I’ve never been very good at geography or where I actually am at any given point in time. I’m the girl who points left when she means right and names directions in a more whimsical (as opposed to accurate) sense.
I had no idea where Armidale was when I first moved there for work. It never seemed important to find out the where more than the why or the what. And it was the same when I took a job in Nauru this year. I know that, right now, I am typing this on a little island somewhere in the Pacific – maybe halfway between Australia and Hawaii although, lord knows, I’ve been wrong about where I am before. More things seem more important than where I am – the progress of students, how my family and friends are travelling, what I’m writing.
Any new place is always an adventure, no matter.
I’m learning a new course, a new home, a new routine.
I’m learning how to sprout.
These last six weeks have been hectic with the learning, and it’s been eye-opening in so many ways because it challenges me to be adaptable, to not get into habits that might feel to precious to be broken. It challenges me to live without the things I thought I would struggle to be without – my little cat particularly – and in that I’ve had to find new ways to deal with any anxiety. And it teaches me to not give into excuses. I can’t exercise here in the same ways I did in Australia so I’ve adapted rather than stopped and am now becoming quite the expert in exercises you can do on a mat with a mini-band, and a skipping rope under the stairs of where I live.
These feel like important things.
But, the past few weeks, a friend has become seriously ill. It was a sudden thing, a shocking thing.
And all of a sudden where I am feels desperately to matter because I am so very far away. I have incredible friends who send me updates depending on which technology works best at which particular time. When she was undergoing her first operation, we decided to light candles together for her. The shop here was candle-free and so, in desperation, I sent a call out to Catholic friends who went to their churches and lit candles for my friend. And so, via Skype and Viber and email, we talk about how she’s going and what is happening, and what it means when the universe does something like this. What happens when the universe doesn’t seem to make any real sense because sudden and shocking illness shouldn’t happen to the people in your life. All the circular arguments you go through because terrible things happen to good people all the time and it becomes sometimes about how you make sure the people in your life know how special they are, that you make sure you never leave things unsaid.
You become a walking cliché trying to figure things out, but maybe that’s the point as well. Maybe the clichés are the words that help you get through the shock of something – they give you time to process properly (and sometimes slowly) and find the words you really want to say.
I don’t know, At the moment, I still feel like I’m clutching at clichés in a desperate hope that she’ll end up being OK.
But in all of this, I feel very far away.
I know that my being there wouldn’t make a difference in any real sense. It is just my sense of wanting to be able to help if needed, to help in any way I could. And here, a million miles away, all I can do is pray and ask people to light candles. It is something that feels both hopeful and hopeless at the same time. I tell myself that any positive energy sent her way can only be a good thing but still, I feel very far away.
In a time where we can potentially have access to anyone at any time through all sorts of social media, it feel sobering to sit here with much of that at my fingertips (depending on how the storms affect the internet of late) and it not feel quite enough. And while very much heightened with my friend’s illness, it feels important for everyone in my life. To enjoy every chance I’m with them, and to not lose touch when I am not. Where I live will change but potentially I will always be far away from different people in my life. The more we move around, the more people we have in different parts of the globe. I will always be closer to some than to others, although this is arguably the most remote I’ve been.
I may not know where I am in any kind of practical, physical sense but I know where my heart beats, and for whom, and that feels more important than any map.