Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Not the usual NYE

My New Year’s Resolution: There are peaceful, harmonious people in the world and I am going to try to be one of them.
This New Year’s Eve found me with a group that expanded and contracted like a breath. We were camped on the banks of the Yarra River at Longridge – at its smallest, the group was eleven, at its largest, twenty-five. People came and went in dusty bare feet, spending the time that they could, sometimes going to work from the camp and returning in the evening. And there was an endless trickle of new arrivals embraced and held while the children ran off together despite age differences. For the most part, these people were new to me. Two of them were old friends, they had introduced me, invited me here to join the group, they said I would fit in, that I would love it; but there had been subtle warnings about the ‘alternative’ nature of some of the people I was likely to encounter.
I have trouble with the term ‘alternative’. When applied to music in a music store rack, it suggests a level of uncertainty about where the particular artist should go, or else it seems to be a bit of a cop out. Either way I don’t like the implied lack of effort – music shouldn’t be so passionlessly pigeonholed. When applied to people or communities, it’s a bit strident, as if the need to label the community ‘alternative’ takes something away from the community in question.
“What will they expect of me?” The question harassed me as I packed my new nylon tent and wondered if perhaps it wasn’t suitable, maybe they’d all be in biodegradable tipis, or building bark humpies, or in simple swags. The eskies brimming with crushed ice and the perishable food went into the boot next. Would the others have eskies? Maybe they’d make Coolgardie safes or nestle the vegies into a cool spot in the river. Even the car boot that I was packing came into question – rather conventional, wasn’t it, a sedan? They probably all drove comby vans or mini mokes with the tops down no matter what the weather was like.
When I nestled my car between a comby van and another sedately white sedan in the carpark of the Longridge Campground, and looked out into the camp to see a mixture of swags, old canvas continental tents, tarpaulins strung between trees and new nylon domes the nervousness that I had wound like a tight coil in my neck without even knowing it released like a spring.
I was introduced and welcomed as if I had always been there.
This New Year’s Eve, instead of drinking too much chardonnay, I wowed the gathered crowd with my limited skills in fire twirling because I thought they would appreciate them, despite the stumbles and faults. This New Year’s Eve, instead of everyone ‘bringing their own’, they all brought something, put it together and cooked and ate communally; modifying old favourite recipes to cope with the dietary requirements and tastes of the group without a murmur. This New Year’s Eve, instead of music at an obnoxious volume and illegal fire-crackers, there was spontaneous singing, chants and humming and sparklers for the young and young at heart.
This New Year’s Eve, instead of making rash resolutions whilst under the influence of the afore-mentioned chardonnay, or regretful lamentations the next morning about “never drinking again”; this year it was a process. While sitting around the campfire, drinks in hand, somebody suggested the group might like to do something about making New Year’s resolutions; did everybody want to talk about the idea? An older woman with short red hair that stood out at irregular angles said she had been at a workshop before where they imbued their drinks with a thought or a resolution they wanted to make and drank it down so it became a part of them. The group generally liked this idea but some didn’t want to speak their idea or resolution aloud, so instead just focused on it and channelled the idea into their drink. Waiting, slightly open-mouthed for the opportunity and the courage, I held my thought in my mind for a couple of sips as I toasted the wishes and dreams of others around the fire. Then I breathed, “I want to take every opportunity to find joy and laughter in 2009.” Everyone raised their glasses and drank. “Cheers! I’ll drink to that!” And a peaceful smile has been playing at my lips ever since.