Sunday, December 19, 2010

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.
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