Tears in the Departure Lounge

I see you.  I see your pain and I acknowledge you are hurting.

In any other circumstance, he would have seemed very intimidating.  Muscle bound, tight shirt, tight pants, gold chains, dark skin, crew cut and well over 6 foot tall.  Probably not someone to run into in a proverbial dark alley.  But right here, now, he wasn’t an intimidating presence.

The airport departure lounge was getting busier as I sat reading my book, waiting on my flight to be called.  I was early.  I like to be early.  The noise around me was increasing, and even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, I was sensing the busyness increasing.

But something caught my ear, or my senses.  I looked up curiously.  Then I saw him.  He was sitting on a windowsill a few metres from me.  My eyes were drawn to him, no-one else.  In the dozens of people in my view, I saw only his face.

It was covered in tears and he was talking or more correctly, sobbing, into his mobile phone.  He was distraught.  Sobbing uncontrollably.

No, not today, not right now, he didn’t seem intimidating.

I then took a moment to have a look around at the dozens of people around me.  It was obvious that if not all, then most of them, had noticed this man’s tears.  It was hard not to.

I must admit, that my first reaction when I saw him, subconsciously or habitually, was to get my head back down into my book as quickly as I could.  Don’t let him see that I saw him.  Don’t let him see that I saw him in his distress, in his tears….being a human.  Heaven forbid that should happen.

Wait, what am I doing?  I questioned myself, admittedly, keeping my head down in my book.  Why am I turning away from this man, from this fellow human being, clearly in distress, in emotional pain?  What is it that scares me so much that my first reaction is not compassion or empathy, but avoidance?  A strong urge to turn away from him and his pain, a strong urge to not see this.

I tentatively looked up, he was unmoved still sobbing, tears streaming down his face.  I turned my head to look at my fellow transiting humans.  All of them had their heads down and were doing exactly the same as I was – turning away from, instead of turning toward, another human being’s suffering.  Why do we do this?  Do we think we’re going to catch it – like it was some contagious virus?  If he catches our eye does that mean that we need to ‘do’ something, to take some sort of action? Yep best to keep our heads down and pretend it’s not happening, pretend we don’t see it.

And still he sits, sobbing, uncontrollably, while I contemplate my navel – so to speak.  All of us, for our own reasons, wanting this inconsolable grown man to not be in our presence, so we don’t have to deal with it.  It’s making us uncomfortable.

WHAT THE F%$#?  Aren’t we human beings who have all, at one stage, sat like this man, in our grief, our sadness, crying our hearts out?  Distraught.  Have we been unfortunate enough to do this in a public place, in front of many strangers who, for all intents and purposes, don’t even see us?

Before I knew what I was doing, I had taken the packet of tissues from my handbag and was walking through waiting passengers, across to the man.  I put my hand on his shoulder.  He looked up with a set of dark brown eyes that, in their swollen redness, were the saddest eyes I had ever seen.  I said to him “I see you.  I see your pain and I acknowledge you are hurting”.  I placed the tissues in his hand, barely holding back the tears myself, squeezed his shoulder, and walked away.

But in fact, I never uttered a word.  I just put my hand on his shoulder, he looked up at me,  and I gave him the tissues.  Then I walked back to my seat.  But in doing that, I said “I see you and I see your pain and I acknowledge you are hurting”.

I sat back down and immediately wished I’d kept one tissue for myself – because I needed it.  I cry easily, and some years ago, I stopped giving a shit about that.  I am an emotional person, I care and yes, I cry a lot.  But I also laugh a lot too.

With little to do now, I put my head back in my book while I waited for my flight to be called.

I was shocked from the depths of my book some time later.  Flights were being called, people were moving around me.  Two rough hands grabbed my face gently and lifted me off my chair.  He placed his forehead on mine and held my head in his hands against his, for what felt like minutes.  He said to me “Thank you for noticing me.  Thank you for seeing me”.  Tears were coming from both of us now.  After a while, he leaned back, squeezed my face with his big dark skinned hands, and left – I suppose to catch his plane.

But in fact, he never uttered a word.  He just held my face to his, our foreheads together.  In doing that, he said “Thank you for noticing me and for seeing me”.

I looked around and noticed my fellow passengers, staring, back and forth from me to him as he walked away.  I hope they were thinking that next time, maybe next time something like this happened, they would take some small action, if only to remind themselves, that after all, they’re human too.  But I don’t know what they were thinking.

Friends of mine have referred to what I did as a Random Act of Kindness.  I don’t see it that way.  I see it as honouring another human being.  Doing unto others and all that.  I see it as, well, basically I had no option.  I simply couldn’t sit there and pretend I didn’t see him, that he didn’t matter to me.  What if that was someone I loved.  I would hope that someone would give them some tissues and see them, and acknowledge their pain.

That’s all we have to do – it’s not our journey, we don’t have to travel it for others, or fix them, but if we can provide some comfort for them along their journey when the going is rough, then we will, one person at a time, make a difference.

If I ever find myself in a public place in immense sadness, I hope there’s someone who notices me, who might even have some spare tissues.  It might even be you that notices me.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

It’s shaken you to awaken you.. earthquake survival 101

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” ~Carl Gustav.

It used to be my favourite guided meditation. You know the one about the mountain, where you imagine yourself as the mountain? Strong, tall, standing firm in the face of all that comes at it—rain, hail, shine. Letting it all wash off without getting rattled by it.
One of the reasons I used to love that particular guided meditation was because I could relate to it. I could relate to it because I love mountains. I love trekking and I love mountains. Big mountains. Immovable. Stable. Reliable. Regardless of what was thrown at them.

Then the mountains moved. I found myself in Nepal at over 4000m above sea level, scrambling to stop my body from sliding down the side of the mighty Himalayas as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake cracked open these mighty mountains and shook them from 18km beneath the ground.

I can’t even bring myself to listen to that meditation any more.

I heard it before I felt it. It sounded like a deep guttural scream, the earth itself crying out in pain. No other sounds, no animals, no people, just this sound unlike any sound I’d ever heard before.

Stillness and quiet followed—for what was probably only seconds—before my life was fundamentally redefined.

Before boulders the size of cars came hurtling down the mountain, before the narrow path on the steep ridge I was trekking started to literally disappear beneath my feet, before I could hear someone screaming for me to run.

I remember every detail. Every little detail. I wish I didn’t.

Sleep was a luxury not afforded to me as aftershocks continued through that first night, forcing the group of us sheltering in what was left of a Tea House out into the snow and below freezing temperatures time and time again.

Surviving the actual earthquake was only the beginning and it was a challenging and emotional journey as I made my way, through devastated villages, down the mountain. The aftershocks continued for several days, with one in particular carrying almost as much force as the actual earthquake.

Patchy reports of what had occurred in Kathmandu, Everest Base Camp (where I had been two days before) and other villages were coming through. I was devastated and bewildered.

As the days went by I continued to make my way down the mountains. The Australian Embassy was advising that until I got myself back to Kathmandu they couldn’t help me. The Australian Defence Force was being deployed to assist. The reports of casualties and devastation became clearer.

In all, over 9,000 people lost their lives. I personally knew one of those people, but every day I pray for all of them.

The trauma, destruction, and death I was experiencing and witnessing every day for five days altered my sense of being entirely.

Visions that would normally bring me to my knees were becoming commonplace.

Stepping over the bodies of beautiful souls, crudely wrapped in blue tarpaulins far too small for the job, became just something I had to do to get to safety.

Watching as a fellow trekker’s body burned in a traditional Buddhist cremation, out in the open on the side of a hill. Watching as his friends gathered his ashes in a bucket to take home to his loving family. Watching, but not really seeing… it was like I was outside of my body, looking on.

Days went by before I found myself standing outside the Australian Embassy in Kathmandu. You would think I could start to feel safe, but Kathmandu was badly damaged, and mourning the massive loss of lives. There continued to be aftershocks. It was not safe.

Still, the welcome sound of the Aussie accent and the welcome sight of fresh water, food rations, and tents in the Embassy grounds were extremely comforting. More comforting was the next night, taking my seat on a plane to Malaysia, before a plane to Sydney. However the comfort, the relief, was mixed with bewilderment and much sadness. There was a part of me that didn’t want to leave.

Coming home was bittersweet. I was, of course, extremely joyful to be hugging my family and friends, but the event had taken its toll and I wasn’t remotely who I was when I had left Australia only a month before.

Shock and trauma had settled in me now that I was out of immediate danger, my body shut down, and my mind shut down. I was a mess.

Time passes and I’ve been able to look back at this time. I learned some things through this experience, mostly about myself, and I’d like to share these.

1. Without any warning, things can change. You can change.

I used to see natural disasters in foreign countries on the news and watch as travelers were urged to get to their Embassy and governments rallied to evacuate their citizens. I never thought it would happen to me though, because these things happen to other people. Right? Wrong.

Things can change regardless of how well you plan. Things changed, and well, I changed—in that split second where I fought for my own life, and the times in the days to follow where I felt it was likely my end, I changed.

This experience will forever be a part of who I am, and has irreversibly redefined me and my values. I have learned that as much as we like to think we have it all under control, we don’t, and we need to be prepared to change.

2. Embrace surrender and acceptance.

I now have a better understanding of what it means to accept and surrender. It doesn’t mean that I won’t have goals and I won’t plan, but I now understand what I can control and what I can’t control.   Consequently, I know now that there really is very little in this life I can control. I’m not perfect at this, but I am getting better, day by day.

When life does what it does, we can embrace each situation and accept it as it is, or we can demand that life be some other way. In the words of Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now, “Whenever you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.” When we have no control of the situation, demanding it be some other way is a drama.

3. Your best, at each moment, has to be good enough.

The trauma and constant stress of living one minute to the next for five days, along with the situations I found myself in, and witnessed, not knowing if I would live that day or die, took its toll on me.

Everything came back to basics—safety from landslides and aftershocks, a supply of clean water and some shelter and warmth were the key priorities. My ability to think straight, my ability to comprehend what was happening, my capacity to fathom the extent of the destruction and death—all of these were compromised and this affected my thoughts and my behaviours.

We all just have to do our best, in every moment, because it’s all we have and that has to be good enough. Let’s be gentle on ourselves.

4. That which you think you can’t possibly get through, you can.

If you had asked me if I could get through the experience I went through, before I went through it, I likely would have said no.

I have learned that we are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. Not only capable of surviving traumatic experiences, but showing compassion, love, and nurturing along the way; taking the gifts, however disguised they may seem at the time; and allowing change and growth to occur within ourselves. Walking right up to it, leaning in to it.

We can get through it, even when we think we can’t.

5. It’s okay to not be okay.

I hope to listen to the mountain meditation again one day, just as I hope to trek mountains again one day. The mighty Himalayas are still there. In parts, they look a little different and some are even a bit broken. But they remain, standing strong, in the face of the devastation they have had to witness.

I aspire again to be like that mountain. I’m a bit broken too, but I stand up again and face this life with a gratefulness that I wouldn’t have, had it not been for this experience. At the sound of a helicopter you will find me under the nearest table, and sudden loud noises bring me to my knees.

I struggle to hold a conversation about my experience without tears streaming down my face. I’ve learned that even though we might not be okay right now, and we might be a bit broken in places, we can keep getting back up, every day. Every single day.

I recognize the pull in my heart to return to Nepal; I accept that yearning and commit to returning when the time is right. I breathe in my life every second and I endeavour to practice acceptance in a much more authentic way than ever before.

I have changed—I’m not who I once was. That thing I thought I would never be able to get through, I did, and it has redefined my entire being.

I tentatively welcome the gifts from this experience each day, while never forgetting to honour my fellow adventurers who didn’t make it home and the beautiful people of Nepal, who lost their lives that day when the mountains moved.

Whatever it is you’re going through, have faith that you will get to the other side, and when you do, remember to look closely enough to recognize the gifts from your experience, and welcome the personal growth and change in yourself.

Do more than just exist.

Start before you’re ready, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

(<3min read)

Even Napoleon said it with “Don’t wait.  The time will never be just right”.

I am getting this message in one form or another so often lately, that I’m starting to take notice.  It is coming to me in the media I consume, books I read, podcasts I listen to and even friends I talk to.

But I struggle with this you see because I’m a Type A mega organized person and things have to be, well, not perfect, but pretty close, before they deserve to be out in the world.

It is through this blog, that I’m making a vulnerable attempt to change that pattern, that self-belief.

Thanks to these messages, and to a 30 Day Challenge I have joined, my blog is up and running.  This 30 Day Challenge is working for me because I’m also an Obliger (see Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies).  This means that I’m really good at meeting outer expectations however, I’m not so good at meeting the expectations I impose upon myself.

So the 30 Day Challenge imposes an email on me every day for 30 days – and of course, I want to meet these external expectations, I want to keep up.

So this blog is brought into the world through a combination of being hammered with messages about starting before you’re ready, and my realization that I am more likely to succeed in something if there are external expectations.

So that’s why I’m launching this blog now…and it scares the shit out of me.  I’m not ready.

So why am I even launching a blog?

Great question.  I’ve asked myself this one.

I want to have a life, and be a person, who does more than just exist in this race we call human.  I try every day to live that value.  I love adventures and I also love everyday moments.  I enjoy expressing myself through writing.  These stories, these blogs, are my way of preserving some of my memories.  They are my way of sorting out the hard stuff.  My words enable me to understand the learnings and messages in my experiences that I might not have seen, had I not taken pen to paper.

In essence though, I launched this blog to share my life moments, to connect with other spiritual beings on their journey and to help us understand each other.

My focus these days is to devote myself to what lights a fire in my heart. To serve something greater than myself. To share my wisdom and learnings to support others to be the best they can be. To have awesome fun, to laugh and share with others. To get the hell out of my comfort zone – on a very regular basis.

Why you should read my blog?

There is so much out there these days for us to consume, we need to choose well.  My words are my way of connecting with my life and through these stories my intention is to provide you with a reminder to treasure and value each moment and to actively look for the gifts and lessons in our moments on this earth.  I value growth and I hope that through reading my stories, you learn something new, about me or about you, or about the world.

My vision is to make a small dent in the world by stimulating others to connect more to their own life.  My promise in doing this is that I will be authentic, I will be as true to me as I can.  I will continue to learn who I am along this journey and I will share that with you as best as I can.

 Need a little Life Support?

My blog is called Life Support and it’s about just that, Support for Life.

It’s an adventure, an exploration into real life, uncovering the gifts and lessons in the moments.  It’s letting our lives be our message.

I’m Michelle and I’m not ready.

I invite you to share my journey and I send you blessings on your own journey.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi