Thursday, May 24, 2012

This Isn't Where We Wanna Be.

When family members die, people tend to ask how you and your family are coping.  The assumption contained within the question being that families come together in times of grief, such as the death of someone related.

It’s a comforting thought if, perhaps, a little simplified. 

It does seem as if we are hardwired to ‘hunker down’ in times of sadness, usually with close friends and family.  By the same token, however, it also seems like we all handle grief in different ways. 

Which brings us to the picture of the ‘unified’ family, utterly estranged from the other through differing ways of coming to terms with sad things (whether existentially or pragmatically, or both).

How can you connect with someone you love – how can you bring your way of seeing the world to bear with how they do – while at the same time come to terms with facts that are perhaps bigger than the bond a group of people can foster?  It’s almost as if grief accentuates the divides that stand between those who are meant to be the most important. 

There are narratives that we all subscribe too when shit goes down.  Perhaps family units are guiltier of this than any one else.  I began by pointing out how naive the assumption that families face grief together was.  Perhaps it is just as na├»ve to assume the best people to be with when part of the family dies is the family itself.

Maybe it’s better to hang out with people you up until recently thought were just friends.  Great people!  But people you had, nonetheless, met through some past time that takes up a lot of your life. 

It’s only then, through the catalyst of emotional break down, do you realize that these people are actually the best in your life.  Suddenly you’re surrounded by people that care about you, that want you to be happier.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  This kind of heart felt, anti-cynical writing isn’t my favourite.  I much prefer to take the piss.  But I’ve found myself touched and awed by the people I have unconsciously surrounded myself with.  And I’ve been moved by their concern for me, as well as others. 

This shouldn’t be taken as some anti-family rant…a call to break down ancient groups and bonds.  Clearly family does and will play roles that are vitally important.  My family, if a little shaken over the past four years, is comprised of a pretty cool bunch of people. 

But maybe we shouldn’t fall into pre-conceived ideals and narratives.  Maybe we would benefit from looking a little further afield for existential comforts.  Which isn’t to say we can’t look to both groups to find truth.

But, maybe, the people that aren’t afraid to hear you voice your deepest fears, your most repressed of thoughts, to see you actively voice doubts about the world and yourself, aren’t who you would expect.  Maybe it isn’t your mum, or even your ‘best friend’.  

It's definitely surprised me.  And I'm kinda humbled.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We Need A Different Point Of View.

I went to my brother in law Erik's funeral the other day.  It was fucked up.

As I stood at the grave, surrounded by folks I didn't know, I caught sight of Oskar, my nephew.

My dad died when I was 21 and it was pretty heavy.  I can't imagine it happening at eight.

About ten minutes into the service, which was filled with shit poetry and good will, Oskar piss bolted.  My sister Margaret tried to chase him, to calm him, but she was as fucked up as him.  I touched Margaret on the arm, indicated she should head back to the congregation, and i followed Oskar.  He ran to the car, kinda crying, kinda not knowing what to say.  I open the car up, got in with him, and sat quietly for a bit.

"It kinda sucks huh?" I asked.

Oskar nodded, wiped the tears from his face, then asked me how far back I thought the ipad calander went.

I guessed 1996.

I made him stop at 1647. ("Let's make a dentist appointment!")

So I sat there with my nephew, as songs and anecdotes wafted over from the grave site, and I wondered what the fuck to do.  This was his dad they were putting in the ground.  Would he regret not being there when he was older, opting instead to play fifa on his ipad while his way too young uncle freaked the fuck out?

In the end i coaxed him out, and he watched from a distance as people let some balloons go.  Oskar held the fuck onto his though.

Once the ceremony was over, I wandered over to my dad's grave (same place! so convenient!) to check it out for the first time.  It was pretty weird.  We'd only just got off our asses as a family to get a proper headstone put in.  We kinda figured Dad wouldn't care, and besides, i kinda like the piece of rotting wood they had used to write Kent, Bill on with charcoal.  Mum had brought some rad plants she was gonna put in the ground.  She got to digging, and I made some bad jokes about the mulch being good in this area.  As Mum was digging away, and I was offering encouragement, while my younger sister hit me, these friends of my older sister Margaret, obviously here for Erik, came over too.  They placed a small stone at the foot of the headstone.  I looked confused, and they explained it was a Jewish custom. I thanked them, saying that Dad would be stoked.
"We weren't sure if it was appropriate in this..." she trailed off.
"Godless part of the cemetery?" I responded (it was totally still roughly segregated according to religion).
I assured her it was fine, and that it didn't bother us at all, while Mum blathered on about the heathen section having the most tree cover anyway.  They kinda backed away slowly.  I'm not sure if we confirmed all their suspicions about atheists.  But, as I looked around at the scenario, as I made jokes and Antonia chuckled, while Mum blustered away, I was pretty stoked that we could deal with such a fucked up situation so lightly.  There were no religious circumstances to be adhered too, nothing that was inappropriate to to.  Just a bunch of people dealing with someone you used to have dinner with being in the ground.  As far as the situation went, we went ok I think.

Meanwhile Oskar piped up.
"Grandpa was born during the war!"
"How could you possibly know that?" I asked.
"Cos it's on his headstone...."
Then he turned around and went to hold Margaret's hand.

I left feeling pretty bizarre, but strangely happy.

Erik died so suddenly, and so horribly, I can't really come to grips with it right now.  I keep refering to him as my brother in law but, really, he was just my mate.  He showed me how to rock climb, how to play the guitar with minimal to no skill and, some years ago, made me face up to the fact that dad was gonna die, and that i needed to help everyone else out.

So that little clearing in Forrest, surrounded my mtb trails, now holds two of my family members, in as many years.  As far as cemeteries go, it's not a bad place to be.

As we got back into the car, kinda quiet, while my sister hummed that really catchy song about calling me maybe, Mum outta the blue goes, her voice shaking a bit:
"Right, we're not coming back here for funerals for a long time.  No one is allowed to die for a while yet."

We kinda laughed, but I tell ya what, I stopped skitching that tram the other day way before I had to let go.

Here's to Erik.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Crush On A Waitress.

If there's one thing that takes up a large chunk of things that I think about a lot, it's how things might have been, if one small factor in my past was different.

So, for example, when my family moved house in 1998, how would my life be different if we had settled in the Dandenongs, rather than Elsternwick, as was a possibility at some point.  I swing between thinking my life at this point would be radically different to thinking it would largely be the same.

It seems to me that we can conclude one of two things: that there are landmark points in your life where choosing either X or Y (or Z!) will radically alter your life.  There aren't that many though, and those that are there have fundamentally shaped the way your life has turned out so far.  Or, alternatively, every choice, regardless of how mundane, has ultimate and fundamental repercussions on how things pan put.  So, for example, my deciding to walk to work rather than ride, could in fact be decisive in the way my life pans out.  Perhaps I will meet an old friend, or my life partner, or perhaps i will be killed in a drive by shooting.

So i can't decide between whether there are pivotal moments in life, whereby you are almost aware that such a moment has arrived and, overwhelmed with a sense of universal gravitas you ponder the choice.  Things like moving house, going overseas, what to study at university, which friends to choose, etc, etc.  These events have the illusion of being important.

But maybe my choosing the sambal noodles over the hokkien noodles will hold as much fatalistic weight.  It seems unlikely, but you can't know because, once the path is chosen, it's often unclear which factors, which events in life were the catalyst for events that followed.  Was my tripping over a bump in the footpath due to my having drunk too much, or choosing shoes that make me clumsy?  Or both?

These kind of trains of thought are enough to drive me friggin mental.

Not because I can't figure out which moments in life are the pivotal ones.  But, rather, because it seems like it is irrelevant.  You can only figure out which moments are pivotal (if at all) ones they have come and gone, and you have been given a chance to reflect.  While it seems as if bigger, more obvious choices, like deciding what to study at university holds more fatalistic implications then which shoes to wear, it isn't necessarily the case.  With this in mind, if we can only decipher what the future held (ie. pull apart the choices that were open to us once we have made them) then we really have no control over the future at all.

Which is terrifying.

But, you know, also extremely calming.