We are all immigrants

November 25, 2007

There is mounting geological evidence that at one time, the whole landmass of New Zealand was completely submerged. About 85 million years ago, the continent ‘Zealandia‘ broke away from Gondwanaland. It was about half the size of Australia. Over tens of millions of years it slowly sank beneath the waves until it was completely under water. About 23 million years ago, due to the movement of the tectonic plates, it emerged from the sea, and slowly became the shape and size it is today.

This makes the legend of Maui fishing the North Island up from the sea seem to ring very true. It also means that all life on this land arrived here, rather than evolving from the beginning of life on Gondwanaland. The seeds of plants would have arrived by dispersal on the wind, and carried by migratory birds. Those birds over 20 million years evolved to the flightless moa, kiwi, and many other species that are here today. Lizards travelled on floating logs over the sea (almost every rock in the sea is covered by lizards, they are such hardy mariners). Even the ancient tuatara, for which there are 100 million year old fossils in New Zealand, have more recent fossil relatives (35 million years) from South America, and it seems likely our tuatara came from there. The theory would also explain the complete lack of ‘native’ terrestrial mammals, for they would have had no way of surviving the journey across the sea.

I like the idea that all living species in our country are travelers, all immigrants. Some of us arrived 20 million years ago, some 1,000, some a few human generations ago, and some very recently. None of us ‘own’ this land. Some, perhaps by arriving earlier, have a greater claim to the right to exist here. The right to live, in freedom, without the threat of physical or cultural extinction by those arriving later. But all of us are descendants of travelers, the courageous, the hardy. Those willing to chance a journey into the unknown, across the oceans.

I hope that this knowledge will help us to see each other (human and non-human) as equals. All valuable, unique and alive with the spirit of adventure. I hope that it will help us to respect and love each other, and to share what we have. A canoe is a small vessel, and we must take care to get along, if we are to stay afloat.

Last words

November 11, 2007

At JYF camp Pearl told me that the last words that her Grandmother could say (due to a stroke) were “I love you” and “thank you”.

I think that if you could only say two things, those are a pretty good choice.

Moonshadows

October 26, 2007

4am in the morning the rooster crowed. I woke and went outside the cabin. The grass was damp and cold. I looked up, directly over the trees, my eyes drawn to the brightest moon I have ever seen.

Full, large, and shining in the night sky. I looked around me and there were distinct shadows cast by the clothesline, maypole, trees and me. No wonder the rooster thought it was dawn.

In the chill air I was struck by the clarity and beauty of things. Little colour, but near light as day. Life seemed simple and pure.

Cat Stevens sings about Moonshadows. To me the song is about gratitude and acceptance:

I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry
yes, if I ever lose my eyes
oh if …
I won’t have to cry no more.

It’s a calm and gentle acceptance of suffering and loss. It also implicitly conveys gratitude for what we do have, in a pure clear way like the shadows cast by the moon, darkness against darkness. This verse though is the one that struck me the most:

Did it take long to find me
I ask the faithful light
Ooh did it take long to find me
And are you going to stay the night

To me the faithful light is like the inner light, perhaps cooler and less distant that sunlight. Sunlight either is, or isn’t. Dark and light are more distinct during the day. The ‘faithful light’ is more tolerant, dark and light coexist, merging at the edges. That’s like suffering, gratitude and love. They’re all part of the same life.

Walking in the light

October 13, 2007

The theme of JYF camp this year was ‘Walking in the light’. We did a lot of activities focused around understanding our Quaker values in the modern world of technology, fashion and media. We didn’t do very much that was explicitly focused on matters of the spirit. I did make a big effort to make sure we had Meeting for Worship every day though (we did miss one).

I was never quite sure whether the JYFs got something out of Meeting, or were bored or annoyed by it. Because JYF (and YF) Meetings for Worship have much less spoken Ministry it can be harder sometimes to sense the feeling of the Meeting. Near the end of the camp we had Meeting for Worship outside. We sat on chairs on the grass, in the sun, with the warm wind blowing and the birds singing.

Later that day I found a poem on a couch, written anonymously, and left for people to read. It was as follows:

I walk in late.
The worship has started without me.
I get looks from people.
I can feel the thoughts.

My mind begins to wander among my
memories, picking up conversations, thoughts
jokes, relationships, people who I didn’t
know existed or had forgotten.

I remeet with my past.
I feel as if I’m walking along
a road, with neon lights (similar
to last night’s throwies…)
and I’m trying to pick the best one.

Ironic, because when you think of
someone during M4W, it’s called
‘holding someone in the light’!

If you choose to keep your
eyes open, you see the people
The couples, the bored ones,
The ones that stay silent
and sit perfectly still.

If you close your eyes,
you see you.
You take a trip
inside yourself and however
cheesy that sounds it’s
true.

We are all so different
But I see now why
We are the same.

Reading this brought tears to my eyes. It validated all the effort I had put into creating a time for worship during the camp, it made it all seem worthwhile.

I later learned that it was Pearl who had written this. She read it in the concert on the last night. I publish it here with her permission, and thank her deeply for making me feel that the spiritual aspects of the camp were appreciated. It meant a lot to me.

Journey’s end

October 6, 2007

We did it! Responsible for twenty two 13-16 year olds for a week. No one got hurt, no one got lost, and now they’re all home safely. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and at times very moving. It’s taken me nearly a week to recover and as I’ve slowly gotten my body, mind and spirit back to a state of normality I’ve been thinking about why I took this on.

JYF camps were a hugely important part of my teenage years. They were a place to be truly myself, to be accepted for exactly who I was. They were a time of forging new friendships, of falling in the first semblances of love, and of being acknowledge as a person in my own right rather than a ‘child’ or a ‘teenager’.

I want my children to be able to experience this. That’s what first set me on the path of organising a YF camp three years ago, and what motivated me to volunteer to organise this JYF camp. I wanted the community to be strong so they’d have a positive experience when they were old enough to go. I wanted to give something back, to carry on the work of people like Angela Brusse who started JYF camps in New Zealand so many years ago.

That would have been enough, but what I got in return was so much more. Organising and running this camp was a transformative experience. It reinforced my sense of confidence in my leadership abilities. It deepened my admiration and respect for the tireless energy and consummate skill of my partner Bridget, who single handedly coordinated incredible food for 28 people, ran four sessions, and had time to make friends with the JYFs and be there for those that needed her. It took my relationship with the other YF leaders to a different level, and my most heartfelt thanks go to Thomas, Mirjam, Melody and Johnny for sharing this path, and making the camp the incredible experience that it was.

Then there’s the JYFs. I have never met such a beautiful, caring, talented and loving group of young people. They included each other right from the start. No one was left out, everyone was accepted. They constantly bewildered me with their combination of extraordinary insights, humour and intelligence, and their sometimes complete lack of peripheral attention and ability to notice what needed doing in a practical sense. My thanks to those of them that did notice, especially to Luke, Rogan and Daniel for doing the fires in the morning, and to Briar-Rose for always being there when I was exhausted and just needed a hand.

It felt to me like an enormous privilege being allowed to create this environment for them. I found that whenever I trusted them, included them in the decision making, and assumed that they’d act responsibly, they did. Perhaps the greatest surprise for me was that for most of the time I forgot there was such an age gap. They so completely accepted all six of us leaders as peers rather than authority figures. It felt a lot like YF camp, and I sense there’s the possibility that as they grow, some of them will become my lifelong friends.

The theme of the camp was “walking in the light”. I felt like this happened. Not by what we discussed, or the activities we did, but by the way we were able to live together, in joy, love and harmony. I feel richly blessed by this experience, and I will carry the memory of it with me forever.

Journey’s beginning

September 23, 2007

Tonight we’ve got four Young Friends and two Junior Young Friends at our place, playing singstar 80s.

Tomorrow we’ll have twenty two JYFs (13-15 year olds) to be responsible for, for a whole week. We’re going to a place called Journey’s End, in mid Canterbury. The site is beautiful and we’ve got a great programme planned. The theme of the camp is ‘walking in the light’, and the focus will be on living Quaker values in this world that is saturated with technology, media and fashion. How do we participate in that world, but still be as patterns for truth, equality, integrity and peace?

I’m tired from the planning, and excited and energised by what could happen.

Wish us luck.

Wellspring of laughter

August 31, 2007

Avon’s baby was born at home, in the beautiful Kahuterawa valley. In Christchurch the first blossoms are on the trees, pink and tentative against the last grasp of winter. Around the seat where my mother’s ashes were scattered, yellow fingers of daffodil shoot from their green stems, ready to unfurl as the weather warms.

In the mountains the ice thaws and cold water babbles over the river stones, soft and gurgling like a baby’s laughter.

July gripped my heart with the rough wound of loss. I ran in the dark, arms needled with the shooting pangs of fear. Yet here, the city’s getting smaller behind the boat, and as the sea expands the hold of winter on the land lifts in me.

Night never lasts. Fast and free life springs quietly awake in the light.

Today I held the baby of my first love, warm in the sun on this island in the sea. And she, small and new and clean, smiled up at me.

Oceans of tears

August 14, 2007

Mothers shouldn’t die. At least they shouldn’t die young. They shouldn’t die before they get to see their grandchildren, or their children’s weddings.

But sometimes they do.

There’s something about your mother dying. The person who gave you life, now gone. It’s like a schism with the world, a cutting off from the source. And that, itself, is worth oceans of tears. Tears for the conversations you might have had if they were still around. Tears for the joy they would have had spending time with their grandchildren. Tears for the loss of the love they would have kept on giving. Oceans and oceans of tears.

Those tears are for a reason though. They show the love that was there. They are a way of physically and emotionally letting go. I still don’t really understand grief, but I do know it’s something you have to do. Something you have to open yourself to. And that hurts. But in the opening there’s a kind of acceptance. An ability to feel joy at what that person’s life meant to you. A sense of pride when you see their love, their giving, still acting in the world, through the people they influenced, the things they said and did.

Death is just a part of the great mystery. But it still hurts.

Patterns in the ice

July 17, 2007

There’s something about a frozen stream. Seemingly caught in mid babble, now silent, solid all the way up to its source. Like you could lift the whole thing up, one giant icicle, molded to the contours of the land.

I’ve seen ice in so many forms in this past week. Clear and smooth, frozen rink like over the surface of a tarn. Opaque and broken, growing on alpine shrubs and falling down a slope to rest jumbled in a heap. Crystal like bobbly fringes clinging to round boulders in mid stream. Banks of glossy stalactites stretching down from mossy overhangs. Fine curved needles pushing a layer of earth out from the dirt wall left by a track cut into the hill. Webbed nets of criss crossing lines, trapped in panes frozen over puddles.

Perhaps people are like ice. Our very selves developing, solidifying in a myriad of different circumstances. Each becoming more distinct, beautiful and in so doing, more set, brittle and inflexible. But still somehow yearning to let go, to be liquid, to merge back into the oneness of the flowing stream…

Rhythm

July 15, 2007

We were in Arthur’s Pass for six days. It was so cold each night the pipes froze up. The air was still and crisp in the mornings and the frost took till lunchtime to melt each day. For two days the power was out as the old black bakelite mains switch in the house gave out after 40 years or so of loyal service. I really enjoyed there being no power. There’s a small enclosed fire (like a pot-bellied stove but rectanglar) which you can cook on, and use to heat water.

Taking care of all the jobs required just to stay warm and fed gave a certain rhythm to the day. Get up, light the fire, boil water, pour hot water on the frozen pipes under the house, cho wood, cook breakfast, boil more water for the dishes, stoke the fire, do the dishes, and so on. There was still plenty of time for walks and playing cards and board games, but the day was measured and paced by the basic routine of survival.

You can’t hurry this. Everything takes as long as it takes. You can’t make the fire start faster, or rush the water to boil. It forces you to slow down, to move methodically through the day, and to go to bed early, when the light fades and the candles sputter out. There’s a sense of the eternal here. I can imagine my grandchildren and great grandchildren coming to this bach. It’ll be just the same in another 40 years. Just like these mountains, quietly measuring the seasons, sitting together in the stillness of the sky.