I am from a lineage of immigrants. My paternal Grandfather migrated from Italy to the USA, early in the 1900’s. I have seen his name etched into the wall of names at Ellis Island. My maternal Great Great Grandparents migrated from Germany. My husband’s Great Grandparents also came from Germany. My husband and I migrated to Australia and are both citizens of this country. If you go back far enough, all of us have relatives from somewhere else.
I grew up in small-town-middle-America. There were a few migrants in the town, but not many, and they had their share of haters. There were virtually no people of colour in the town. There were bigots, racial, religious and other, and I heard their comments all my life. Even in my own home. Even now I still hear them when we visit. I hear them where I live now, too. Bigotry is a pastime in which we all participate, at some point.
Bigotry, and its fear and intolerance, is the opposite of compassion.
In light of the political unrest of the moment, Ailsa from Where’s My Backpack, has written a stunning poem and requested us to create, or do, something ‘Great’ this week or in coming weeks, instead of her usual photo theme. She inspired us to do something that will add positive energy to the conversation the world is having. Hit the reset button, as she says. Only in our participation do we have a chance to make a positive contribution, even if it is a very small thing. Great journeys always start with one small step.
I had no photograph anyway, my tiny story is one about feeling…
The day after the US election results made Donald Trump President-elect, I had my 6 monthly appointment at the eye clinic here in Alice Springs. It is a world class eye clinic, tucked away in a none too salubrious setting. We have excellent care, however, because so many of the Indigenous people have glaucoma, which, incidentally, is what I have. An appointment usually takes a couple of hours, including waiting time in between the various exams, drops, scans and consultations. There are always a number of Indigenous people waiting as well. Many of them are elderly and very, very sad to see. Clearly, glaucoma is not their only health issue.
This week I sat quietly, waiting for drops to open my pupils for a retinal scan. Sometimes I closed my eyes to simply relax and remind myself how lucky I am to live in a place where excellent care is available, and in a time when glaucoma is not necessarily a sentence to blindness. I didn’t want to bow my head into my phone or a magazine, I just wanted to sit quietly and ‘be’.
There was an elderly, Indigenous woman who hobbled out from an exam room. She had no one assisting her and she had no walking stick. She unsteadily and slowly made her way to the seat across from me, to await the next stage of her examination. Soon it was her turn for a scan and the nurse called her into the room. I heard a small groan as she got up and she paused, uncertain of her balance. Then came another small groan of uncertainty, ‘I hope I can make it’. I know the sound of a person with hip problems, from personal experience. Without thinking, I hopped up and offered my arm to steady her. Without hesitation and with a flicker of smile, she leaned on me, immediately relieved . Surprisingly, the others around us looked up and smiled too; one Indigenous gentleman had a tiny nod and smile, with a glint of moisture in his eye…perhaps just his eye drops glistening, but still… It was a moment of pure human to human compassion that I want always to remember.
For a moment, it didn’t matter that she was from a lineage of the first Australians, and I was a migrant from far away. We were humans, touching and showing kindness. That was what mattered.
That is always what matters.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson