tea lady as she squeezes her trolley out of the way.  Hue’s whispered, ‘good luck’ sounds more like ‘good bye’. Am I going to die?

Fear claws at my throat, I grip the mattress until fingers ache, I want to see my daughters’ faces but have lost my voice. The lift doors slide open, the bed bumps over a metal strip. Inside the claustrophobic space, I meet John.  His wraith-like presence is beside me, bending over, reaching arms out to gather me up. Without moving my lips I plead, ’Please darling, I can’t come yet, the girls need me.’ He smiles, understands, dissolves…

The harsh lights of the operating theatre startle me and the near empty space echoes with voices, footsteps, indeterminate noises. Everyone has gone home except for the cluster of nurses waiting to begin preparations: my vital signs monitored, inflatable white leggings attached to protect me from blood clots. Michelin Man again. Protective hat and socks fitted.

Nurse Pam introduces herself and mumbles about my full stomach, shakes her head. A portent of death.

The young anaesthetist struggles to find a vein with his portable ultrasound machine. Three attempts leave me bleeding and wincing before success and a stent inserted.

Mary Jane squeezes my hand, smiles assurance; Anne strokes my face, forgetting to wipe the tears dribbling down her pale cheeks. She bravely remains close despite her paranoia of needles. In a silent pact the girls and I ignore Nurse Pam’s voice of doom, keep fear under control, the  girls joke that the leggings make me even more like the Incredible Hulk.  I close my eyes and smile Michelin Man from an era before their time… so many memories

‘I drained a litre and a half of blood from that breast,’ Peter’s incredulous voice a wonderful sound.

I am back in the ward; the girls sit grinning at the end of the bed. The clock whirs, the small hand clicks as it leaves midnight and a ‘breast cancer complication’ behind.

September 6th disappears into the stuff of legend. The first day of the rest of my life begins…

I love this text my daughter sent me yesterday:

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With support and attitude like that how can I not feel positive!

Happy writing indeed!

Please Wake me up When September Ends

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I know it’s Father’s Day today, but my lovely daughters bought me flowers and took me out to lunch at Abbey Road, St Kilda where a background of songs from the 60s and 70s and a delicious roast dinner with ‘Yorkshire Pud’ (their father’s favourite) reminded us of the happy times when John was alive.

As my youngest daughter MJ said this morning, “September is a crap month – it starts off with Father’s day and ends (21st) with the anniversary of Dad’s death.” I’m sure many people who have lost ones they love, for whatever reason, feel the same. There’s even a song to encapsulate how we feel:

Wake me up When September Ends
Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Like my father’s come to pass, seven years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends
Here comes the rain again, falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again, becoming who we are
As my memory rests, but never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Ring out the bells again
Like we did when Spring began
Wake me up when September ends

Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Like my father’s come to pass, twenty years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends
Wake me up when September ends
Wake me up when September ends

Green Day

Of course in this hemisphere, September is the month of Spring and Summer is still ahead, but the Neil household relates to this song.  Waking up to sunshine and evidence of new birth as  flowers in the garden begin to bloom may help lighten the mood, but the gloom of despair still lurks.

I try to be buoyant and focus on Nature’s beauty: inhale the sweetness of the roses and geraniums, the camellias beginning to bud, the rosemary and lavender blooming. I know we are fortunate to have a nice home and garden and to have each other.

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And this past week,  the media has been filled with horrific pictures and stories. My grief has paled beside the enormity of what refugees face. It is hard to go about normal business never mind be happy when you know there are so many desperate people fleeing tragedy.

The scenes in Europe tragic, but also inspirational. People have lost loved ones, their homes and their jobs, but thank goodness they still have their spirit and a desire to survive and start afresh.

The worst and the best of humanity on display. Well done to Angela Merkel of Germany for showing leadership and humanity  and shame on the heartless people who turn their backs and the fascist demonstrators  who abuse the desperate people on their journey to a better life.

I only hope the shift in attitude from some of Australia’s political leaders will mean the end of official policies here of mandatory offshore detention and denying citizenship to people seeking asylum if they arrive by boat. Despite the political spin being mouthed by Government, our record on this issue is appalling. The hypocrisy being shown is astounding.

If the current crop of politicians believe what they are saying we have thousands in detention on Christmas, Manus and Nauru Islands that would benefit from compassion and release into the community.

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I’ve written poems and stories about asylum seekers and refugees over the years. One of the ways I cope with what seems insurmountable odds and inexplicable human behaviour.  ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’  first documented by poet Rabbie Burn’s  in ‘Man was made to mourn…’ As writers often all we have is our words to save us from going insane.

International Odyssey
Mairi Neil

The trees cling to fragile foliage
like mothers reluctant to let
their children go.
The winter sun radiates
white light promising a day
of autumn glory…
It is Melbourne after all.

A blue sky pockmarked by fluffy clouds
reflecting a sea of shimmering blue
But beyond the benign bay
tragedy intrudes
fear and desperation meets
fear and distrust.

No need of Siren’s song
to lure the mariners to their death.
The monster from the deep is
dressed in political spin and
ideological hubris.
Christian charity in short supply.
To seek asylum deemed illegal

It is Australia after all.

At 30th June there were 945 men in detention on Nauru. 41 have been granted refugee status, but it is too dangerous to go anywhere else in PNG and they’ve been put in a transit camp waiting for freedom. On Nauru there are 88 children, 114 women and 453 men. All there more than 2 years.

Recently, on the ABC  7.30 Report they interviewed a doctor speaking about the dreadful abuse of children offshore. He had tears in his eyes describing the number of children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and meeting a six year old girl who tried to kill herself!

As a nation we must seriously ponder our humanity – what brings a child of 6 to a decision life is no longer worth living?

Australia takes 109,000 net migration including those coming for business or family reasons. There is 60 million displaced people in the world – the greatest humanitarian crisis on record. About 59 million of those just want to return home and be safe.

Flotsam And Jetsam
Mairi Neil

In Australia politicians choose
Who we bring home
And who we turn back

A procession of hearses
Carry innocent victims
Of a plane explosion.
Collateral damage of war
Becomes a television spectacle.
Families plead for privacy
Pain and grief is not a story.

In Australia politicians choose
Who we bring home
And who we turn back

International Refugee Conventions
Ignored and challenged.
A boat-load of asylum seekers
Floating in crowded detention.
Collateral damage of xenophobia
Government silence deafening
Pain and grief is not a story.

In Australia politicians choose
Who we bring home
And who we turn back

The death toll in Gaza grows
Lives ruled by the noise of sirens
Rockets decide who dies
But humans take aim.
David and Goliath a myth.
Palestinian pain and grief
A never-ending story.

When a child asks ‘why?’
The truth garbled white noise…
Whatever gods we choose
To worship and obey
Are not to blame
For human shame.

In Lebanon 260 per 1000 of population are refugees living on their border. Even if we increased our intake to 50,000 it would be only 2.4 per thousand of Australia’s population. It is time all of us who call ourselves writers put pen to paper to give desperate people a voice. If enough people send emails or letters to those in power who can make decisions and demand a stop to abuse in our name, there will be change.

Seeking asylum is not illegal and fleeing from war, poverty and persecution is perfectly natural.

Operation Sovereign Borders
Mairi Neil
(a found poem from Refugee Week leaflets)

Refugees and asylum seekers
wanting safety
protection
a new life
cross stormy waters
with courage
seeking justice
and a welcome
from Australian society.
Young and old
with amazing personal stories
of darkness, bribery, corruption
challenges faced
uprisings survived
prisoners of conscience
student leaders
from Afghanistan and Burma
seeking resettlement
and freedom
seeking to celebrate and contribute.
Their hopes crushed
basic human rights violated
harsh lessons in cruelty
as the innocent
are locked up.
In limbo
on Nauru and Manus Islands
detention not freedom
Why?
We can do better
Stand up, Speak up
refugees and asylum Seekers
Welcome here!

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Marking Milestones in a Memorable Way

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

The above quote is attributed to Mark Twain, but like all quotes circulating on the Internet, or repeated in books, unless you can go back to the primary source, you have to accept it’s authenticity on face value.

However, the profound and philosophical comment sounds like one we’d expect from Mark Twain. Unless you believe in reincarnation, the day we are born is indeed, the first day of our lives. What we learn, experience and do with our lives should, if we’re lucky, provide the answer to why we are here – unless of course you believe in predestination.

Many people believe they have a purpose in life. When they dedicate themselves to achieving this, their life has meaning and seems richer. Most of us will spend our  lives seeking purpose, trying out different  jobs, careers, relationships, developing talents and abilities to find our niche, and with luck discover a sense of fulfilment leading to contentment and satisfaction.

I may not have the definitive answer to ‘why’ I was born and I don’t believe in preordained destiny, but I do believe in making things happen. Knowledge and time can change ideas and achievements, which then allows me to make informed decisions and design aspects of my life, leading me closer to  answering: Why was I born? What meaning has my life? What legacy will I leave?

We can all find something to be passionate about, something we strive to do well, something we want to share with others. For me, it is writing, coupled with belief in community and driven by a desire for social justice and equity.

Yesterday, as part of the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I met other people passionate about a local community library, reading, access to knowledge, promoting local writers and retaining local history.

Mentone Public Library, established in 1925, celebrated its 90th Anniversary by having an Open Day, a ceremonial cutting of the anniversary cake, kind positive words from local dignitaries, councillors and politicians and presentations by local community groups. A tiny subscription library may seem an anachronism in today’s digital world and where public libraries are provided by council, but it is a testimony to the dedication of volunteers and local supporters that this library is still going after 90 years.

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Veronica Hahn, Mordialloc and District Historical Society

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Dorothy Booth, Friends of Mentone Station and Gardens

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Dr Graham Whitehead, City of Kingston historian

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Blue Chair Poets (Sarah, Debbie and Yvette)

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Mordialloc Writers’ Group (Mairi, Glenice, Coral, Maureen, Belinda and Steve)

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Two emerging writers from local schools (Joe and Jessi)

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Entertainment by the Mordialloc Ukulele Group and circus performer/musician Shannon McGurgan.

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The founders and volunteers over the years who have kept this library thriving had purpose, passion, and acted upon their ideas!  Yesterday a celebration of community achievement as people shared and appreciated each other’s talents. New friendships were made, networks expanded.

At the end of the delightful day, the hard work of volunteer Julia Reichstein was duly acknowledged. There is usually someone in an organisation that goes ‘above and beyond’ their designated duties, or who is considered ‘a mover and a shaker’, Julia definitely fitted the bill on all counts!

A fitting end to a wonderful event. Mordialloc writers excelled, displaying the varied talents we bring to the group and the community. Our brief was 5 minutes each – a maximum of 750 words – and we made it!!

Some shared their writing journey, others memoir, others imaginative short stories – all entertaining. I explained a little of the history of the group because

I can’t imagine a world without reading or writing; or living in a community without a library. The love of words, the diversity and flexibility of the English language motivate and inspire my writing. I’m thrilled when a poem or story finds a home and a reader enjoys my words.

Happy Birthday Mentone Library!

Writer Anne Lamott said, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world … worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet, or excite you.”

Libraries are built on books. Schools rely on them and at any given moment there are millions of books on shelves around the world, in homes, in shops and in libraries like this. Books that share knowledge and experiences of life, that share poetry and prose from every genre imaginable, that entertain, inform, inspire and ignite imagination.

Communication, learning, community and living – all begin with story.

This community reaps the benefit of the care taken by the original owners of the land, the Boon Wurrung of the KuIin Nation – without a written language their oral histories and knowledge handed down through yarns, painting, song and dance are living books. Their wisdom helping us preserve this land.

But, in our culture, to write well you must read. A book is a friend and teacher. As a writer I create characters, places and events with words. As a teacher I share my knowledge and love of words to instil the passion I feel for recording stories, putting pen to paper, all voices equal.

Like the City of Kingston, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrated their 10th Anniversary in 2005. Reflecting on our beginnings, I remember how 5 writers met at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House in March 1995, put in $1.00 each to cover the rent and decided to meet fortnightly to workshop writing. Mordy Writers still meet fortnightly. And although numbers fluctuate they have increased over the years – as has the rent!

We decided to host regular public monthly readings on the last Sunday each month, but our foundation rules never changed:

  1. As a community based writing group we welcome writers in all genres, whether beginners or advanced.
  2. We are non-profit , our sole purpose being to encourage and support writers in their endeavours to publish, or just remain motivated to write.
  3. We produce regular anthologies, with any monies received going towards the next book. A collection of personal essays, Kingston My City, our ninth anthology, will be launched at our 20th anniversary celebrations later this year.
  4. We encourage the love of literature and the importance of creative writing in our culture.
  5. Our inclusive group abhors discrimination. Age, nationality, race, gender, religion, ethnic background or writing ability secondary to the desire to write.

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We have enabled 60 writers to be published. Several more to be added this year. We’ve nurtured several successful prize-winners. Glenice Whitting’s unpublished novel was listed for the Premier’s Award in 2004, as Pickle to Pie it later won the Ilura Prize for fiction. Sue Parritt workshopped her novel with us, published last year as Sannah and the Pilgrim.

Many others have been supported and encouraged to publish collections of poetry and prose including: John West, Stan Fensom, Dorothy Plummer, Bob Croker,, Fay Lucas, Jeff Lasbury, Bob Lawson, Gregory Hill ( a successful co-writer of two books now), Dom Heraclides and Steve Davies. Maureen Hanna and Coral Waight have books ready to be published and Lisa Hill’s blog promoting Australian and New Zealand literature won an award at the Sydney Writers Festival.

Plays have been written and performed, one of mine at Kingston’s Write Up Festival. Glenice and Greg were short listed for Varuna scholarships. Writer, Helen Merrick-Andrews developed a publishing business after her involvement in our second anthology. Readings By The Bay attracts writers from as varied locations as Frankston and Mt Eliza, Fern Tree Gully and Northcote, Bacchus Marsh and Oakleigh as well as local bayside participants.

Several of us are published regularly in other anthologies, online and other media. Alan Ward pursues his love of performance poetry in Germany where he is living for 2 years. Along with other ex-pats he posts his efforts on Youtube.

Grants from Kingston Council for professional development enabled the group to host workshops by authors Euan Mitchell and Arnold Zable.

Creativity has no boundaries, our members have ranged from 14 to 86 years, for Mordy Writers it’s not menopausal madness – the headline a local paper chose to use from one of my throwaway lines! Rather, it’s unpretentious voices attempting to make sense of and celebrate our social and geographical place in the world through the experience of life ‘bayside’.

Ningla- Ana, This our Land
Indigenous and Immigrant together.

Friendship never Ends, Love Never Forgotten

the blues

Shadows of Sadness Sneak into Consciousness…
Mairi Neil

This blue day
I want to share with you
blue sky,
blue sea,
blue pen,
blue ink…
recording my thoughts.

Blue thoughts of you,
true-blue friend.
My blue bright and positive
breathless…
a joyous feeling

But for you –

blue held a deeper sombre hue

Invading soul
torturing
despairing

I tried to convince you
of blue’s beauty
the promise of a new day
the cleansing of pain and fear
a sea of calming blue
not turbulent navy.

But, you took your blue pen
and scribbled your blueness
on blue paper
framed with blue flowers

What were you thinking
in the pre-dawn?

Facing the dark blue diesel…

Melbourne’s autumn
delivered a perfect blue sky
and the blue sea sparkled
mocking our tortuous despair

I forget-you-not true-blue friend.

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