A life-long devotee of L.M. Montgomery and ‘Anne of Green Gables’, I’ve read all the books several times. I’ve watched the miniseries starring Megan Follows more times than I can count. I’ve enjoyed various other film versions of the story. I’ve visited Prince Edward Island and the original house that was the inspiration for Green Gables, where I walked along the original Lover’s Lane and stood outside the Haunted Forest. I visited Montgomery’s birthplace and the first school in which she taught, which served as the inspiration for the school Anne Shirley attended.
I’m not an expert, but it’s fair to say I know my stuff when it comes to all things ‘Anne of Green Gables.
`My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.’ That’s a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I’m disappointed in anything.”
This is a line and a scene from Montgomery’s book which has always stayed with me. I found myself saying it again today, shortly after I started watching the series titled ‘Anne with an E’. I instantly liked this new Anne, and the new Matthew. I found Geraldine James’ portrayal of Marilla suitably crisp and direct. I was delighted by the way in which the story had started, and by Amybeth McNulty’s delivery of that favourite line of mine. I began to fall in love, all over again.
And then they changed the story. Before the first episode was over, the plot had taken a completely different direction than anything written by Montgomery. “WHY?!” I yelled. “WHY do people DO that?”
Still, I persevered, telling myself it might get better. It didn’t.
I made it to 13 minutes into the third episode, where I clicked off in disgust after yet another change to the original story.
I won’t watch any more of it. It had so much potential, and I had so many hopes… and all it did was desecrate my favourite story and make me angry. This series, like so many other abominations of great books, is yet another corpse buried in that perfect graveyard.
Only on rare occasions am I ever tempted to feel as though I might just get on top of things.
Other days, like today, I realise yet again just how little most people value me, or anything I do.
Seriously, universe, what am I doing wrong?
I work hard, I’m a loyal friend, and I care more about people than most of them will ever realise. It’s true that I don’t come in the smallest package with the sleekest, glossiest wrapping, but if I’m given the choice of someone who “fits an image” or someone who will both help me and defend me or die trying, I know which person I’d pick to have on my team. I’m not perfect, but who is?
So, tonight I’ve spent a few hours trying to think through and process how I feel and why, In that process, the words of one of my own poems came back to me. I wrote ‘Cold Shoulder’ on a previous occasion when other people’s behaviour left me feeling a similar way.
Many years I’ve lived on the Cold Shoulder An inhospitable, stony place – Where there’s little but frosty silence, No allowance for comfort or grace.
The chill wind of indifference Cuts the air without making a sound, Skittering icy flakes of apathy And leaves’ skeletons over the ground.
A fine specimen of resilience, I’m a fine diamond in the rough, A survivor of hostile conditions Where life is invariably tough.
I suffer no delusions of love – For that loss I have frequently wept; But knowing I don’t matter at all Is the hardest of truths to accept.
Weary of relentless erosion, I implore the stone lords for reprieve, But there is no reward for devotion To those in whom you don’t believe.
Let them preach not to me of salvation When they hold all the power in their hands To inflict such complete desolation – One could never meet all their demands.
So I remain here on the Shoulder In this treacherous, heartless place: Although frigid, this landscape is honest, And each rock only has the one face.
This is not new territory for me. I have survived every other “kick in the head”, and I’ll survive this one, because I refuse to lay down, shut up and die. And I’ll make all seven people who do actually care about me proud in the process… again.
It does make me wonder, though, why I fall into that same trap of assuming that anyone else ever actually tries to see my worth, or cares about it.
Apparently, I never learn.
One of the things I find hardest to deal with in life is the perception that sometimes, evil seems to win.
I don’t know why it should surprise me each time it happens, but it still does. I don’t know why people’s cruelty and evil actions still shocks me, but it does.
Let me explain where this train of thought originated.
Not long ago, I witnessed the complete and irreversible downfall of someone I’ve known for some time. I haven’t always necessarily liked that person – less, in fact, as time went on, although that’s not really relevant to this post. I honestly thought that their behaviour couldn’t get any lower than what I had already witnessed, and what I already knew of him. I was wrong.
Please understand that in writing this post, I do not for one moment mean to suggest that I feel sorry for him. I don’t.
I do feel incredibly sorry for those whose trust he, and every other person like him, has broken and abused. My heart breaks for those who find themselves and the rest of their lives shattered among the trail of destruction they leave behind. These things leave permanent scars from which some people never recover.
And there is no denying that I am incredibly angry. How dare he? He can’t say he didn’t know it was wrong. He can’t say he didn’t know what he was thinking. He knew, and he went ahead and did it anyway.
So, as his life unravelled before my eyes, I was left feeling the same about him as I do about everyone who betrays the trust of the people they should be protecting.
Whether it’s broken friendship, corruption, or an absolute degradation of one person by another, I believe that there are powers in this world that celebrate when someone who has always taken a strongly moral stand falls from a position of leadership and finds themselves in a downward spiral of shame and humiliation, especially if it’s a person of faith.
It was this chain of thought that led me to write ‘The Demons Dance’. It is grim imagery of demons dancing and celebrating around the crumpled form of their latest victim, upon whos miery and death they are completely drunk.
In this poem, as in a number of my others, my love of writing horror and the macabre has combined with my penchant for poetry to produce what I believe is poetry that is both grotesque and beautiful at the same time.
On Friday afternoon when I left town for a family wedding a couple of hours’ drive away, my greatest concern was that my father wouldn’t feel too lonely while we were away. When we left the wedding reception on Saturday night, and I checked my phone, my heart leapt into my throat as I began to realise what hell had unleashed back at home.
It is late in the season for fires, but there has been very little rain and the region has been tinder dry. Hot and very windy weather conditions created the opportunity for fire to take hold and spread rapidly through both farmland and natural bush.
One outbreak led to another, and another, and then another. My town, and those nearby, were experiencing the greatest crisis in decades. Surrounded by a ring of fire, people watched, worried, and sought refuge in the middle of town.
Social media posts showed what locals could see from their yards or where they had been driving. A friend who lives nearby posted photos of what she could see – and it was terrifying.
The emergency services website showed incidents all across the region, one after the other, spreading in a grim pattern of danger and destruction.
Roads were closed. Authorities forbade people from driving into the area. The situation was officially described as catastrophic. And my 86 year old father was at home on his own. Nausea swept over me as I struggled not only with fear, but also with feelings of absolute uselessness: there was absolutely nothing I could do.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. The radio stations weren’t forthcoming with updates until after 3am, so I turned to social media for information. With the aid of Facebook, I consulted with neighbours and made sure that our uncle had taken steps to make sure Dad was okay. I tried to call, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I just had to trust that things at home were as under control as they could be.
The fires continued to burn and spread throughout the night and the following day. As people’s stories of loss and devastation were told, offers of help were made and communities rallied, even while the fires still raged. There is no doubt about Aussies – they know how to help a mate, and they don’t hesitate to step in where needed.
Even late into the afternoon, the roads to home were all still closed, so we made our way back to a neighbouring town to wait until we could get home. One road opened at 5.50pm; we only needed one road, so we headed home. We knew that even though the road was open, authorities didn’t want people just driving into the area without good reason, but my dad was a very good reason to be making the trip.
We were very glad to find that Dad was fine, our home was safe, and the town itself was untouched except for smoke. Our local football oval was filled with emergency service manpower and vehicles from other places. They had come to help fight the fires and provide relief to the local crews, many of whom are volunteers, who had been working for many long hours to defend and protect people, properties and towns.
Fifteen minutes after returning home, a succession of five fire trucks went zooming down our no-through road, and my heart was in my throat again. Whatever had them rushing out had to be close, as there’s only about two kilometres of road past our place before the road ends. Within half an hour they had sorted the issue and came trundling back. My neighbours and I applauded them, gave them the thumbs up, and cheered them to show our gratitude for their quick response. They waved back and returned the thumbs up, their smiles letting us know that they understood and were thankful for our response, too.
Not long after that, new plumes of smoke not too far away indicated that there were new fires springing up. I could hear the sirens as they rushed out of town to meet the new emergencies, and reminded myself that the crisis wasn’t over just because my immediate surroundings were relatively safe.
Thick smoke once again settled over the town. We took encouragement from the fact that warnings were downgraded to critical from catastrophic, and the symbols on the emergency services’ online fire map gradually began to change from red to orange.
Incredibly, no human lives have been lost and very few serious injuries have been suffered. This is testament to the dedication, hard work and training of our first responders, particularly our firefighters and State Emergency Service volunteers.
Despite the smoke in the air and the knowledge that the crisis wasn’t over yet, I slept so much better last night knowing that we were being protected by hundreds of committed and able firefighters, first responders, police, and support crews. It is not possible to adequately put into words how thankful we all are for the job they’ve done and continue to do.
This morning the pall of smoke blanketing our town was thick. It stings the eyes and the throat, and it smells. Yet that is the only discomfort I suffer, and for that I am incredibly thankful. What a blessing to be able to say that.
The waterbombers and helicopters are flying overhead, and the work to control and extinguish these fires continues. People who are much, much braver than I are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and for that we are all incredibly thankful.
The warnings for my town have been downgraded to Watch and Act but others are still in danger. We all have to remain vigilant.
Beyond that, we all have to care for each other.
People have lost homes, or farms, or herds… or all of that.
Our local community in the southwest of Victoria has been shaken and found strong, supportive and caring – and now, we must continue that by caring for those who have lost so much.
I have no doubt that Cobden will ace that – we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.
As I’ve said on numerous occasions, we’re incredibly blessed to live in Cobden. It’s a great community, and I’m thankful that it has passed this most recent test.
Today I was privileged to accompany 45 students on a visit to the Courage to Care exhibition in Portland.
We heard the personal story of a man named Harry, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harry’s story was incredibly powerful. So were the tears he shed while telling it. You couldn’t help but be moved by this first-hand account of the terrible things that were done during World War II.
Courage to Care exists because they are passionate about telling many, many stories just like Harry’s. Given that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they know that it won’t be long before there are no survivors left to tell their stories to the generations that follow them.
The message is not just about the Holocaust. It’s a message against any form of prejudice, hatred, intolerance or bullying. Differences between people are only ever superficial; underneath our skin, we’re all the same.
Everyone who visits the exhibition is encouraged to be “Upstanders, not Bystanders”. It’s hard to leave without experiencing the conviction that you will never accept or condone discrimination again.
I cried as Harry told his story, not just for Harry but for every family who lived through the same thing. I cried for parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and siblings who lost each other.
I cried again when I read the stories of two families in Rotterdam who worked with the Dutch Resistance and help save Jewish people from the Nazis. They almost certainly knew my grandfather, who worked for the Dutch Reaistance throughout the war, and was personally hunted by the Nazis as a result.
My Opa told me stories about his experiences during the war when I was a young girl reading books like ‘The Hiding Place’ and The Diary of Anne Frank’. They were always very serious and quite emotional conversations. It was very important to him that I understood how important it is to oppose evil and to stand against hatred.
He told me more of his story when I was a little older and studying history. I guess he thought I could handle more of the horrible truth then. It certainly made my studies more personally relevant.
It also explained why he would leave the room or turn the TV off whenever there was a scene where German soldiers marched or where Hitler addressed the crowd. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but after that, I could not watch those scenes without thinking about how powerfully real and haunting it still was for him and, doubtless, everyone else who had survived it. I was very privileged today to meet Harry, to shake his hand and talk with him. I told him about my grandfather and the connection with the stories displayed in the exhibition, and cried again. He hugged me and we shed tears together.
Honestly, I’ve never been such a sook in public. The whole experience was very moving, and not just because it made me think about my grandfather.
I saw the students responding in a similarly emotional way. They spoke up about bullying, booing at footballers, and the way different ethnic groups in Australia are perceived and treated. One of my students, a young man who generally seems to have not a care in the world, had tears in his eyes, just like I did.
I saw the light in the eyes of the Courage to Care members as they were inspired by the responses of the young people in front of them. The conversations were serious and sombre.
Every student took a wristband and put it on immediately, proud to be an Upstander.
There is hope yet for our nation and our world. Young or old, we can make a stand against hatred and vilification.
All that is needed is the courage to care and to stand up for what is right.
It’s the same kind of sadness I felt when my friend Rebecca was dying of cancer. We all knew it was going to happen, and we all knew that she was going to a better place. Even so, if we could have turned the wheels of time to keep her here a bit longer with her family, or turned the wheels of science and medicine to cure her, we would have. The time came; she was gone, and we all had to carry on despite our sadness at being left behind.
This time is a bit different because nobody is dying, but the deep sadness is the same. Three beautiful friends of mine are moving to the other side of the country. I fully understand why they’re going, and I know that they’re going to be a blessing and achieve wonderful things in a new place with new people. I sincerely wish them every good thing and all God’s blessings as they go. I know we’ll be able to keep in touch via text, emails and Facebook, and heck – I might even call them sometimes and actually talk on the phone. That’s pretty revolutionary for me.
Even so, it’s not going to be the same as seeing them and working with them every day. They’re the sort of people that everyone needs in their lives. Dynamic, honest, encouraging, empathetic and loyal to the core. On top of that, they totally get me. That’s rare.
The knowing looks across the room, trying not to laugh at private jokes at inopportune times, encouraging smiles and fist pumps as we pass one another in the hallways, and the understanding smile of someone who gets it when life is difficult are just some of the many things I’ll miss. There’s going to be a very conspicuous absence when they’re gone.
It’s a big challenge to try to be positive in these last few days. but I really want to soak up the time I have with them, and enjoy every moment, even if it is hard to push my sadness aside and not let it pervade everything. There will be plenty of time for misery when they’ve gone, after all.
Yes, I have other friends who are wonderful, and supportive, and fun, and all that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their friendship – I do, and I make sure they know it. I know life will go on, and people will always come and go from it. Sometimes that can even be a good thing. When it’s not a welcome change, though, it goes against every instinct and sense to willingly say goodbye to someone you love and let them go away to be wonderful in someone else’s life instead of mine, or ours.