Joy, gratitude and grief

I wrote this on the plane on Monday but haven't felt like returning to it and posting it this week. I wasn't sure if I was going to post it, or if I had written it just to say something to myself, get some thoughts and feelings out. But re-reading it and adding to it slightly I've decided I will share it, in part because I want to publicly express the gratitude I describe below, and in part because these sentiments are, I'm sure, pretty universal and I'd love any perspectives from others. I’m sitting on the flight back to San Francisco to Sydney thinking about everyone I saw and everything I experienced during my too-brief trip home. It’s only early afternoon Sydney time but the cabin is already dim as we head into evening San Francisco time. I like dimmed aircraft cabins – despite the press of an almost-full flight it creates a sense of personal space and solitude, each of us sitting in our own little pool of light, or illuminated by the flickering screen in front of us. It’s a good time for thinking.

As I replay the last nine days in Australia in my mind my overriding emotion is gratitude. I really am so lucky. My family are incredible and so supportive of me, endlessly generous with their love. To my parents and sister: thank you so much. It is because of you that I can embark on the adventure I’m on. Knowing I have a safe harbor making it easier to leave the sight of shore.

I’m so grateful also to my friends who make such efforts to work with the absurd little windows my life provides for catch-ups. Being back with old friends has a special quality to it. It’s an acceptance and appreciation which has nothing to do with my supposed achievements and everything to do with who we are, the experiences we have shared, our shared sense of fun, values and what we find meaningful. You know who you are, thank you for everything.

And I’m grateful to the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, who organized my speaking tour and allowed me to spend nights in Melbourne and Adelaide, seeing and meeting great people in each place. It was great to re-connect with the Australian social entrepreneurship scene and meet so many changemakers.

This trip contained a lot of emotion, which has left me tired and sentimental as I fly home. K and I attended two truly beautiful weddings and shared in the joy of great friends taking the next step in their lives together. But we also got some awful, heartbreaking news on Sunday: a close friends of K’s from university, someone I have met and admire, passed away very suddenly after collapsing on Thursday. He was 29 and had advanced, previously undiagnosed leukemia.

This sudden loss is really hard to process. For someone so young, vibrant and positive to just be… gone… so suddenly, makes no sense, cannot truly be comprehended. One day extraordinary happiness. The next shock and grief.

This is life, I suppose. As my Mum is fond of saying “no one ever said it was going to be fair.” But some days and some stories seem more unfair than others. Blair was an extremely talented performer with a blindingly bright future. He was in the midst of making a television cooking show with his Mum, who wrote a beautiful message on his Facebook wall yesterday. I don’t know how she found the strength. Even knowing him as modesty as I did I feel dented by the shock of his passing, doing my best to support K, who was very close to him after working on a number of shows together during university. She is staying another week in Australia and it’s hard to leave her. Blair’s friends are sharing their reactions through his Facebook wall. The tone of these postings is truly amazing, so positive are they, reflecting the positivity and joy that Blair exuded in his life. A life far, far too short, but one filled with adventure, friends, fun and meaning. We can aspire to little more. The Sydney Morning Herald article on his passing is here.

Thinking about Blair’s passing makes flying back out of Australia all the more poignant. It makes me realize just how unpredictable life is, how you never know how much time you have with anyone, how vital it is to value and treasure the moments you get.

There’s also an odd symmetry to this. When I was struggling with the logistics and costs of coming back to Australia, having so recently started a new job and already being in debt, I was deeply moved when a colleague shared about the recent passing of a friend of hers. “You never know how long you’re going to get with someone” she said. The idea hit home, and I realized how important it was to come back to share these celebrations with our friends, and that you can’t take friendships for granted, assuming that they’ll just be there when you’re ready to pick them up. Those getting married these past two weekends are people we want to know forever. But forever is of uncertain length.

You never know how long you’re going to get with someone, and treasuring each moment is only possible when you turn up to create a shared moment, a new shared memory. I'm so glad that we were able to turn up this time.