The Other Side

Dream, June 2014:  I am in a cafe. We are behind thick glass and I see a small mosque outside in the desert.  It’s coloured tiles and white paint glisten in the sun. It is a jewel in the landscape. Suddenly it blows up. We hear no sound but I see dead bodies , and the wounded people running or crawling away. I am horrified. The people sitting at tables here in the cafe, look up for a brief moment, then continue undisturbed with their conversation and eating as though nothing has happened.  I am shocked.  I run towards the back door of the cafe. I want out.  Then I see a wounded woman, who works as a cleaner here, is hiding in the back room – she is afraid that if they find out she is wounded, she will lose her job.  I take her by the hand and say we are going to see my friend – he is a doctor and will help us.

Living in Puglia, I felt connected to the members of my community. I even lived right next door to the largest mental institution in southern Italy, where many of the patients came and went during the day – just part of our local rabble, and I knew many of them by name.  Bisceglie had an organic chaos, a mix and movement of social elements that I loved, from farmers to shop keepers, councilmen and commuters. It made me feel part of a larger humanity, a humanity that was colourful, spontaneous and instinctual.  When the war in Libya broke out, my town became home to a number of young African men who were housed in a local villa for a few years while awaiting their visas. My husband and I were friendly with a group of these men, as they often did gardening jobs together.  They were refugees of course, but we just knew them as ‘bisognosi’- people in need.

Back in Australia, I have been disturbed by the inhumane response to the refugee crisis, together with the fearful projections onto our Middle Eastern communities.  It is an alienating experience to be on either side of the silent glass – The belief in ‘Us and Them’.

One of the gifts of living in  Puglia was that all the humanity, suffering, chaos and joy was very much in-your-face.  There was no sterile corner to escape to. I found myself in the heartening position of being able to help others, as often as I was blessed and challenged to receive help.  I learnt about the messy, beautiful lived reality of community.  I understood the joy of interdependence, instead of seeing it as an undesirable intrusion on my hard-won autonomy.  It took me some years to live it fully but it is now a lesson I can never un-learn.

In this dream I stand alone, looking outside. Something in me yearns for the mosque, the community of people I watch gathering there in shared devotion. Then the explosion. The shock.  The terrorism… of indifference.  I am horrified by the non-reaction of the people around me and I flee.

Experience tells me that I feel disconnected from others when I am unconscious to my own deeper needs. In the dream, the shock opens my eyes and my heart. I take the woman’s hand as my own wounded self, and we go to find help together.

When we are in our souls, we cannot deny our common need. We care. Not from a projected place of pity, social correctness or morality, but from a place of real feeling and mutuality.  Maybe I can help you.  Maybe I can’t.  But in either case, I can still be open to feeling and knowing your pain and need. Because the more I am myself, the more I am also you.