Where to look?

My generation, on the cusp of the baby boomers, has been lucky. Free university, up to a year’s paid maternity leave for civil servants, and the habit of frugality acquired from parents living in the shadow of world wars and the Great Depression.

No part time work, or subsidised childcare for us, though. Nor have we had to wave our children off to war.

As I wrote through my seventh decade, I wondered whether I’d reach the end of my days without experiencing a world conflagration, or a financial collapse worse than we’d already known. Would my careful savings translate intact, into my children’s inheritance?

I have the sense that this day, we are in the midst of 21ST century version of world conflagration. Never in my life have I seen man’s inhumanity to their fellow human beings so close-up, on such a scale, spawning multiple traumatised generations. Or the vulnerability of the technological supports which enable our society to function. The cracking open and laying bare of our fragile mental health.

A new survey [1] finds that Australia’s primary school age children are ‘angrier, lonelier, more anxious and less able to control their emotions than they were five years ago’. The picture is similar in secondary schools, with students saying they feel ‘very stressed’ and have a hard time controlling their ‘sense of worry’. Girls of all ages are struggling to cope more than boys.

Children are adaptable, we know, but despite the effort, attention and funding for youth wellbeing programs, a range of resilience markers have deteriorated in school-age children since 2018, the report says.

It is easy to list the bad stuff happening all around us; I’ve barely scratched the surface. But I care passionately about the upcoming generations, young people moving into a world where mental health can be discussed more openly, online resources are plentiful, yet something is still very wrong.

One need not think long to suggest the likely social causes of this suffering.

Like you all, I find nightly images of global destruction, slaughter, and loss on my television screen excruciating. But I don’t want to cocoon myself, either.

My personal challenge is to allow contradictions to co-exist in my mental space, without sinking under their weight. To keep myself informed about the great world battles and the efforts of the peacemakers; to allow myself to feel for the monumental tragedy of women, children, and men whose lives are being torn apart and changed forever; to be alert for the tender green shoots of endeavour, initiative, and hope.

I can’t solve these problems, except to be there for the people in my life, remain open to what they give me, and donate to charities.

Meditation is helping. How do you cope?

This week, my husband attended his three-monthly oncologist appointment to review surveillance scans. They show continuing metastatic spread through the entire vertebral column and other bony spots. Treatment ceased in February, so this is to be expected. Nevertheless, the oncologist, a gentle man of Indian heritage, declared himself pleased with ‘how well’ Ken is doing.

‘If I’d been treating you’, he added, ‘I would have attributed this to the treatment’.

What a strange world we inhabit, full of incongruities – things we think we know, and things we can never know. The oncologist had been anticipating much worse.

Had he averted his eyes, this compassionate man would have missed a tender shoot.

He knew where to look, that day.

[1] Australian Council of Educational Research Social-Emotional Wellbeing survey of 500,000 primary and secondary students between 2018 and 2023, reported in The Australian, November 17, 2023, article by Stephen Lunn.

Where to look? »

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8 Responses

  1. Thank you, Ruth. Dire times indeed.
    Focusing on my garden and housework, writing and reading, coming into the present moment is grounding for me.
    Good to hear that Ken’s coping so far. You’re both so courageous, an inspiration, thank you.

    1. Thank you Cecile. That grounding is the upside of tasks we perform with our hands, isn’t it – I’m even back to chopping vegetables!

  2. Thanks for this piece, Ruth, which beautifully encompasses a world so many of us are currently facing, including the struggle to comprehend it and remain positive about the future.

    1. Thank you Geoff. I know you and Ken have talked of our generation having ‘the best of times’. Now we adjust to ‘different times’.

  3. Powerful, poignant words Ruth, thank you. The clarity of your ‘vision’ and your ‘voice’ is astonishing, even without taking into account all you are dealing with. Beautiful!
    PS: I definitely have a penchant for alliteration. Is that a writing weakness?

    1. Thank you for your lovely words, Deb. Alliteration – we who write, automatically choose sounds and rhythms that ‘smooth’ the reader’s experience … I think.

  4. Beautifully written, Ruth. Like you I feel we see too much in the news these days. We were not subjected to so much close reporting and devastation. For the most part a lot of it was just print on the page. Now, well I have be careful how much I expose myself otherwise I can’t cope and it seems what we have to do these days.

    1. Thanks Debbie. Before I post something, I often dither about it. Is it something my followers will be interested to read? Will it resonate? I am amazed how much this one did.

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