While the moon casts its fullest shadow of the Vale last night I listened to the haunting and delicate music created by the harp and voice. Some of the tunes would have been familiar to your ears as well, perhaps first heard on Faha Ridge in County Clare. The lilt and air created in the spaces between the breaths and the plucking are as full of life to me as the sounds themselves bringing to my awareness your blessed land and taking me back in time and in place. I check myself for self indulgent nostalgia and decline the offer of my ego to accept that is what I am falling into – it is not a descent but a rising to the horizon and longing for a homeland that is embedded in my DNA and that I carry with me. I don’t run towards it or away from it. The sounds call me to a deeper part of myself and connect me to those roots.
Nostalgia is a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.
There are many aches and pains in life that call me home to myself, to remind me who I am and where I am from. Some of the aches benefit from a good stretch, some healing hands or medical intervention – both physically and metaphorically! A stretch to remind myself what is still body memory of what I am able to do and pass on to the next generation.
Invited to share some of my skills and knowledge this week with a new generation, I was called back to fundamentals and in turn the next generation called me home to myself and my passion for change and my first calling. While I was teaching this batch of students a nation was farewelling a past Prime Minister (E.G. Whitlam) who oversaw the greatest social reforms in my life time – no fault divorce, land rights, equal pay, ending conscription, creating arts funding … and the list goes on. The lessons of inclusion, respect, listening and celebrating diversity were echoed in an exercise I invited the students into and a little ripple in our room in a community centre that began its life due to those very same reforms was not lost on me. His wife (Margaret Whitlam) was a social worker and found that a comforting thread over the years as I live out my vocation.
The evocative strains in the songs and stories shared during an old man’s memorial service called me home to my values and passions. It was also a dreadful reminder of how fragile change can be and a call to action confident in the knowledge that reform trumps management (Noel Pearson: Whitlam eulogy).
Nostalgia dipped in seduction leads to impotence.
A homecoming ache is fuel for reform.
When I lift the parting glass I will have spent my time in good company and with comrades and I trust that was true for you too dear Biddy.