The luck of the draw

My husband let out a heart wrenching cry this morning. I heard it down the corridor. A long loud lament.
‘What’s the matter’ I asked when I found him in his office in front of the computer.
‘The news,’ he said. ‘The news on the asylum seekers, the ones on Christmas Island. It’s unbearable.’

My husband reads the newspapers from top to toe, and then checks up on the ABC news online. I can scarcely bear to read beyond what I hear on the radio when I drive my car. One hundred asylum seekers from Iran in a rough boat crashed up against the rocky cliffs off Christmas Island.

I must not get into a rant on the politicisation of the plight of these people here, still I cannot understand why we are so reluctant to be more welcoming to these desperate people and why the paranoia of terrorism should so dominate the public psyche that people are left to perish on rocks – young men, old men, women, babies, children – because they have to sneak in to this country undetected or else they will be sent back to unknown horrors.

I sometimes wonder how any of us go on living in face of such tragedies, how any of us can continue on our way when disasters like this happen on our shores, not just on our shores but in our neighbourhood. Yet we do.

‘You are too emotional,’ my brother said at our family reunion in Griffith, too easily distressed. I could not believe his words. Can’t he see: I’m not so distressed as he? My distress is on the surface, his is buried deep in his heart and body, caught there in the stent the surgeons put in to open up his artery; caught there in his blood pressure which rises almost visibly whenever he walks through the front door of his office at his work as accountant and panics.

Two members of my family work as accountants. My father was an accountant. My youngest sister and this brother both work as accountants, she with a major bank and he for an air-conditioning form.

When I was young accountancy was a profession of which my family were proud. When the nuns took the first roll call and filled out identifying details at the beginning of each year, she asked each of the class the question ‘What does your father do?’. I was proud to answer, ‘My father is an accountant’.

My father wore suits to work each day, dark suits, white shirts and black shoes. He traveled to the city. But he had wanted to become a chemist my brothers told me, years later. My father had wanted to experiment in chemistry. He wanted to invent things, develop new products. He could not do this in Australia and make a good enough income on which to raise his large family. Accountancy he could study at night. Accountancy was something he could move into little by little and make good money along the way.

So why were we so poor I wondered often when we were little. Why were we so poor, and others who lived in the houses around us in Camberwell and Deepdene, so rich.

Now I think the other way around, despite my anxieties about making ends meet, the fact that I am here and they, those asylum seekers are there, does not shift too easily. The luck of the draw you might say.

My analyst used to talk about the need to make the most of what you have. There are those who are offered a great deal throughout their lives who cannot do much with it and others who receive very little who achieve great things. It is not simply a matter of what you get, it is more about what you do with it.

I went to see a physiotherapist yesterday on the advice of my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother who advised me that my leg will only get back to normal if I work at it. She knows from experience. She broke her ankle some time ago.
‘It took me a year and they did dreadful things to me, but now I can even run again,’ she said.

I cannot run, the best I can get up to is a limping stride, and then it is more like an old lady hobble.

The physio, a young woman with dark hair and a gentle manner plunged me back into memories of my past when I was a social worker in a community care centre and worked alongside the physiotherapists and the occupational therapists and other so-called allied health professionals and doctors to deliver services to the local community.

I was one of them then, but not so now. There is a strange disjuncture between how I feel inside and how I am on the outside. It hits me once more. When I first began work as a social worker, my mother – then around my age now – said to me often,
‘I would not want to see someone your age. You lack experience’. I took offense. How could I ever catch up with her?

When I told the physio I did not understand why it takes so long for my leg to heal given that the surgeon said the bone is now completely healed, but it will take between eight months and a year to come back to normal, she went into a long and detailed physiology lesson about what happens when a bone breaks.

It is not just the bone that needs to heal, all the body’s nearby cousins – the tendons and muscles – need to recover. The blood supply to the area increases to help the process and in so doing contributes to the heat and pressure which cause the swelling that pops up around my ankle at the end of my more strenuous walking days. I must rest then.

We talked in detail about my idiosyncratic experience and the physio felt around my knee joint to get some idea of how matters fare. She dug her tiny fingers into the muscle that runs down the top of my thigh just above the knee joint. She wanted to loosen it, she said.

This muscle is too tight from non-use, and as a consequence, it is not working as hard as it should.

All day long my leg has ached. This is how it should be my daughters say when I complain that the physio has made things worse. This is how it should be when you use muscles that you have not used for some time. They ache.

If I keep using a rolling pin down the length of my thigh to loosen the muscle and if I keep up the exercises the physio has set, in time I will get stronger. In the meantime, my leg aches worse than it did before.

Healing can be a painful process, perhaps that is why I had avoided it. But I cannot avoid the news about the asylum seekers.

62 thoughts on “The luck of the draw”

  1. Elizabeth, this is a beautiful essay about coping with pain and circumstances, about the need to be patient as we heal.

    It is a gentle lesson to all of us who want to rush toward success, as though it is deserved and ours for the asking.

    This is also a hard lesson to learn, painful and hard.

  2. I was taught from a very young age to be kind to others. As I grew in mind and body it became more puzzling why people were mean spirited. Did not want to share no matter how much excess they had.

    It's funny how our lives have similar currents. I shattered my tibia and walked around for five years not knowing it never healed. The surgeon told me when I broke it, that he wasn't sure I'd be able to walk again. So, I attributed the pain I experienced as the cost of being able to walk.

    I have since had bone graft surgery. It's been a year and a half and I am slowly regaining my strength. The physio didn't mention that the mind needs to heal and believe that the leg was really healed.

    I can only think of the challenges the refugees need to overcome the mean-spirit of others and to find the strength to believe in themselves.

    PS thanks for the rolling pin tip. 😉

  3. One of the ways I learned what yoga stretches helped lengthen and adjust my neck & back muscles was the mind-bendingly intense migraine I would sometimes get the day after.

    I knew to do that stretch again. More gently. But to keep coming back to it.

    I've gotten migraines since I was a little kid. I was going to get migraines, yoga or no, I knew. So I figured I might as well suffer toward improvement than just suffer in decline. The improvement really shows up after awhile. And it's encouraging! Especially in the face of the suffering.

    As far as the injustices of the world are concerned – dunno.

  4. You are the baker, the cook, the creator, rolling the flesh, the muscles, the dough of your thigh with the rolling pin. When it is right, all will be well but if there is pain now, take it and roll it out, roll it out, take it slow.

  5. Your post is so full of insight, wisdom, empathy, pain … thank you for sharing with us. Making the most of what we have is a lesson worth living. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  6. do consider a physical therapist who does postural restoration. i had great success which this method.
    even though it might sound like standing up straight, it's much more. (yes, i'm a convert).

  7. Just before i retired my doctor advised me not to vegetate in front of the t.v. or lay in bed all day but get out and walk around for about 30 minutes a day doing this keeps everything in tip top shape and in working order and it has. As for the Asylum seekers i ask what was the boat doing so close to the rocks in the first place?. Why wasn't the boat pick up by our navy before this happened?.

  8. Dear Elisabeth, I have been wondering how your leg was doing. I am sorry to hear you are still in some pain…
    But so true that is, healing is a long process, mo matter what kind of injury we are recuperating from…
    If I do not get a chance later on I would like to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

  9. Thanks for visiting and posting a comment.

    An Al Jazeera TV news reporter a few days ago stated that Iran has overtaken China as the place where there are the most journalists in jail. "At least 41" imprisoned journalists in Iran was the figure they gave.

    When I was injured recently I took great benefit from using Nordic Walking Sticks or Trekking Poles as they are also called. After a 6 months lay off I'm now back running.

    A long time ago a Polish doctor living in Scotland said on the radio that his group of 90-year old walkers managed to keep going by wrapping their knees in cabbage leaves when they went to bed.

    When I was young I worked in a bank for 3 years. Terrible but insightful, especially I thought the Dormant Balances racket.

  10. Sending healing energy for your leg – and heart. It's hard to know what aches more at times. I go into "news moratoriums" every so often – avoiding the news just to give my heart a break now and then.

    The great thing about the world, like your leg, it will heal with time and love.

  11. I had the same reaction as your husband to the asylum seekers' crash. I usually avoid the news because I can't handle my chaotic grief.

    This human condition, full of possibilities of broken bones, heartache and unresolvable emotional tanglings is as rich as potent manure. Let's hope we can grow something from it.

  12. Hi Elisabeth, I think injury to the leg or foot is the hardest and longest to heal because we have to keep using our foot and leg before they are fully healed.

    You are a wonderful writer. You present a case so clearly. I do not know what are the solutions to world's misery but I believe we can only do the best that we can.

  13. I don't know the story of the asylum seekers you speak of, I'll have to google later, but if human suffering doesn't engender an emotional response what's the point of continuing to exist?

    I hope your leg heals to the point you can forget you ever broke it, Elizabeth.

  14. all of us seem to be lucky to blog and share our feeling but we all know that there's an injustice all around us. Though we wish it were not so we are not as free as we think. We cannot directly offer our help. We are limited by yards of red tape that seems to be there for reasons we're supposed accept. Why???

  15. It seems to remarkable that I've heard nothing of this boat of folks from Iran… all I hear about it continuing the income tax benefits even for the most wealthy 1% of Americans…
    The length of time it takes to get better is seriously interesting…we expect so much…
    thank you…

  16. I don’t have much time for healing. I’ve always had too much to do and so any healing that I’ve needed to do has had to take care of itself be it physical or emotional healing. I have always resented my body’s insistence on being limited. As I write this both my legs ache especially just above the knees. I know why, because for years now – literally – I have sat in this chair and contented myself with rattling away at this damn keyboard. That has done a lot to heal certain aspects of what was wrong with me but a body is full of spinning plates and no sooner do you pay one too much attention then there are others that threaten to come crashing down about you. ‘No pain, no gain’, ‘feel the burn’ – I hate clichés like that but then I’m reminded of the story of the little girl who helped a butterfly out of its cocoon and because of that its wings never got their colour; apparently the struggling was necessary to force blood into the wings. I have no idea if that’s true or just rot. It just seems a little tiresome that so much of life involves one kind of struggle or another. Of course our sore legs pale into insignificance when you think about the asylum seekers.

    Did you realise that the word ‘terrorism’ has been in common use since the 18th century? I thought it only came into existence in the seventies, that some journalist had coined it. That may still be the case because the earliest usage of the word that I can find was in The Times on 30 January 1795 (see here). I can see both sides when it comes to asylum seekers – a country only has limited resources and you can’t keep saying, ‘Yes,’ forever – but when you find out the names of these people and learn their stories then it puts a different complexion on things. The real answer is to attack the source of the problems, the government. Easier said than done. In the meantime if we’re going to do our bit we have to make room for the extra bodies. When was the last city built that you can think of? A city is not just a place to shove the problem, a city generates jobs and helps sustain itself. And building a city creates jobs too.

  17. I would assume that your brother really and truly doesn't care (at least not about suffering people whom he doesn't know) and that he puts you down because you do. I just fucking hate it when people make a virtue out of callousness, when they pretend that they are strong because they don't give a rip, and you are weak because you do.

    I had to think about what a physiotherapist was–is–but the old memory banks soon filled in a response. It's what we in the States call a physical therapist, possibly because we're too dumb–as a whole–to understand big words.

    Yes, it's the soft tissue that takes forever to heal, and that's assuming it heals at all. I wish you all the best in getting through this. It sound like you're doing what you need to do.

  18. Life has taught that whenever someone says "You're too emotional!" or "You're arrogant!" to me, they're not seeing me at all, but looking into a mirror. We mirror for each other what we don't want to see in ourselves. Classic projection. Your brother really needs to stop denying the intensity of his own feelings someday. 🙂

    That disjuncture you describe between how you feel on the inside and how you are on the outside—that's very human. I think that's the human condition: that we are never exactly what we think we are, or what we think we want to be.

    In fact, we're all much bigger than we think we are. We tend to underestimate ourselves, our healing potential (for self AND others), and our feeling potential. Emotions can be like the weather, the come and go, and not by our will or at our command. You can't TELL yourself not to feel something, like your brother would like to tell himself and you, you just have to weather it out.

    The pain is indeed a sign of healing.

    I just went through some really intense physical exertions, giving a couple of concerts, driving long ways to do so, and so on—and I'm not as wiped out as I thought I would be. Certainly not as much as I used to be. So I guess I'm getting stronger again, betting better. More than I think.

    Isn't that interesting?

  19. Lovely to see you here, Rosaria and thanks for your thoughtful comments. Resilience, pain and endurance, they all seem to go together. I wish I were more patient in the process. Thanks.

  20. I use the rolling pin daily, Artscapes and it hurts like hell. That muscle of mine must have ceased up big time and the physio's tiny fingers have prised it open. Things feel worse now but I must take the physio at her word.

    I see the surgeon tomorrow and hopefully he will enlighten me further.

    thanks, artscapes.

  21. My seventeen year old daughter has just discovered yoga, Glenn. She tells me I must try it and I will once my leg is just that little bit stronger. For the time being I take it slowly, and try to get stronger everyday.

    I cannot imagine a migraine. A tight tension headache is about the worst I've experienced, but I've heard about how dreadfully incapacitating migraines can be. My commiserations to you.

    Thanks, Glenn.

  22. Thanks Ms Moon. Speaking of bakers, my daughter made ginger bread men today in honour of Christmas and the batter was too dry at first until wee added extra eggs.

    Oh that kneading the muscle on my leg were as simple.

    thanks, Ms moon.

  23. I wonder Nancy whether postural restoration is like the Alexandre technique as practised here in Australia. My husband tried this therapy for a bad back many years ago. It's worth a try. Thanks Nancy.

  24. Thanks Helena. Inequality seems to be the ongoing lot of human kind.

    If life could be like one of those progressive dinner parties where guests are encouraged to move four places to the left every so often so as to sit with someone they don't know, if we could do that geographically, country by country people might develop more of a capacity for empathy.

  25. I think that for some reason the maritime authorities were unable to detect the boat before it hit those rocks, at least this is what we've been told, Windsmoke.

    It's possible. The people smugglers try hard to avoid detection. In any case, the outcome is tragic.

    As for not vegetating, it's not my style, nor yours by the sound of things.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

  26. Thanks for the Christmas wishes, Zuzana. My leg is healing, slowly slowly, but at least I'm fully mobile and my life is pretty much back to normal only I'm a bit slower.

    Christmas greetings to you, too, Zuzana. And thanks.

  27. You've touched on every point from my post here, Gwilym. Nordic ski sticks sound odd here in summer, but I'm heartened to hear that after six months laid off you're back running. There's hope after all. Thanks.

  28. Kass, like you I try to see the bright side of things and I agree that life's richness comes out of this complex compost, but there are some things that continue to be unfathomable to me.

    Thanks, Kass.

  29. Eryl, I see from yours and from other people's responses that my brother's concern over my excess emotionality comes from my response to the asylum seekers but in fact my brother's concern about my so called excessive emotionality comes from his response to me at our family gathering.

    I put these two things together here. They both apply , but I suspect this same brother would also grieve for the asylum seekers.

    Thanks Eryl.

  30. It's so easy to stereotype, Kirk. I'm sure I do it all the time, especially in the blogosphere where we make judgments on the basis of so little information.

    On the other hand, when my father landed in Australia straight off the boat in the early 1950s he worked for some time as a carpenter.

    Migrants often wind up in blue collar and labouring jobs. Not so surprising really, but very sad, and for some humiliating.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  31. It takes time to recover Melissa, as you say, and surprising when you consider how fast it was for me to break my leg.

    I did it in the proverbial twinkling of an eye.

    Other ailments of course sneak up on us more slowly, including that inevitable one called ageing.

    I hope you're on the mend, Melissa. Thanks.

  32. I had no idea that the term terrorism has been with us for so long. Terrorism is such a problematic word. As they say, one man's terrorist is another man's freedonm fighter.

    As for healing, I'm with you, I had thought if I busied myself in my ordinary daily life as before then my leg would heal just fine, but I understand from the physio that because of the pain factor I have not pushed myself far enough to the point that certain muscles might give up altogether. If I want these muscles to work I need to push them against the pain threshold. Tedious plus plus but I shall persevere.

    I catch myself in the reflection of shop windows these days and I detect a frailty in my gait that wasn't there before. I walk more like my mother these days than I like to admit. I must get myself up to par.

    Thanks, Jim.

  33. The physiotherapist explained to me about the soft tissue damage, Snow, and how long it takes to heal.

    I had thought the only thing damaged was the bone. How wrong I was.

    I feel so ignorant when it comes to matters of the body. I specialise in matters of the mind. The two are intertwined in our constructions, where we use them as metaphors for one another but there are also differences.

    Denying our emotional response to other people's pain can be a defense against that pain, Snow. Sometimes things are just too hard for some people to bear.

    Thanks, Snow.

  34. It sounds as though you are getting stronger, Art, and that's wonderful.

    As for what you write here about the way emotions come and go, I agree.

    I think in some ways that's the whole point of them, they shift as long as we can allow ourselves to think about them, and as long as we can allow ourselves to feel them.

    Our emotions are like our friends however much we might at times fear them. They are like warning signals, barometers of the weather.

    Thanks, Art. Keep getting stronger.

  35. I don't know why we are so restricted by all that red tape, Kleinstemotte, both metaphorically and literally, but I agree with you, we cannot do as much as we might both for our own good and that of others because of the restrictions placed on us simply living in a so-called civil society.

    All we can do is our best.

    Thanks Kleinstemotte.

  36. "Sometimes things are just too hard for some people to bear."

    That's too broad a generalization for me to sign onto. I rather think it's a matter of priorities, which means that grown people can, generally speaking, accept that which is important to them to accept. For example, when my mother was dying, my sister left the room because it was "too hard" for her, poor thing. Then, when my father could no longer live on his own, my sister's answer was to ship him off to a nursing home in another state because helping him was just "too hard" for her, poor thing. So, I held my mother's hand as she died, and I took care of my father with no help from my sister–but a lot from my wife. However, when my father finally died, who you think came round with her hand out for her half of the estate?

    I fully believe that, had someone offered my sister a million dollars for caring for her ailing father or sitting by the side of her dying mothers, then her priorities would have done a 180. People have the strength to accomplish that which they are motivated to accomplish. To think otherwise is the ultimate disempowerment in that it makes victims of them.

  37. Some people think that, by ignoring some unfair and cruel aspects of life, they are showing to theirselves and to the rest of the world some kind of unexplainbale courage and braveness, when i think it is quite the opposite. So i admire your compassion and mercy Elisabeth, because, even when many times we don´t even take some action in order to offer some help and consolation to the one who truly needs it, at least is a nice gesture to show some solidarity. Cruelty and many tragic things in history were born from indiference and it is unnecesary to give examples.
    And changing completely of topic. I want to use the ocassion to wish you a nice Christmas and, as i always insist to say, the best in your life not only during these days but for the rest of the year and the life if possible. I wish you a lot of wisdom, health and learnings. and happiness for you and your beloved ones.
    Thanks for all your fantastic essays and stories plenty of sincerity and trust, i want you to know that i really apreciate it. Receive my best regards and may all your wishes come true, even better, may you have all the energy and determination to achieve them.

  38. It is hard to find steady ground, as you say, Maggie.

    You must be feeling this strongly at the moment. I remember such a heightened sense of vulnerability and sensitivity with each one of my babies. It's a powerful time.

    Thanks, Maggie. All the best of the season to you.

  39. Thank you for all your wonderful Christmas wishes, Alberto.

    The world is so mixed, good and bad everywhere, as you suggest. We can only do our best to stay in touch with an awareness of other people's struggles.

    Tonight it is difficult for me to type. I nicked the top of my finger with a sharp knife preparing dinner and now it's hard to use the keyboard. It's not painful, just difficult through the bandage.

    I hope that you too, along with your love ones, have a terrific time over Christmas and the New year.

  40. It is a truism that the cure is often worse than the ailment. I wish you stamina in your long haul to fitness. More than that, I wish you and yours all the happiness of Christmas and a healthy and fulfilling 2011.

  41. Such wonderful empathic words Elisabeth. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. It's heartfelt. This year i made a heart of gold for my Christmas card. Although we have a crisis we still are a rich nation. But it seems that people don't wanna share their luck and happiness, that worries me. Don't retrench on your heart was my thought.
    I'm happy to find in blogland nice people like yourself with golden hearts.
    I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a great 2011 dear Elisabeth!

  42. Dear Elisabeth – I am continually inspired by your capacity to look life squarely in the eye and by your insistence on turning things (events, questions, pain, joy, healing, bewilderment and much else besides) around and around until you have a clearer perspective and understanding of them. And by inviting us along on the journey, you allow us the privilege of a shared process. Who was it said 'we get to the universal by going through the personal?'. This post echoes this statement, i think; it seems so relevant and right that your private pain and recovery process be placed alongside the pain of a very shocking, public reality such as the plight of these asylum seekers. Ought not our conversations ideally include both us and the other?
    Thank you for this year's wonderful, insightful musings, Elisabeth. And for generosity, so much in evidence around the blogosphere. I wish you and your family all good thins for the Christmas season and on into the new year.

  43. Dear Elisabeth – I am continually inspired by your capacity to look life squarely in the eye and by your insistence on turning things (events, questions, pain, joy, healing, bewilderment and much else besides) around and around until you have a clearer perspective and understanding of them. And by inviting us along on the journey, you allow us the privilege of a shared process. Who was it said 'we get to the universal by going through the personal?'. This post echoes this statement, i think; it seems so relevant and right that your private pain and recovery process be placed alongside the pain of a very shocking, public reality such as the plight of these asylum seekers. Ought not our conversations ideally include both us and the other?
    Thank you for this year's wonderful, insightful musings, Elisabeth. And for generosity, so much in evidence around the blogosphere. I wish you and your family all good thins for the Christmas season and on into the new year.

  44. Christmas is all but over for us now in the southern hemisphere, Claire. Though for some, including my mother, Boxing day is still Christmas. Christmas for her is not over until the epiphany.

    In that spirit then in the spirit of the so-called festive season, I wish you a happy Christmas time, too, and thank you for your kind thoughts here.

    I agree the universal is always reflected in the personal, for good and for ill.

    Thanks again, Claire.

  45. I hear you, Elizabeth. Really hear you.

    We all need to ache. Ache for injustice and fairness. Ache for understanding. Ache because empathy is the worthiest of emotions, worthiest state of spirit.

    And then we need a rolling pin. And we need to use it.

    Beautifully written. Beautifully felt.


  46. My daughter (17) said she could not imagine how awful life must be for the boat people; to leave all they know and have grown up with and take flight. If they are successful in their struggle they are all too often met with suspicion and distrust.

    I live my life in the knowledge I have safety nets and good folk out there willing to help if I stumble.

    I take it for granted. Thank you for reminding me of it.

  47. Thanks, Erin for your thoughts on life's struggle. The rolling pin exercise has released the tightness in my muscle to the point that it no longer aches when I use it.

  48. My 17 year old daughter and yours, Bella, are simpatico as far as the lot of asylum seekers is concerned. We all need safety nets. We all need to feel welcome. We all need a home. Thanks, Bella.

  49. Physical therapy works well, as you say, Enchanted Oak. My leg proves it.

    I'm amazed at the progress, but still it's hard to make myself remember to do those exercises. The prompts slip under my radar all the time. Thanks.

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