Freedom – Found

My third and final response to the question of what is most important to me and why is; ‘freedom’.

I’ve been pondering this response ever since I gave it rather spontaneously when asked the question at my interview recently.

Freedom – why is freedom so important to me?

Let me paint some pictures with words and give insight into what freedom means to me.

Freedom to grow?

Our childhood home was the last house in a row of similar small neat government-built dwellings. Our bitumen street ceased abruptly at a farmer’s barbed wire fence, where his healthy dairy herd, enjoyed lush green pastures sloping down to a small creek and swamp at the bottom of the valley.  The government contractors took time to build proper high wooden suburban fences. Instead, we were hemmed in by flimsy wire-mesh easily pushed over by wind and stray cows.

Being young children, we were not permitted to wander too freely as mum wanted us to stay safe. My baby brother, who loved exploring, found himself surrounded by curious cows on one occasion, with mum and I trying to coax him to walk slowly back to the safety of our little wire fence, so he wouldn’t be trampled. In early autumn, our father would take us over the wire fence to collect mushrooms the size of dinner plates. He’d also take us down to the creek and pull us out of the swamp mud when we lost our gumboots in deeper parts.

But as we inevitably grew with each passing season, we were given more ‘freedom’ to explore our territory, all by ourselves. We learnt how to climb to the very top of pine trees and feel them sway in the breeze. We’d wait until the cows were heading up to be milked and hightail it down to the creek, where we’d have all sorts of adventures in the murky depths of tall ferns, huge swamp gumtrees and tangled scrub. We’d find trails left by foraging animals, collect watercress, build small rock dams and bridges over the creek. We’d make up exciting adventures, where we were always the heroes, building cubbies out of rushes, ferns and sticks to hide from the immaginary wild creatures we fought off bravely with our ‘weapons.’

I’m still growing into new freedoms, with appropriate ‘fences’ (boundaries) to keep me safe, and inviting others to explore life’s adventures with me.

Freedom to choose?

As a sixteen-year-old student, I found myself at the end of Year 10 with an enviable choice to make. I’d been offered my first full time job in my local town, at a car dealership, where I was to become a receptionist. I was also being encouraged at the time by my teachers to consider completing Year 11, or matriculation as it was called then, so I could apply for University. I had always wanted to become a teacher or librarian or a lawyer. It was the ‘horns of a dilemma’ as the lure of an immediate, reasonable and secure income was beckoning. Mr Atkins, my High School Principal, heard of my situation and invited me into his office where he proceeded to tell me what he had noticed about me over the four years of high school. I hadn’t been aware that he knew me at all, so was surprised at his interest, and intrigued by his challenge to me. He spoke of the courage it takes to reach your potential, to stretch yourself, to take risks and discover who we could be. He likened my season of life to being a tight budded rose not yet ready to bloom. He inspired me to not let go of my dreams and hopes of going to university. He said it was within my reach if I would be willing to shoot for it.

I later shared the conversation with my parents, who despite the challenge of financing my dream of university, allowed me the freedom to make my first real grown-up choice.

I blitzed Year 11-12 and was granted a government funded studentship which covered all my costs towards my teaching degree. A choice I’ve never regretted. Thankful for wise words from my Principal, the freedom to make my own choice and the opportunity afforded me by a government of the day investing in future careers for all.  

Teaching has always been my happy place! It’s a joy to be free to create an effective vibrant learning community.

Freedom to be me!

My first memory of PNG was of being hit by a wall of heavy humid hot air as I stepped off the plane at the Hoskins airport. It was, for me as a Tasmanian, hard to breathe in at first. And yes, there was a mix of nervous excitement as I knew this was to be home for my husband and our boys for the foreseeable future.

We were met by such a mix of smiling and welcoming faces, not one of whom we knew, other than through correspondence and phone calls. Everything was strange, exciting, overwhelming and for me, who loves communicating; frustrating. The local people’s smiling faces were conveying welcome but their enthusiastic chatter with many gestures and laughter made absolutely no sense at all.

For the first time I was incredibly aware of how foreign I was. I couldn’t communicate and sensed my innate need to understand and be understood. It was a barrier I had never experienced and a freedom I had always taken for granted.

In our first months the language barrier was my immediate challenge to overcome. I’d daily walk down with my boys to the marketplace to sit with the women selling their produce, listening to them talk in their language. I’d then spend hours with my language study books and tape-recorder practicing the phrases over and over.  I’d try the new phrases out each day, and was encouraged when I knew I was starting to make sense of what they were saying, and even respond over time. I loved the freedom that came with learning to speak their language, to show respect to their culture and build friendships, conversation by conversation.  Yes, I was finally at home!

I have always valued the freedom to connect, communicate and understand. I love hearing stories. I love listening to people’s discoveries, challenges and joys. I love the freedom of celebrating difference. Life for me is all the richer for this precious freedom.

Freedom has a context for me, a rich one of many stories. I found it hard to settle on only three.

But I do want to hear your stories of freedom. What does freedom mean for you?

Who is that funny clown in the red suit mum?

Our youngest child had been born in Papua New Guinea – ‘the land of the unexpected’. He along with his two older brothers enjoyed growing up in the tropics where the only clothes were shorts and t-shirts, no shoes, school in the mornings and daily afternoon swims in 32-degree ocean, or climbing coconut trees, or exploring jungle trails armed with a handmade slingshot, or snorkeling on untouched reefs and playing with friends from all parts of the world every day.

We celebrated quite a few tropical Christmases in PNG and we didn’t realise until we returned to Australia that we neglected to mention Santa to our youngest, who posed the question to me with much bemusement the first time he saw a Santa in a bustling Sydney shopping centre. ‘Who is that funny clown in the red suit mum?

The clown in the red suit had never turned up in PNG, too hot for a start, and Christmas, well, it was laid back, kept simple and usually involved lots of food of course and fun with the other families living on the base with us. We had some Christmases where, if not for the wonderful presents sent from family and friends back in OZ, our boys wouldn’t have received anything on the day. It was a special day for us, don’t get me wrong. But expensive presents, Santa, frantic last minute shopping hype and maxing out credit cards just didn’t happen. We didn’t live near any toy stores and postal charges were prohibitive.

As a family we focused on the birth of Jesus as recounted in the bible and well, Santa just never copped a mention. We have fond memories of our time together as a family in PNG. It has given us all a love for people from all nations, walks of life and different viewpoints.  We are thankful for the experiences and while we may have missed out on fancy presents, long cues in shopping centres and funny clowns in red suits, we did enjoy celebrating Jesus’ birthday.

He is the reason for the season after all.