Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. ― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
In just over a week I’ll be waking up in Sydney in my bedroom. The sun will rise over the Pacific Ocean outside my window and I’ll hear the chirping and splashing of lorikeets as they bathe in the gutter on the roof of my neighbours. I can already feel the soft carpet that will greet my feet as I hop out of bed, effortlessly glide down the wooden staircase to our kitchen and make myself a pot of English Breakfast tea.
It all sounds rather good, doesn’t it. That’s because I have a rather good life. And I know it. With all that is going on in the world and even in people’s lives around me I am well aware of the fact that my life right now is one of privilege. I don’t want to say lucky because firstly it’s more than just luck – though you can be born into privilege you also can create privilege. Plus I don’t want to jinx it. Last time I said to Guy that we were so lucky, we had our bags broken into en route to Israel and some items were stolen. The pendulum swings both ways, your life can change in an instant, and I am also aware of this. What I do want to share in this post and something I have wanted to write for a while now is that I know that this past six months has been a time of great blessings upon us and yes, privilege.
Privilege is defined as ‘a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.’ As much as I want to yell out to everyone everywhere that they should do this trip – rent a campervan with your family, travel, take a risk, do what you want to do in this life, rage against the machine and throw routine into a food processor – I know that to do this is not possible for everyone.
As we have traveled and explored and wandered this fine earth, simultaneously people have been literally running for their lives, seeking out refuge, living on the streets, battling illnesses both physical and mental, and much more. It is a sobering experience to walk past someone begging for money after you have just eaten a delicious meal in a restaurant and explain to your inquiring five year old why we can’t give money to every person, why that person has no money, why that person lives on the street and how that person got to be homeless in the first place.
Similarly, this trip brought into focus the plight of refugees and this too was explained to Noa after we watched some street sellers run from the police in Florence because they didn’t have a license to work. As I explained to Noa that people don’t want to work illegally, that really they want to do the right thing but can’t because they had to run away from their country and aren’t allowed to work here lawfully, that they need money to eat food, the tragic truth of the words coming out of mouth was very much my own rude awakening of current realities around me.
Guy and I have always agreed that we will answer Noa and Lina’s questions as they come and follow their lead in terms of what they should and shouldn’t know. This trip definitely fast-forwarded some of the conversations I had anticipated with my five year old daughter and even three year old daughter, but I trust that they can bare these realities as they have been explained sensitively and honestly and in context. I can also see how sheltered our lives at home have been and how travel, in a very real and authentic way, grows you up – adults and kids – and forces you to buckle up, or maybe unbuckle, for the ride of life.
I have also been acutely reminded that one of the hardest parts of parenting is the pull to safeguard your child over everything else. Often I imagine my more activist life, the life where I attend protests, where I get down on the ground and engage with homeless people on the street, where I volunteer more and get more involved in bringing light to the darker side of life.
One day walking the streets in Rome, we happened upon an argument between a man and woman. The man was incredibly angry and I stood from afar watching as he raised his hand to hit the woman. I yelled at him to stop, ran towards the woman and yelled out to Guy who was ahead that I needed to intervene. He stood with the kids while I chatted to the woman as her aggressor stood by watching me. I quickly told her that she didn’t have to stay with this man and that she had options, there was help. She said she knew this and she was okay and it was okay. I held her hand, I looked in her eyes but I knew that I really couldn’t do more in that moment. And if Guy hadn’t been with me and I was alone with the girls, would I have intervened? This is a very loaded situation especially because a violent man was part of the equation – but even so, I know that there are things I don’t do because I have children. Things I am a bystander to because I am protecting my children. It is all such a fine balance.
I hesitated to write this post. I grapple with all that I have shared and I know that I too continue to learn about myself, my role in society and so too my role as a mother in society. The word privilege makes me uncomfortable. It beckons me to inquire more what it means, what it signals, what it is. To share my discomfort here makes me feel vulnerable but to not share it makes me feel hidden.
What I am learning from this trip, from life itself, is that you must enjoy your privileges, be aware of them, be grateful for them and share them.
Count your blessings
Thank your lucky stars
The pendulum swings both ways
Pause. Breathe out. And again.