Written by Kelly Townsend.
Earlier this week, I attended the wake and funeral of my father’s best man, a man who, along with his wife, was a stalwart of Northland rugby, a real community and family man, a talented planner who brought people together and got stuff done. A good Kiwi bloke.
As an aside, I nearly missed the wake. In an attempt to connect, Northland seems to be doing a good job of self-isolating, forcing people through a 2-hour Sunday drive like sands through an hourglass of road works, on what would normally be a 30-minute stretch of our main state highway. As another aside, a birthday card posted to me in January has yet to travel 128km south. Goodness knows how they plan to move our port up there.
But back to the point at hand. On strict instructions, the funeral was to be “not a minute over an hour”, hence the wake at the rugby club. It was the first time I’ve been to a wake. The open-topped casket, Cambridge blue (the colour of Northland rugby) was in the corner, and there was a period of mingling over food and drink before the floor was opened for reminiscing. Dad’s short-term memory might be gone, but he can still remember what clever moves were used to score a try back in 1958, so times like this offer plenty of space for reconnection and reflection. As requested, the funeral the next day took 59 minutes and 50 seconds, and his four children spoke courageously and articulately about different stages of his life, illustrated beautifully with pictures, stories, humour and love.
I wondered why I was so moved by this funeral more than others. Then I found this.
“While grief may look like an expression of pain that serves no purpose, it is actually the soul’s acknowledgment of what we value. Grief is the honour we pay to that which is dear to us. And it is only through the connection to what we cherish that we can know how to move forward. In this way, grief is motion.”
~ excerpt from: “Belonging.”
I realised that his life story provided inspiration on how I choose to live the rest of mine. I value connection and authenticity, and this is what I was grieving for. The loss of someone who connected with his community in his own unique way.
New Zealand is a country built on community. Maori culture is all about whanau, the collective, and when Europeans settled here, every small town was built around a church, a pub and a rugby club that was inclusive of all shapes, sizes, races and religions. Banks used to be part of these communities too, before they focused on shareholder value at the cost of everything else.
Through world wars, depressions, recessions, epidemics, strikes, earthquakes, and mass shootings, we have survived because we are practical, independent, resilient, down-to-earth people who are connected with nature and with each other. There are very few degrees of separation in this country.
This summer, despite one of Northland’s worst droughts ever, the province has seen an excess of high-quality fruit because it’s been so dry. Some people are having trouble giving away the produce from their gardens. Dad has tomatoes coming out his ears, so a container headed up to the rugby club where volunteers cook a weekly meal for the team after their training. Some peaches were provided in return. People are regularly exchanging gifts from the land and sea, in the name of a healthy feed and an opportunity to chew the fat.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
~ African Proverb
As the impact of the COVID-19 virus takes hold, it’s time to reconnect with these community values, get off our consumerist treadmill, and focus on what’s important. We are talking about throwing money at the situation, but we need to throw community and connection at it too, take our power back from the banks, government and international supply chains, reduce our personal spending and household debt, become human beings again instead of human doings, and live a more simple life.
Even if we manage to control the health impacts of this virus, many people are going to be impacted economically through no fault of their own. I have been lucky enough to be part of a generation that has gone unscathed by wars and mass upheaval and am now in a position to help. I’m not great at coming up with bright ideas, but I can listen, I can co-ordinate and I can get stuff done too.
“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return,
but because of who you are”
~ Harold S. Kushner
As the pain kicks in, I hope we can stay connected with our families, friends, clubs and communities and consider how we can support each other economically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Time to remember our passions and strengths, and step forward. And for those who might be struggling, please do a very un-New Zealand thing… reach out and ask for help.
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”
~ Helen Keller
Kelly Townsend leads Zenergy Facilitation Training Programmes and is based in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Click here to go through to her website Freedom Through Connection.