• Lara Flanagan

Gratitude, kindness and joy

I have been struggling with this blog and this is about the 5th draft I have tried to write. I saw a post on Instagram recently by someone I follow and admire who referred to Australia’s handling of the pandemic as “inhumane”. It jarred me and I have been trying to work out why. In my first version, I shared the death rates of different countries all over the world from Covid. In another, I discussed examples of what I considered to be ‘inhumane’. But nothing sat right with me; everything sounded like some sort of mad-as-a-cut-snake diatribe and I still could not work out the real reason why I was upset. I did not sleep a wink last night. I blamed Kevin who is increasingly incontinent, but I know I spent the night stewing. At about 3 am this morning I remembered a course I did last year that was aimed at bloggers, Instagrammers, and online entrepreneurs. One of the things we had to do was work out what our “mission” was. I hate words like “mission”. It makes me feel like a wanker. But stronger than my dislike of words like “mission” is the overriding fact that I am a nerd and I love to complete homework so I can get a gold star. I spent days working on my mission (wanker). Sometimes I feel like I am a Jill of all trades, a master of none. Was I a photographer, a writer, a poet, an Instagrammer, an influencer (wanker), a food creator, a caterer, or a long-forgotten cake maker or sales and marketing person? Around the time I was working on my mission, I had fully realised that photography and words were my everything. Food was the icing on the top. But what was my mission? It turned out to be a valuable exercise for me as I have never articulated to myself what it is I want to do with my life. It turns out that my mission is to share joy. We had to come up with a pithy mission statement (wanker) and mine was – to share the joy of living a meaningful life with less. So basically I strive to share joy. It is behind almost every choice I make and it was lovely to be able to define what it is I try to do. I get up in the morning to find something beautiful and I share that joy. I live in a way that my kids can see that joy is always a possibility. We live with fewer material possessions so we can do things that bring us joy. Taking photos and putting words together makes me happy and I adore sharing that joy. Knowing my “mission” (wanker) gave me the courage to open my little gallery because it is my dream for my work to be what also brings me joy. Back to my angst about the blog I was trying to write. I realised that writing it was not bringing me joy and sharing it was not going to bring many people joy either. Yet at 4 am this morning I was still jarred by this bloody post on Instagram. Recently I got a message from my girlfriend Cathie in Sydney. I met Cathie on the first day of high school on the Gold Coast and we have been friends ever since. We don’t see each other much and send the occasional message, but when I do see Cathie it is like it has been no time at all and she is one of my favourite people to shoot the breeze with. Cathie sent me a message saying she was talking to her Dad and they must have been talking about the Covid situation in Australia or the lockdowns when her Dad said that he thought that the Jewish people in those camps had it tougher. As Cathie said #perspective. Then I realised what was jarring me about the Instagram post. It was the lack of perspective. Honestly, it was a riot in my bedroom this morning. I thought of Eddie Jaku who survived the Holocaust to go and write, “The Happiest Man on Earth”. I thought of Turia Pitt who survived horrific burns to 65% of her body to go and write “Happy”. What they both have in common is, that despite the fact that Eddie and Turia had every reason to be bitter and twisted, they exercised the art of being grateful. And with gratitude came incredible kindness and the ability to spread joy.

It is so easy to lose perspective. I know after my diagnosis I lost months of my life to a dark and twisted world. The places I visited after Tiney died I would not wish on my worst enemy. But eventually, I dealt with it, by focussing on the smallest things. During both those times, apart from Archie and Rissie, it was starting the day with something beautiful and reminding myself what I was grateful for that pulled me out of the darkness. Gratitude allowed me to be kinder to myself and to once again find a bottomless well of joy. I will never forget hearing an Indian doctor being interviewed last year as she spoke about the devastating consequences that she believed Covid would have on her country. Unfortunately, she was right. She said that if you have access to water you are privileged. If you have access to sanitiser you are privileged. If you have room to self-isolate you are privileged. If you have access to health care you are privileged. If you have soap to wash your hands with you are privileged. I vowed to myself after hearing her speak that I would never forget how privileged I am. So many people are privileged and I suspect many of us in the more developed countries feel that we are also entitled. Whether it be entitled to large amounts of toilet paper, the ability to fly into any country we want, whenever we want, entitled to free health care and education. Entitled to social welfare and government assistance. Entitled to speak over others because we disagree with them, entitled to spread fear because we are scared. Entitled to call another country’s actions inhumane. Entitled to demonstrate despite putting other people at risk. Entitled to a roof over our head and food on the table. But the fact of the matter is, that we are not entitled to anything. Since emerging from my bubble and opening my little gallery I have been surprised by the people who pop in for a chat. It has been an unexpected treat. I think people like being listened to and love being heard. I am constantly reminded of what I tell the kids all the time, that it is better to be kind than right. Whilst 99% of people are a delight to talk to, there are the very occasional few who are challenging. I have strong feelings about some things, but I am also happy to listen because it is only when you hear where the other person is coming from, that you can begin to understand what they are actually saying. I don’t mind what you believe as long as it is not hurting anyone or being shoved down my throat. I get that some people are scared and anxious and angry. I get all that. It is only on rare occasions that I surreptitiously check to see if someone has a scar on their shoulders from having had their second head removed. I have only asked one lady to leave the gallery and that was this week when she refused to wear a mask because it was her right not to. I had no desire to listen to her, as in that instance my responsibility was to myself and my community. Everyone has a right to feel down in the dumps, to have a bad day, to feel scared, anxious, and angry. Part of a truly joyful life is feeling all those emotions; our lives are not meant to look like a curated Instagram feed. Life is messy, scary, overwhelming, brilliant, magnificent, filled with moments of drudgery, boring, wonderful, and completely bloody magic. Many of us are privileged and blessed and I think the biggest gift we can give ourselves is to be grateful. Even during those moments when your heart aches, when memories dry on your cheeks and your voice shakes with fear. There is always something to be grateful for. And if we are grateful, it is easy to be kind, because if we can be anything damnit, we should be kind. Kindness trumps everything. With gratitude and kindness, a really magical thing starts to happen. Rather than fear, anger, hurt or disappointment, one will start spreading joy. When I crawled out of bed this morning I knew what it was that got me about the random post – it was the lack of perspective from someone who is privileged. Maybe she was having a really crappy day which I completely get. Who knows. But I realised I had lost my desire to respond or comment.

Instead, I choose gratitude. I choose kindness. I choose joy.

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