Monday, July 7, 2008

How I lost my innocence

For some reason, I knew that traveling around Australia was going to be the breaking point for me. Perhaps that’s why I left 12 years ago – to avoid the mantle of responsibility.

I’ve traveled around little pockets of the world, but I didn’t see how its existence was my concern. It existed before me. It was doing its thing without any interference from me. I was just taking a look.

I’ve heard the stereotypes about Australia. The legend of Steve Irwin. The horror of our creepy crawlies. The wonder of Kylie. Aussie girls rule. Oh, and aren’t we a racist lot?

I keep trying to pin point the exact moment everything fell apart. The sudden jolt of awareness that shifted my perspective and destroyed my unadulterated joy in shopping, in music, in eating, in driving in a car, in relationships, in the meaning of life and the purpose of my existence.

Of course, there is not just one point… the more I look at it, I can see the seed being sown some 20 years before. The seed has just outgrown its case and needed a different nutrient for its growth.

About two months ago, I read an essay written by Edmund Burke. In it, I read these words

‘society is indeed a contract …. It is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all art; a partnership in all virtue, and in all perfection..... each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world…..’

I threw the book down. I felt my head burning. I turned to my partner and started yelling obscenities because I felt abused, robbed, shocked and outraged.

I was reading Burke because C.W. Parkin wrote ‘Burke … believes that the world is a unity, that society, for all its complexity, its heights and depths, forms part of a harmony of nature.’

I’m researching members of the different educational disciplines who view our world through the perspective of unity.

A great part of life consists in contemplating what we cannot
cure. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Burke’s words horrified me. To my way of thinking, it was inferring that the unwritten contract, that I was even unaware of, existed between me and the society I was, errr, mostly a bored, and at most, a disdainful observer and occasional mumble-complainer.

Me? In a contract with society? A relationship existed between us? An unwritten contract? Something that was just a given? Passed on from generation to generation? Why didn’t somebody spell this out to me? I spoke to my mother, and do you know what she said?

‘I don’t understand what you mean. If its not a written contract, its not worth the paper its written on. You can’t even tear it up. You’re talking tommy rot and you’ve been taken for a ride.’

But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth. ~Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

I look at her with a feeling of doom, I take a breath, and I explain the idea of an unwritten contract in words I hope she will understand. The ‘taking for granted’ of certain things in personal relationships. The unspoken rules in relationships governing mother and child, father and son, mate and mate’s girlfriend. Maybe we don’t speak about so often, and usually its not written down, but the ‘rules’ exist. The contract between you and your spouse, or you and your parents exist weather its written or not.

And the idea of validating an unwritten contract between myself and society just hadn’t occurred to me before.

It knocked my socks off.

If your eyes are open, and you suddenly see what you couldn’t before, do you just ignore it and keep doing what you were doing before, or do you throw in the towel and stand up to the line?

Throw in the towel of ignorance is what.

Stand up to the line of responsibility is what.

It reminded me of the moment I knew, for sure, that I was pregnant. I’d never liked children and thought of them as repulsive little snot filled terrorists. But when the double stroke glowed that vomit inducing pale pink, there wasn’t, for me, a moment to contemplate ‘ignoring it’. I couldn’t. My life changed for ever. My attitude changed for ever. I could no longer be as selfish as I was. It was a foul swing at my short sighted selfishness and cured me of some stupidity. But it was tough at the time. I felt I’d ridden up against a brick wall.

Now it seems I’m ready to go the next step into the wider world. Me and society.

Stepping up to the line. Accepting responsibility for my half of the contract.

I’m still pulling at the bit. I’m still trying to find the balance between my sense of duty to what I feel I have discovered and just wanting to toss it all aside and live in Thailand somewhere getting massages and swimming in pristine waters… What am I doing? Why do I care?
And this brings us back to the first seed, and the beginning of everything.

I was 14 when I was left with my grandparents for a holiday. Two weeks later, my step mother calls me and tells me over the phone that now I’m living with my grandparents.

The grand illusion of childhood is that your parents, no matter what they do, are right and good and, this is important, know what they are doing. That is, that they are conscious of what they are doing.

We all know that we don’t know what we are doing, but a child probably feels safer if they believe we are some sort of semi-god.

All of us suffer disillusionment in stages we’re not conscious of, or in one giant dive.

I couldn’t maintain the illusion any more. I lay in my fold up bed in the lounge of my grandparent’s house and bit by bit, all of the repressed information I had about my parents burst upon me in a flood.

The one thing I judged them on, and am still their greatest critic, is their lack of responsibility. So, of course, if I judge another for not being responsible, how, if I am faced with information that increases my responsibility to the world, can I ignore it?

For me, its impossible.

So here I am. Signing, in my own way, my side of the unwritten contract between me and society.

I wonder if society knows what it has unleashed?

I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit, but if I can't figure it out, then I go on to something else. But I don't have to know an answer.... I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me. ~Richard Phillips Feynman

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