Friday, February 27, 2009

Home is where the coffee machine is

To get to my daughter's school, we walk past hundreds of shops and cafes and restaurants. The other morning, as we passed a big pizza restaurant I glimpsed the owner standing there barefoot, shirtless, hair on end, making an espresso on the enormous commercial machine. Lots of people around here live above their shops. I'm sure he had just rolled out of bed and staggered downstairs to make his first coffee for the day.

It made me think about what constitutes home. For many in our society, home is where we eat, watch TV and sleep. Before we had kids, we ate out so often that home was pretty much where we slept, and read the weekend papers. Like most people in our society, we didn't work at home.

Yet once we all did; it's only relatively recently that industry has moved out of the home. And home is my place of work now, although I hesitate to call it a 'workplace' given half my time is spent fooling around with kids. This morning we made icy poles. It's hard to feel like that's work, even though we made them between sweeping the floors and putting away the washing and bathing the baby. For that matter, bathing the baby can't possibly be called work; it's pure joy, what with her chubby limbs and gurgles of delight and the soft intimacy of her naked skin. She smells of home.

Does working at home make it more of a home? I sometimes think I feel more at home than my partner, who is at another workplace much of the week. Yet sometimes working at home, meaning outside work as opposed to housework, can be such a struggle against overcrowding or constant disruptions, that the house begins to feel hostile. There are days when I am writing and the kids, though playing with their father, still hammer on the study door - or are just so damn noisy screeching up and down the hallway that even with earphones in I can barely think.

More whimsically, is home where the coffee machine is? I always wondered why I hated holidays, until I realised that I was coffee starved. And holidays never feel much fun when I'm headachy and lethargic. Now that we have kids, we usually rent houses or apartments for our holidays. And so when we go away we take our little espresso machine with us, and it's the first thing I set up. Within a short time of arrival, we sit down with a coffee, recover from the drive, and begin to feel settled. And there's nothing like the smell of coffee to make a strange place feel like home.

Perhaps I should move to Brazil.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Throwing rocks at rainbows

I've been throwing rocks at rainbows lately. Well, small pebbles actually, and aiming to miss. Our almond tree is just outside the study door, and the rainbow lorikeets which ravage our pear tree every year recently decided to balance out their diet with almonds. So every half hour I run out and chuck a few pebbles into the tree, which encourages them to hop over to the native fig until I go back inside.

It's ridiculous. I live in an inner suburb and am surrounded by concrete. We have no nature strips; our footpaths are bitumen just like the road. And here am I asking beauty to move right along.

I don't mind birds eating the pears. In fact, I'm prepared to sacrifice any number of pears to the sight of a dozen lorikeets hanging there, flashing blue and red and yellow. I'm thrilled to watch the parents feeding the juveniles, and the teenagers mucking about - in the pear tree. But the almond tree is special. It's my tree of hope. It flowers in the depths of winter, at a time when I can't bear the grey days any longer. The flowers are impossibly delicate against a slate sky, and remind me that spring is coming.

And the almonds go in our breakfast cereal mix, providing a daily reminder of God's abundance. Every now and then I have a moment of awe, and extreme gratification, when I remember that I am eating something that grew, with so little care, in our garden. It's my intimate connection to the world of fertility and growth, so easily ignored in a concrete jungle. I need this sign of hope.

So until I pick the almonds, I'll be throwing rocks at rainbows, irritated by the parrots and by how much I care. And I'll be thinking about what else I could grow, and where I could fit it, so that I have more opportunities to harvest goodness from the soil. And maybe next year, I'll invest in some bird netting.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bursting out of our skins

Why do some people seem more at home in themselves? I went to see the Matthew Herbert Big Band recently. Herbert hopped and wriggled and twisted and jived as he manipulated the sound. He looked almost dreamy, content. Meanwhile, the stunning Eska Mtungwazi, vocalist, had the crowd eating out of her hand. Her voice and presence filled the concert hall, as she shimmied and swayed her way through the music. I had a sense that these people had found, and were delighted to celebrate, their power. Quite simply, Eska has found her voice; and Herbert has found his voice through writing music and having it performed.

It's such a privilege to be in the presence of people who are just bursting out of their skins with being alive - it makes me wonder what the rest of us are doing with ourselves. I have some romantic notion that all of us could be glorious like that, in all different ways, if only we weren't so scared of ourselves or of what being glorious might entail. It's like we can't find the true note of our lives, and are fluffing up and down the scale, never quite hitting that C.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A call to action

We live with fantasies so that the world feels more bearable. Before I had children, I thought that children who died mustn't have been loved, really loved, because otherwise no-one could bear the loss. I don't think I ever verbalised this, to myself, but that was the fantasy that made me able to deal with it.

Then I had a baby. And one day, as my daughter looked up at me and I was filled with love for her, I suddenly recognised the fantasy I had carried around. And I realised at the same time with a lurch that almost every child who died was loved, loved by family and friends, in that same heart-wrenching way that I loved her. I felt sick to my stomach, and I sobbed.

But even then, I think I retained a scrap of fantasy. At some deep level, I think I had an idea that with our low birth rate and low infant mortality rate, the deaths of our children impact us more. After all, we have less experience with death and aren't very good at accepting it. And how else can one even contemplate the thousands of children who die every day around the world from preventable causes? It's unthinkable otherwise.

But that is just a fantasy too - and so stupid that I am ashamed to admit it. Because even children who have been rejected by parents, orphaned at birth, discarded by society, and neglected by the wealthy; even children on the absolute margins of the poorest societies in the world; especially those children - they are all loved by God far more passionately than even the most loving of us could love our own children. And when they suffer and die, God weeps.

An acquaintance of ours lost his two sisters in the Victorian bushfires this week. Many, many others have died. And God weeps over them all, insonsolable. And every minute of every day, all around the world, brothers and sisters die from causes that we have the power to prevent, and God weeps inconsolably over them, too. The murderous bushfires this week are a tragedy. But the people who die every second because they have no access to clean water, adequate food, or simple medication represent a far greater ongoing tragedy.

When I look at my daughters, I have to discard the fantasies that make me rest easy. They are not safe just because they are loved. Love is not a magical amulet which wards off the evil eye of fire, flood, disease, drought, or any other cause of death. All around the world, children are loved as people hold them, stroke their brows, and watch them die. And it is agony to watch, every single time.

Looking at my daughters is not a matter of complacency, but a call to action. Thinking about home means thinking about other people's homes, too. And that means calling for secure walls, clean water, adequate food, medication and sanitation, and a reasonable livelihood for all. Because we are all asked to work together to form the household of God, in which there is enough to go around and everyone gets their share, until the day that we, too, are called to our final home. And until this new household is formed, God weeps.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Whispers in the dark

My daughter started school this week. The night before her first day, my husband went to check that she was asleep. She rolled over and looked at him and said, I sort of woke up because God whispered in my ear, Good luck at school tomorrow.

It makes me wonder what God whispers to me - and whether I pay attention. A few years back, I held close an image of God as a toothless old crone who sat in a dark room by the fire. Her face was hidden in shadows, and she mumbled away to herself constantly. It was hard to hear what she said, and when I'd ask her a direct question she'd ignore me, or just clam up. But if I focused on a task, she'd start up again and I'd strain to hear her. Sometimes, I'd get a sense of what she was saying. And sometimes, I'd even act on it.

Now my life is so focused on the home, when I think about God I find myself thinking about houses, homes, my home. God walks the garden in the cool of the evening, and I imagine a presence moving through the fig tree, or breathing in the scent of crushed thyme. Jesus loved to share meals; I recall parties we've held, and wonder if he'd have been comfortable here. The metaphor of Holy Spirit as wind, air, breath becomes the light breeze teasing the papers off our fridge, the roaring southerly sweeping the house clean.

God opening a bottle of wine. God pouring down the hallway driving out the northern heat. God whispering to my daughters at night. God here and now, always present, God with us, Immanuel.
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