An overcoat of shame

Don’t let shame get in the way. Don’t let it dictate your every move. Don’t let it turn you into a shy thing, scared of every flicker in another’s eye. For fear of their judgement. Judgements that can rain on you like so much graffiti, tagging your glorious persona. 

Shyness is that mildest of the paranoias. It makes it hard for any of us to creep around among others, unless we’re willing to shake off the overcoat that hides us from the world. 

You must not shy away from the task at hand, a task made more difficult by the pressure of time. When I’m under pressure, it’s hard to think. My mind pitches forward to where I must go or what I must do. It refuses to let me wander along the by ways and side paths onto cul de sacs of nothingness, into the joy of a meander. 

It makes me rush into concrete thoughts about where and what now. What now? I ask. 

Words tumble into my brain like so much confetti, each tiny fragment a disc of colour manufactured in a factory somewhere, someone’s incessant pressings to create a rainbow coloured snow storm that lands on the bride’s white veil or her husband’s uncovered head. 

My father wore a hat to his wedding. A tall top hat, still in fashion for such occasions in the 1940s. I expect he did not wear one otherwise.

My husband insisted the funeral celebrant also wear a top hat at his father’s funeral. He instructed the funeral director in top hat to lead the hearse down the hill away from the church of the Sacred Heart slowly. All mourners followed on foot aftet the pall bearers had slid the coffin into the hearse. After which the hearse gathered speed, and the mourners straddled off to their respective cars, to follow headlights on full blare, onto the graveyard in Lilydale. 

My husband wanted his father’s death to be memorable as if at last he was able to give his father something for which his father could not criticise him. 

My own father’s funeral was marked by a surprisingly full church given how taciturn he was in life and how few friends he made. But he had his many children and their partners. He had his many grandchildren, and my mother had the parish which my father had begun to frequent during his final years after he stopped drinking. 

There was even the Our Lady of the Assumption’s charismatic group towards the back of the church, wild-eyed middle-aged women mainly, muttering under their breaths and stomping their feet as my pall bearing brothers carried the coffin out to the hearse ready for its trip to the graveyard. My father’s final trip on earth. 

My oldest brother’s eulogy still rings in my ears. The way he praised our father as a man of interest and scarcely mentioned the cruelty he inflicted on us all. I did not fully understand the degree to which my oldest brother, a decade ahead of me, had a different view of his father from us younger ones. But also, this is a brother who takes his role as the oldest seriously, as many an oldest sibling does, especially coming from a large family. 

There are many first born, so weighed down by the weight of expectation heaped on their small shoulders soon after birth, they cannot help but take on the leadership role that comes by dint of birth order.

At the graveyard where we buried my father, my ten days old first-born daughter began to cry when they lowered the cask into the ground and my husband took her away to a nearby grave side mound where he changed her nappy. He told us later that some passers-by on the golf course behind the cemetery heard a baby crying and called out to see if anyone needed help. 

‘It’s okay,’ my husband said. ‘We’re burying her grandfather.’ 

None of my children knew their grandfather. Not so unusual in generations of old. The old, already ancient in their fifties, and no longer able to hang around to help. Not that my father would have helped any more than I let my mother help me with my children. By then she already some fifteen grandchildren and I did not want mine to be among the one-of-many as I so often felt throughout my life. A state of mind that has tended me towards a loudness that can be too much for some. 

A lack of ostensible shyness even as underneath I might be quaking. Even as once I hit the fifty-year-old mark, the age when people begin to become irrelevant, ‘invisible’, as a friend once told me, I was determined not to let my shame dictate the course of my life, determined not to let those fears of judgement impale me on the fence posts of shame.  

Peacocks and hens

My sister-in-law rears chooks at her property on the peninsula. Orange-brown feathered things that strut around her acres of green and dip in amid the buses in search of titbits to eat. One day over Christmas, I broke away from our family gathering and took to following a couple of these chooks as they darted ahead of me. 

Chooks are unlike other domestic animals. They do not stop to be patted with affection. At least not the ones I’ve met. The ones at my sister in law’s place are preoccupied with their search for food and some other tribal process among themselves where the rooster bosses around the hens who bicker among themselves in whatever rivalry exists within the chook world. 

My sister-in-law told me about a peacock who had arrived unannounced one day in her garden and fluffed out its plumage to her grandchildren’s delight. On this day I followed the chooks in hopes of finding the peacock or his partner who had arrived a few weeks after the flashy bird. 

As in many instances within the bird kingdom, the female tends towards the dowdy, but she holds the secret to procreation. The peacock must impress her in order for mating to happen, otherwise no more baby peacocks or pea hens. 

Despite my feminist inclinations I wanted to see the male with his plumage on full display. I can be as seduced as the next hen by such a glamourous display. Out of nowhere, the peacock appeared and did his stuff. All turquoise purples and blues with those magical eyes at the tip of the tallest feathers. The majesty of what people call the natural world, though I’m not sure about the word ‘nature’. A person made word to distinguish between them, the animals and us.

Privilege is a funny thing, visible to all except the privileged ones who wear their status like a ‘natural’ thing, as if it has ever been and will always be so. Thinking of my peacock and its magnificent plumage and some comments I read recently from distant friends of my husband who decry the notion of Invasion Day and consider the indigenous people of this nation to have been given enough privileges to warrant them staying silent about their situation.

Like critical parents they seem to say: look at what we’ve done for you. All this money poured into your people and still you’re ungrateful.

My stomach churns when I read the comments one person put out from the right-wing Andrew Bolt about the excesses of governmental largesse to the indigenous people.

It’s as if they pay no heed to history. As if they cannot see that we are the ones who should feel grateful for the land we stand on, land our forebears stole from the indigenous people already here. 

And if half the people in this country support continuing to host Australia Day on 26 January then we are as divided a nation as we see in the United States where around half the people are supposed to support Donald Trump.

When one group profits from the misfortunes of another group. When one group seeks to keep another group down, then we’re in trouble. 

My husband’s acquaintances wrote about how the minorities control us. And again, I question this idea. Is it that the minorities control or is it that they alert us to the inequalities rife in our world and they also prick people’s consciences? Then some people at least imagine, like Hitler, if we can silence those nuisance minorities, we can have it all for ourselves in comfort.

Only trouble is this never works. Our minorities are like Mrs Peahen. They serve a purpose that goes beyond procreation and diversify. They have a right to be here. They have a right to flourish. They have as much right to exist as anyone else who might consider themselves mainstream, white male middle aged and comfortable, white female middle aged and comfortable, going down the line of privilege into the arena of all those inequalities that exist for people across time.

It seems simpler in the peacock’s world which is about survival, whereas we humankind have taken survival up a notch and struggle with a wish to accumulate, then get more than we need for survival at the expense of those who teeter on the edge of not surviving. 

We have a problem here and if we’re not careful, we will lose our beloved ‘natural’ world to all the dark endings that come out of excess.

When we owe ourselves and our children and their children’s children a bright future where there’s room for all the chooks, the peacocks and hens and all peoples.