turtles all the way down

It’s easy to become used to a certain set of conditions, the daily spells we live under that in essence – meet our needs. I have a lot of books by my bed that I keep meaning to read, and a few red pen to-do lists that calmly gather dust (not speed) while I do my best like most of my gen y counterparts, not to spin off the face of the earth.

In times of crisis we are called into action by a force beyond ourselves, and the lists must be crossed off in hindsight and the books must written in real time. The following is a thought piece written by my mother Kim Meredith Melhuish, who inspired this post:

“As a Pacific community we do not have a monopoly on shame, many other cultures are also obsessed with this emotion. Throughout post European contact shame has become embedded as a motivating force to spur our Pacific people on, to always do the right thing, to make the right decisions with the objective of making our families and communities proud. Last week my family celebrated another milestone for our daughter Courtney Sina Meredith, CNZ have awarded her funds and recognition toward a body of work she will produce. I can’t tell you how proud and happy we felt, I felt. Across the ditch in Sydney a woman of almost similar age, of Samoan ancestry gave birth to a boy after concealing her pregnancy and then abandoned him by dumping him into a stormwater drain. My rage, pity and shame matched the extent of pride I felt for my daughter, boundless! I knew that almost 29 years ago I experienced the pressure of not fulfilling family expectations.

I recall my mother and father silent with embarrassment at a daughter pregnant and not even the prospect of a husband in sight. Luck was on my side, I’d been a rebel without a cause for some time, there would be no redemption for me but at least I was free to make a choice about the future I wanted – my beautiful Courtney. Across the ditch in Sydney, it’s as if time has stood still, that the value of shame is still the driving motivator for some of our young people not to put a foot wrong, to somehow magically know how to always make the right move but how can they when the chasm between how we aspire to live has no resemblance to how we actually do live, doing our best and occasionally tripping up. So many people will be horrified that a woman would rather kill her baby than stare into the faces of her disappointed and shamed family. Perhaps it shows we might be in the 21st century but for many of our Pacific communities when it comes to relationships, sex, and the values assigned to women we are still in the dark ages. It’s time to be real and come out into the light.”

I’ve read this commentary a few times over the last couple of days and my responses have curved from luminous and damning to a feeling of numbness followed by frustration and the desire for change. Maybe there are too many things left unsaid that we simply believe others to know, almost instinctively. For all of the ways that life has rushed at me, and others like me, small unplanned miracles that clung on for dear life regardless – the framework we have for freedom is unreliable if we cannot apply it from the most robust to those in need.

So what is it that we aren’t saying as a people? That we are perfectly imperfect, that culture cannot be ‘heightened’ or made more so through martyrdom and flagellation. That there is a far greater monster awaiting us all in the present moment – than any imagined eternity in flames. That we cannot afford to simmer within identity politics, faith associations and financial shame while the real festering of emotional poverty kills off hope at the speed of light. Our great plague of shame is self-hatred perpetuated by a multiplicity of factors including the deep seeded doubt that we are not ‘enough’ simply as we are. Let the life of this baby boy herald a new era, a dawning of customs based on prosperity of life, forgiveness, generosity of spirit and the claiming of our essential selves, embattled but real.

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