Here & Now with S Sorrensen - May 13

Brisbane,
Sunday 1.30pm:

The hippies say that there is only the present. The future is conjecture; the past is a chemical cocktail staggering about in the brain. Live in the moment, say the self-help books, with a photo of some smug bugger on the back cover living quite nicely, thank you very much, off his literary investment in people’s hope for the future.

But here and now, I see my past and future manifested in flesh and blood having a serious conversation under a blue sky with an occasional cloud (and a chance of a thunderstorm).

My mum sits on a folding chair in the shade of a huge flooded gum. The tree presides over a park in one of Brisbane’s more upmarket suburbs. At her feet is spread a patchwork of picnic blankets covered with picnic stuffs.

My mother (who is me stretching out into the past) is leaning down to listen to her two-year-old great granddaughter (me stretching out into the future) who stands in front of her and explains exactly why she absolutely needs one of Great Grandma’s pikelets. Please.

The little girl stands there with her hands behind her back articulating her need with a rather expert exhibition of her newly learnt language skills and a serious facial expression that she hopes will convince the elder one that this need is urgent, genuine and should be met. With a pikelet. Which is in that plastic container right there. (She moves her hand from behind her back to point to the container on the picnic rug. Just seeing the tupperware box of Great Grandma’s pikelets makes her eyes sparkle with pleasure and causes a flash of fine little teeth.)

Her brothers rush around, kicking balls, chasing each other, yelling, and only stopping to grab a sandwich especially prepared for them by a parent.

My sister chats with a good mate of mine. She has a prawn in her hand; his has a glass of red wine. The mate and I were born six weeks apart in a north Queensland town many years ago. He, like me, raised his kids on the community of Billen Cliffs in Larnook where I still live, and we now enjoy our grandchildren. He also took in and nurtured a boy who was not his own. He guided him into adulthood. The boy had had a tough time leading up to his life at Billen. But my mate and my community gave him that most precious of all gifts, a home. And a family.

Now the boy, become man, is dead.

On my mate’s face I can see the pain. It’s not just for this boy. Another Billen boy become man died too. I’m numb.

My mum nods her head and the great granddaughter runs to the container of pikelets. She has curly hair like my son. She struggles with the lid. My son, all eyes when it comes to his daughter, sees this, interrupts his conversation with a cousin, reaches down from his great height, grabs the container and peels open the lid. She squeals with delight. Dads can do anything.

My mate smiles as he talks with my sister. (Is he flirting with her?) He looks up and our eyes meet. In that moment we acknowledge an unspeakable grief that casts its shadow across this day like a cloud scuttling towards a storm.

This weekend the Billen community will gather to mourn, to console, to realise and be what a community is.

I won’t be there. I’ll be far away from my family, from my community. But my heart will be there. Broken, but there nonetheless.

Goodbye.


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