Hello From the Other Side

In Wellington airport the other day, I was flicking through my internet stream. And I came across this awesome Rolling Stone interview with Adele, have you read it?  Her voice sends vibrations down into my reptilian brain. She moves me. She’s amazing.  But I was a little relieved to read that her new song “Hello” isn’t about another lost love, it’s about her younger self. It really resonated with me, because I was about to fly into Sydney, the land of my ‘old self’… (who is really my young self, suspended somewhere in time). My passport is in my maiden name, so every time I looked at my boarding pass I was seeing my old name, the name of that Sydney school girl. It all conspired to make me very nostalgic. So on the plane I wrote this little reflection piece. Thought I would share it here…
because I think Adele tapped into something universal with her song.
If you could call yourself twenty years ago, what would you say?
Would you warn that girl? Apologise?
Hmmm. I’d try to bolster my old self up.  Give her some encouragement.
She didn’t look like she needed it, but she sure did.
I wish I could go back and give her that.
Anyway… here’s my piece about my two selves. My then, my now.

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I used to go walking there, far above the chase, and perch on a rocky outcrop in a blue-green sea of gum. I liked thinking that maybe centuries earlier, indigenous people had sat there, watching the bush fires maybe, or searching for signs in the skies. Maybe they were children, maybe they were not so different to the girl I was, hiding in the wide bush, running from the things she couldn’t shape with words.  My legs were strong then, I would relax my breathing and let them carry me along the barely perceptible bush tracks, avoiding the hostile prickles that seem to typify every Native Australian plant. Stay away!  the barbs and spikes screamed. Yet they sheltered me, surrounded me on my rock. Hummed and buzzed with all the wildlife they sheltered, too. Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate, one by one into the heated haze of afternoon. I was the only person who knew about the rocky outcrop. Just me. No one ever replied to the chalky poetry I wrote on the rocks, stone against stone. There were never any signs of any other person but me. Yet I felt the ghosts of the aboriginal children who sat there too, kept from me by time alone. In the bush I was anonymous. Alone. Free to think my thoughts and ache my pains. I loved it there.

Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate into the heated haze of afternoon.

Today I am flying back to the city that cradles my rock of anonymity, a small space amongst the wide Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park. I haven’t been there for so long. Maybe the rock has been discovered by another person by now. Maybe the bush has changed so much I would never find it again. The landmarks I used, now grown and burned and reshaped in the decades since I walked there. Strong on those young legs. And there wouldn’t be time anyway, I tell myself. I couldn’t absent myself to go bushwalking alone.  I am scheduled. Planned. There and back. Quick trip.  Short stop. Turnaround.  A thought panics my mind. Maybe I left my girl self on that rock. I have an urge to find her again. To see the banksia and gumnuts and breathe the eucalyptus in the air.

I remind myself that nothing ever stays the same.

I didn’t. I think of my internal topography. The rifts and seismic shifts of the years between. The person I have become, so far from the girl on the rock.

Soon, the driver I have never met, will hold up a placard with my old name on it. The name of that bushwalking poet. It must be the strangeness of that, making me nostalgic for her. She’s had two other names since then, two more selves layering over her original self.  She was so afraid of what would come. But she should give herself more credit. I return in her name, a brief walk in her shoes, back in her town. That pony-tailed girl in the white school shirt and grey checkered skirt. She had long brown legs. Strong legs. Walking legs. I will walk on the same bones, strong of heart, towards a new and exciting experience of this place. The questions I don’t know the answers to, the questions I won’t ask, will hang, palpable in the air. I will be patient. Wait until I am at the studio. Prepare the strength I will need to walk in my body, proud of who I have become. Because confidence is never as easy as it looks! There will be no sign of that girl, troubled and stormy, hiding on her rock in the vast space of the Australian bush.

Sydney will feel so big and busy. It always does. Everybody bright and smooth and slick. The cars so fast, glossing across the flat wide roads. It’s an efficient city. No pause for poems scratched on rock faces. For ancient faces. I turn inward and begin to sculpt my outward self. There will be expectations and I don’t know what they are, but I will smile and read the social cues I find. I will joke and try not to say the embarassing things I often blurt out. I might talk about the Sydney I used to know, so long ago.  I will stare down the blank iris of the camera and imagine myself within it. Caught in a nanosecond, angles and tilts, light and shade.  I will stand tall. Kia kaha.

And while I am doing that, the girl inside myself will look out across the Chase, somewhere north of here, back in time. Somewhere between a rock and a hard place, she will find a pathway through. If I could, I would wave to her, out there on her rocky outcrop. I would wave to her and tell her I’ll see her on the other side of twenty years. Older, wiser, taller, kinder.

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry
for breaking your heart

But it don’t matter, it clearly
doesn’t tear you apart

Anymore

lyrics from Adele’s ‘Hello’
You can listen to the song here:

Q and A

Last month, I had to deliver a ten minute talk …about me.  My story.  It was part of the block weekend for the Leadership Programme I am doing.  The programme is about leadership in social change and it is challenging my thinking in lots of ways. I really prefer writing to talking (I know some of you will find that hard to believe!) and speech making isn’t really my cuppa tea.    But I started doodling, as you do. I doodled lots of question marks.  And then I made a real cuppa.

www.rachelfaithcox.com(11)

When I returned to my doodles, I stared at those question marks for a long time.  And it occurred to me that the best way to tell my story, was to do it using the defining questions of my life. There have been so many things I have wondered, but I pared them down to the bare minimum.
So! Here is what I came up with.

My Life, in Fourteen Questions:

I am a kiwi girl, born just after my parents completed bible college in Australia. My parents felt moved to work on the mission field in a third world country. So I was raised in Papua New Guinea, then I went to boarding school in Australia and soon after that, they went to China. These were the locations of my upbringing. In total, I attended 13 schools, four tertiary institutions and eventually moved back to New Zealand when I was 23 years old.

There were lots of things about my childhood that made me think.  And one of the first big questions I remember thinking, was:

"What makes us think our religion is more right than theirs?"

I liked to think about things as a kid.  And I started to notice other odd things about our world.  I noticed that when I was at the international school in PNG, there were more than forty nationalities of kids and everyone played together. Where we were from wasn’t even a factor in the forging of friendships.  But when I went home to New Zealand on furlough, people teased me for coming from a place where the women wore grass skirts and showed their boobs.
I was an outsider in my own country.
I began to think,

"Why do people have to be the same to be accepted?"

In my teens I became deeply philosophical, the way some teens do! The questions came thick and fast:

“What is the origin of thought?” “Are we inherently good… or evil?” “Is all this real, or just a figment of my imagination?” “Is life governed by fate, or are we self determined?” “Why are we here?” (and you kids from the seventies and eighties will relate to this one) 
“Are they gonna drop the bomb, or not?”
But these deep questions were all overwhelmed by a far more pressing issue:

“How do you pash?”

(Note to teenage self:  Mum’s historial romance novels were not the place to search for this information.  “She explored his mouth with her tongue” was a stylistic interpretation, not an instruction).

By this time, I’d been given the nickname Falling Tree because I was fainting a lot.
No… not because of boys (but there was plenty of swooning, too… I’m looking at you Morten Harket)!  I made it through my final year of high school and got into a competitive Journalism degree at a Sydney University.  I was ecstatic!

My well meaning Dad thought journalism would corrupt me, so I wasn’t allowed to do that course.  But a year later, when I reframed my University ambitions to encompass a career path ‘better suited for a woman’ I was allowed to go.  I embarked on a degree in Education and Teacher Librarianship.  Instead of writing words, I planned to surround myself with them.
But I wondered,

"Why does being a girl have anything to do with it?"

It took me seven years to get that degree (it was a bit boring).  Across that decade, I moved countries, got married, and divorced, and valiantly embarked on Project: Find a compatible Handsome Prince. There were quite a lot of frogs to kiss, so I used my knowledge of pashing with great determination.  Surely one of those frogs would be him…?!  And all of a sudden three wonderful things happened in a short space of time.  I found my man, we bought our first house and had Bee and Little Zed. All my dreams were coming true.

Then one day I got the flu, and I never recovered. Can you imagine that?  I was constantly dizzy and fainting a lot. But the faints were actually my heart stopping. I was fitted with a pacemaker to keep me ticking.

I asked a lot of questions during those early days of sickness, but the biggest one was

"How Long will this Last?"

No one knew.   Other parts of me starting going wrong: digestion, bladder and bowel function, temperature regulation, cognitive function, I couldn’t sweat properly, my pupils were not reacting properly to light, I had constant nausea and dizziness every time I moved to stand.  My blood pressure and heart rate were all over the place. I began to experience burning, tingling and numbness in my hands and feet, I struggled through daily chores. I had to quit teaching and we had to take in home stay students to cover my loss of income. The fatigue swamped me. My gait and mobility started to change. Every day was an exercise in pushing through. Pacing. Planning ahead.

I ended up in front of a neurologist who explained that I have a progressive form of autonomic nervous system dysfunction called Pan-dys-autonomia.  That covers all the automatic things your body does.  I know some of you here might relate to that. What made my problem odd was that I had it without a primary diagnosis. Dysautonomia is common in late stage MS and Parkinsons, aspects of autonomic dysfunction affect people with spinal cord injury too.  But the cause of mine was elusive. Six years of watching the progression, endless tests, treating the symptoms and fearing the decline and fall of my future led me to this desperate question:

“Can’t something be done?”

That question was met with averted eyes and shaking heads. Do what you can with your family now, I was told. Before you can’t anymore. I didn’t like that scenario. We embarked on a proactive memory-making schedule. A family holiday, the prioritising of togetherness. And I researched. My research led me to other patients overseas.  I listened to their stories, finally finding people who understood. I began to think deeply about the issues that face people like me.  People with ‘invisible’ illnesses, disability and accessibility issues that aren’t immediately evident. People with rare diseases or poorly understood diagnoses. I wanted to know what could be done for them, too. The injustices of all those lives lived beneath the radar began to burn my brain.
It led to this question:

“What can I do?”

I was offered some work writing for an overseas blog. And I remembered that I like to write.  So I started to write for more people, and even for myself. Blogging led me to ask many more questions, but for the first time I was beginning to see that it was leading me to answers too.  About me, about my purpose, and the beautiful, simple idea, that I could do what I do best.
I could write about it!

One day, I found a Youtube video by a specialist overseas who was treating patients like me, and getting results.  My general physician didn’t want to know. So I pushed and I fought and I learned to use my voice with sometimes, quite intimidating doctors! I kept writing for The Invisible and they began to respond. I wrote for me and began to take action. Until finally, I found a specialist who had read the same papers as me, who had seen the same video. He started me on a new treatment regime in January and it is so far looking really promising.
Fingers crossed!

And here I am, feeling better than I have in six years, embarking on the Be.Leadership Programme, and wondering

“Where will this lead?"

I know first hand that while we are all, to some degree,
defined by what our bodies can do and not do;
more powerfully, we are defined by
what we think,
by how we feel,
and by what we can do about that.

I think we have a responsibility to
help people understand
that our common humanity
is bigger than religion,
it is deeper than culture or race,
it is more practical than philosophy,
it’s broader than gender
and more timeless than life spans,
it’s our world’s biggest learning challenge
and it even transcends our physical abilities.

Those questions of mine have taken forty years to percolate. And I am just beginning to understand that they all point to the same thing.
That we, at the heart of things, have more in common than we don’t.

I am so grateful to have found an authentic way to connect my heart for social change, to society.

“How did I get so lucky, to have my heart awakened
to others and their suffering?”

Pema Chodron

Q and A
Q and A
Questions and Answers