Roadside Assistance

Walking our dog last week, I came upon an elderly man changing a flat tyre.

Crouched in the gutter, midday sun scorching down, I was moved to ask: “Are you alright? Do you need a hand?”

He turned toward me with a wary, bothered glance. And relaxed.

“Yes. I’m recovering from an operation.”

A surprisingly immediate and frank admission.

So I hunkered down in his place, jacked up the car and changed the tyre.

As I worked he told me he’d had surgery 4 weeks earlier. That he’d visited his doctor for another matter and been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

He lifted his shirt and showed me the raw scar up his torso.

Surprised again. I told him that four years earlier my father died of a ruptured AAA, alone and undiagnosed.

Tyre changed, he asked if I lived locally. “Yes. Down the street. The house with all the piano music.”

Later in the evening my wife told me a man had knocked at the front door.

He said I’d helped him earlier and he wanted to leave me a gift.

She passed me a bottle in a brown paper bag.

A long-neck of Tooheys Old.

My dads beer.

Crossing The Great Water

Our dreams are rich with insight, if we decode the messages.

This week, while facilitating a residential leadership retreat, one came my way.   

“A long suspension bridge spanned the ‘Swan’ river. Sagging, it dipped beneath the surface of the water for a great distance. Yet people in cars and trucks were still crossing. I sensed a man beside me and began to question him … how do those cars manage to cross? Is there visibility under the water? Is there a strong current? How do you seal the car? How do they stay on the road surface? etc. And to my growing concern, he gave me no answer …”

In exploring dreams, the literal rarely makes sense, so I seek connections and associations.

First I was surprised how clearly I knew the name of the river. The Swan River. I know it’s the name of the river running through Perth, but this has no strong relevance to me.

Then I remembered the previous evening watching parts of Jonathan Swans’ interview of President Trump. Swan, an Australian journalist and son of Dr Norman Swan, impressed me with his very straight forward, almost innocent approach.

The second obvious association was with Covid-19. The pandemic and it’s impact was a dominant background to all conversations over the preceding two days.

The perilous crossing of the bridge in my dream, seemed a fair metaphor for the unknowns which lie ahead.

Finally my thoughts traced back to my roots where I grew up on a property located behind Fawcetts Creek, in northern NSW.

Each February, during the rainy season, the creek would flood. At times we would need to cross it.

The process was always the same.

First a scouting of the natural ford, to assess the depth of water (above waist deep was too dangerous) and whether the creek bed was stable and unobstructed.

Even now I can recall the mesmerising swirls and power of the red-brown torrent.

If driving across appeared feasible then the Land Rover was prepared.

WD40 sprayed onto the electricals, a hessian sack tied to the grill to reduce the water surge onto the radiator fan and engine. 

The sturdy Rover was revved up and driven into the water at a confident speed.

Momentum is crucial. As is the ‘DO NOT STOP’ principle.

Once committed, there’s no room for hesitation or gear changes.

Fortunately we made each crossing safely.

When however the flood water was clearly too dangerous, we’d park the Rover.

Then hike three wet kilometres, skirting the creek along a track on higher ground, to a welcome home.

Formation

In 2010 I subscribed to The New Yorker magazine after years of reading dated copies from the local library.

Quality essays, quirky cartoons, a weekly education.

And then occasionally, like in this April article, ‘Baking Bread in Lyon‘, a real gem shines.

An unremarkable pair of sentences to most readers, I am certain. An oblique aside, explaining a French term.

Yet to me, those words leapt from the page, full of meaning.

Describing a special relationship between formation and callingcomme c’est magnifique!

Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle, leader of the Suquamish tribe of the Washington territory is said to have delivered this prophetic message in 1854, to mark the transfer of ancestral lands to the federal government.

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?

We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

Half Century

Earlier this month I passed the half century mark.

Obviously not the first to reach this milestone, nor the last, just another one of billions passing through.

Yet I am glad to have made it this far. At this time.

What does it feel like to turn 50?

Well … it feels like this picture!

On reflection, I am grateful to all who shared parts of my fifty year journey, through highs, lows and plateaus.

It’s true, I really wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

What Really Matters

In passing 50 I notice what I care about most is clarifying and that I feel more inclined to give voice and take action on those matters.

    ‘If not now, when?’ I ask myself.

How heavily we humans tread upon this precious planet. Australia’s wounded relationship with Indigenous people and culture. 

Gradual Progress

This week I found myself reflecting on progress, prompted partly by the launch of the latest Leadership Formation series.

But more viscerally and visually by my participation in a local painting class.

Each Sunday morning I join a small circle of students learning with the guidance of a classically trained French artist.

All newcomers begin at the beginning, by painting an eggplant still life.

Then moving at our own pace, we follow our inclinations into more challenging territory.

My latest project (my first commission!) is a violin for my wife to hang in her music room.

This progression represents six weeks effort …

Unsurprisingly the parallels to my work with teams, or in leadership formation are striking.

Trusting the process, gradually accumulating depth, pausing and painting, course correcting, parking the critical voice, steady absorption in the work.

And before you know it, with care and patience, what began as a rough intent, takes form as an expression of your Self.

Travel Light

Last week I flew to Melbourne to scout the foundations of a Leadership Formation series there.

As the plane waited for take-off, the steward made familiar announcements and then added, “We won’t be serving tea and coffee on this flight due to expected turbulence.”

In his voice I heard uncertainty, whether saying this was the right thing to do, but there it was, said.

So on that beautiful, clear morning I started to quietly imagine lurking air pockets and Luna Park like plummets.

I always choose a window seat.

I like observing cloud structures, the topography of the land and the cities passing below.

And for another reason. Looking out the window I watch the bands of cloud we pass through and mountain ranges we fly over and so I can ‘explain’ the occasional bump and shudder. I guess this gives me a sense of security.

Anyway, at this point I wasn’t traveling light.

Anxious expectation floated in the cabin as the plane climbed out of Sydney and jetted south west.

Forty five minutes later we passed above the stunning Snowy Mountains. Isn’t this planet incredible!

And then the cabin crew passed by … serving tea and coffee.

Not long afterwards the pilot announced our imminent descent into Melbourne. He warned of strong winds from the south and the likelihood of a few ‘bumps’.

Again, the burden of worry infused the cabin …

The plane cruised out over the Bay and curved around to land from the south, the first time I’ve experienced this approach into Melbourne.

We landed perfectly, after what felt like the smoothest flight of my life.

Small Synchronicities

Two Fridays back, intending to write this note but weary, I turned my laptop off for the day.

A train ride took me to Newtown with a vague idea to walk and browse, maybe watch a movie, sit in a cafe and discreetly observe passing life.

At the Dendy I smiled to myself and rolled the dice, asking for a ticket to the next movie showing.

I confess to a momentary pause on discovering it was titled, ‘On The Basis of Sex’ … too early in the day for eros?

With half an hour to wait, Elizabeth’s second hand book shop called me.

Where a Leonard Cohen biography stared from the centre of a trestle table. An aunt who came of age in the sixties, once said he was a better poet than Dylan and more deserving of that Nobel literature prize. So the $14 seemed a bargain for me to decide for myself.

I notice my curiosity turning toward the ways art in all forms can stimulate and sustain a human spirit.

The film was excellent, telling of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal career fighting sex discrimination. However, what caught my attention and really moved me was the portrayal of Ruth’s relationship with her daughter Jane. Clearly it was a mirror I needed to look into that day.

Afterwards sitting with coffee, feeling a little out of place on bohemian King Street, I skimmed my new book.

Refreshed by a day of small, unexpected finds.

A Wise Word

 

At another 50th birthday lunch, another milestone was also celebrated, his mothers 80th.

Close family and a few friends chatted over the meal; laughter and light memories.

(You know how it goes, the deeper, fraught family matters are parked for a while)

In a quiet moment, I turned to his mum, a few seats away and asked if she had some wise words for the table …

“No”

Point. Blank.

In that instant, I retreated into myself. She must be shy, evidenced by her gregarious husband holding centre stage.

And felt awkward about my clumsy attempt to draw her out and even a little chastised for unintended impertinence.

The day passed, as they do, and yet on the drive home from the mountains, I noticed that her ‘No’ remained.

And returned to mind in days that followed.

Until I asked myself.

What if her emphatic ‘No’ was in fact her answer to my question?

Tempus Fugit

Around me, my friends are passing 50.

As a gift, last Saturday I trawled through more than 30 years of photos, digital and pre-digital, collating images of an old mate.

What an absorbing and enjoyable activity, traveling back in time, revisiting shared adventures, mischief and life’s milestones.

In all this looking back, what struck me was how quickly the years roll by.

The inexorable and most obvious metric being the sprouting upward of children …

Our past time is spent, invested, splashed and frittered; who can really discern in the midst of all the living?

Only later on reflection, the accretion of choices and how we used our allotment maybe makes sense.

So I ponder out another 30 years (touch wood), how quickly will they pass?

And what will be the view in looking back from then?

Perhaps like gazing upwards through leaves into the sky …