An eternal question asked by every generation regardless of race, sex, wealth or coffee/tea preference. What is the meaning of life?
It’s a question I’ve asked many a’times at various stages of my life. It’s a question I’ve been asking again in recent times.
I’ll be honest I don’t always know the answer. Sometimes I seem to have clarity. Other times I’m more frustrated by the mundane-ness of life conflicting with where I’d rather be. But recently I was privileged to be allowed access into the meaning of life. From the most unlikely of candidates. A remote Aboriginal community in far north Queensland. The inhabitants of Palm Island.
I spent 1 week in Palm Island. One of the most beautiful parts of the world. Relatively untouched, pristine beaches, raw nature, clean rainforests, wild horses. And some of the poorest and richest people I have ever met.
Poor in terms of material possessions and infrastructure. The cost of food is at a minimum 2-3 times, up to 5 times higher than on mainland. The inhabitants most definitely do not earn 2-3 times more than mainland though, so most of them travel to Townsville ($70 return trip, 4 hours in total via ferry) to purchase food. It’s not about throwing money at a community for the sake of appeasing our conscience. It’s about providing constructive support for the community to enable them to be self-sustaining.
Poor in terms of spirit and history. For those who don’t know Palm Island was established as Australia’s version of South Africa’s notorious Robin Island. Except more notorious, more hidden. An ugly secret. It was a prison comprised of Aboriginal people from many different tribes who fought for equal rights and treatment. To not be part of Federal Government’s Fauna and Flora Act. To not be corralled like wild animals and shot down on their homeland. To be treated as human beings of equal value. And for that, they were removed from their families and homelands and dumped on Palm Island. In order to understand the societal issues in Aboriginal communities, it is important to understand their stories. From them. Not the media. Not a sanitized version. Not a biased history subject. But from the real people. The depths of their stories and history is deep and requires more time than this post. It is a story for another post, in detail, in depth. A story on its own.
Palm definitely does not have the glitz and glamour of the city nor the luxuries and mod-cons of home. I didn’t have a car (but then again I probably didn’t need it), an extensive wardrobe, a collection of different sandals or air-conditioning. I couldn’t go to the shops whenever I wanted (because it closed early) and even when I did go, there was only a limited over-expensive range range of groceries. I had no internet access. No television (and obviously no Foxtel/pay-TV). No phone access. We had to limit our electricity usage as much as possible as we had to pre-purchase electricity. We ended up having cold showers because hot water heavily ate into our small gas tanks that needed to be filled every few days.
And yet in the midst of this community, there is so much that we (us urban dwelling, city-slickers) can learn from.
The true meaning of community. An understanding of appreciation. All around us. In the smallest things.
I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively. But for the first time in my life the definition of community became really real to me. Walk down the street and random people who definitely do not know me, sing out “Hello”. From the other side of the road, walking past, riding past on the horse, sitting on their porch. “Hello.” Not ignoring. Not pretending they can’t see you. One simple word “Hello.” People are NOT ignored. I’m actually a person of worth worthy of being noticed. Not a number just passing by.
As a nutritionist, my passion is food. I love to explore the culture through the food supply. Through markets and grocery stores. Aunty Ruth, a local Palm Islander, walked me through the retail store in Palm, introducing me to everyone. She was interested in what I was looking at, taking pictures of the foods, the prices. I quickly gave her a short how-to-read-a-nutrition-panel lesson, the best breakfast options and snack options. All in all no more than 10mins. It wasn’t a big deal for me – I love talking about nutrition. I can talk about it to anyone, anywhere, as much as they want to hear. However my short nutrition lesson became the talk of the town. Aunty Ruth appreciated it so much. A few days later I was back in the shop and saw her explaining what she’d learnt to others. The smile on her face was priceless. Appreciation shone through her face in the form of the most sincere smile.
The silent silence of night. No cars, trains, or people walking around outside making noise. The inky blackness of the night sky. The brightest plethora of twinkly stars. The mesmerising dance of leaves by the sea wind.
The priceless pleasure of just being.
In the moment. Right now.
With no plaguing thought for tomorrow, or next year. Appreciating what I have right now, not wanting more. Not being in a place of striving. To prove who I am with what I’ve got. I am a person of value. Just as are those around me. All valuable. Worthy of being noticed. “Hello.”
2016 has been an amazing year. Lots of changes, new moves, different cities. New career directions and opportunities. Different people. The pace of life has been go, go, go. I literally finished one job on a Friday, moved to another city on Sunday. Started work in a 3rd city on Monday. No break. Ready-set-go all the time. Being caught up in the flurry of movement is actually not a good thing to do in the long term. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of life without actually experiencing the wonder and beauty of life in the environment and people around you. It’s easy to forget about others. It’s easy to lose your sense of humanity.
2017 has finally dawned on us, and I have less that one week break before going to back to work. I know my career is still there. I know I still have a responsible job to fulfil. I know I still have bills to pay, travel to do and reports to finish. However I also know I am doing it with others. Others who have their own personal, interesting story hidden behind the work mask. Even if I don’t know what “their story” is, I appreciate that they have story. I don’t want to go back to being a person caught up in the flurry of life. I want to be a person caught up in the appreciation of now. In the midst of the chaos. To be able to still appreciate those around me. Noticeable. Not numbers. Amazement is all around if we take time out to notice it.
Thank you for all the lessons learnt in 2016. Here’s to more lessons. Better lessons. Character building lessons.
All the best for 2017.